Georgia sheriffs supporting Gov. Brian Kemp, R., are angry at Stacey Abrams’ debate remarks suggesting they’re “good ole boys” who target African Americans and think the media’s demonization of law enforcement played a role in her comments.
Abrams, the Democrat challenging Kemp in the gubernatorial election, retorted to him touting his sheriff endorsements on Sunday night by declaring, “I’m not a member of the good ole boys club. So, no, I don’t have 107 sheriffs who want to be able to take Black people off the streets, who want to be able to go without accountability.”
In northeastern Georgia, Jackson County Sheriff Janis Mangum, the second elected female sheriff in state history, told Fox News Digital she found the comments “disgusting” and indicative that Abrams didn’t care about law enforcement.
“I don’t care as a sheriff what color your skin is. We take an oath to serve and protect the people and enforce the laws of the state of Georgia,” she said. “And that’s what we do every day. It was an insult to the Georgia sheriffs that are supporting him and all law enforcement… I’ve been in this business 36 years, and I have never done anything to tarnish my badge, and my fellow sheriffs are good people that are supporting him. And I was just kind of disgusted to hear it… I don’t even know what to say, it’s just wrong. It’s just absolutely wrong.”
In neighboring Barrow County, Sheriff Jud Smith agreed with Mangum, calling the comment a “slap in the face” to Georgia voters who backed the sheriffs in their areas, as well as every officer of every race in his department.
“Her comments were vile and disgusting, and it just goes to show you that her camp, her team are vilifying and demonizing law enforcement,” he said. “And it’s not just a dig on sheriffs. It’s a dig on every law enforcement officer in the state, whether they support her or not… At this point, I think she’s just grasping at straws.”
He was particularly troubled by her comment about “good ole boys,” saying she was essentially slandering cops as White supremacists.
Mangum said the media environment had effectively “demoralized the law enforcement profession.” Calling herself humbled and honored to be in her 10th year serving as sheriff, she said she’d never seen such negativity in the press since starting her career 36 years ago as a dispatcher.
“We’re going to run to that danger when people who want to defund the police call needing help. We’re going to run to it. We’re not going to run away from it,” Mangum said. “Our folks go to work every day not knowing if they’re going to go home in the afternoon… I do feel like our sometimes the media gives us such a bad rap, and we come to work every day trying to do our job to the best of our ability.”
She has personal, tragic experience with that possibility. Kemp was the first person to call her when one of her Jackson County deputies, Lena Marshall, was killed in the line of duty a year ago.
“That meant a lot to me coming from the governor of Georgia to get that call in the most tragic, devastating time for me as the sheriff and my sheriff’s office employees,” she said. “So my supporting him and endorsing him is because of the good work he does.”
The Georgia Sheriffs Association doesn’t make political endorsements, but it spoke out strongly after Abrams’ comments.
“Sheriffs, deputy sheriffs and other Georgia law enforcement officers do not seek to detain or arrest individuals based upon race,” it told Fox News Digital in a statement. “We do seek to identify and make cases against violators of the traffic and criminal laws of our state in an effort to protect all Georgians and others. To state or imply otherwise is grossly inaccurate, divisive and dangerously misleading to the public.”
Georgia Sheriffs Association executive director Terry Norris told Fox News Digital he thought Abrams was being honest with her comments. He added that remarks like hers made recruiting new policemen difficult in an already fraught environment.
“I think her true feelings came out. I mean, regardless of what’s been said, that did not sound like someone that supports law enforcement to me,” he said, adding, “Our guys and the police officers are the ones that show up when the scene is not settled and is still dangerous. So comments like that are very detrimental for us finding folks and attracting folks to our profession.”
Whoever is next governor, Norris said, the best immediate ways to support police would be to suspend any new criminal justice reform efforts and help local municipalities pay officers more.
Kemp touted 107 endorsements from sheriffs at Sunday night’s debate with Abrams, but his campaign said he had 111 as of Tuesday. Among them is Sheriff Charles Davis, who is Black, of Quitman County in southwest Georgia.
Kemp is trying to win a second term by defeating Abrams, a media star since her narrow loss to Kemp in 2018. She has trained fire on him for his stances on gun control, abortion and voting rights. Polls have shown Kemp with a consistent lead in the state, which President Biden narrowly won in 2020. Abrams was widely credited with helping him become the first Democrat since 1992 to win it in a presidential election.
National news coverage in recent years has frequently focused on officer-involved shootings of African Americans, and the media attention to corrupt policemen and the Black Lives Matter movement have prompted some far-left politicians to call for cutting police funding or eliminating police budgets altogether.
Smith felt the media environment around policing played a role in Abrams’ comments.
“Absolutely. 100 percent,” he said. “I know that the mainstream media wants to paint this picture that we’re evil. There’s nothing wrong with being questioned with what you’re doing because you are a public servant. But at the end of the day, if the media is out here crucifying you and vilifying and demonizing what you do, but only doing it when it’s fit to a certain narrative, that’s the problem.”
Wrenching incidents like the police murder of George Floyd in Minnesota and the hate crime killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia – one of the perpetrators was a former policeman – are just some of the national stories in the past 10 years that have cast a new media light on how the police conduct themselves.
Smith said he rejected the overall premise, however, that police in general approached their job with racial animus. Instead, he said bad cops like Floyd’s killer Derek Chauvin should be held accountable, but pleaded not to “ruin the bushel with one bad apple.”
The Abrams campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment.