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GA Civil Rights Groups Aim to Advance Racial Justice, Hold Sheriffs Accountable at the Polls

ATLANTA – Georgia voters will elect dozens of sheriffs into office on November 3—individuals with significant power over the state’s immigration enforcement, jail conditions and policing practices. A coalition of national and statewide organizations launched TransformGeorgia.org, a direct effort to transform our criminal legal system by helping Georgia voters learn more about the local sheriffs on their ballot ahead of November’s elections.

The groups—Advancement Project National Office, Georgia NAACP, and the New Georgia Project—are advocating for voters to be more aware of the power they have to decide how their communities are policed and influence the policies that empower and enable police violence against their communities. In Georgia, the groups have been educating and registering voters while giving attention to local elections like sheriff races.

“This year, we have seen Black and Brown communities rise up and demand justice for the police murders of Rayshard Brooks, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless others. We created TransformGeorgia.org to help voters of color bring the movement for police accountability to the ballot box,” said Judith Browne Dianis, Executive Director of Advancement Project National Office. “Georgians need to make sure they’re voting for people who value our lives.”

Sheriffs, the highest police authority in each county, decide whether or not to arrest people, manage cooperation with ICE officials, detain community members in jail and oversee jail conditions. They are responsible for 143 county jails across the state where 26,700 people are incarcerated—68% of whom are being held pre-trial, despite being presumed innocent. Georgia sheriffs have struck eight cooperation agreements with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and have conducted traffic stops that have led to the deportation of 5,600 people from the state.

“Now more than ever, it’s time for us to exercise our power by learning about who polices us and voting for those that reflect our beliefs and value our lives,” said Georgia NAACP State President Rev. James “Major” Woodall . “Let’s move from organizing and protesting to the polls. The majority of Georgia’s 159 counties have sheriffs’ elections this year and this is our moment to let our voices be heard.”

On TransformGeorgia.org, Georgians can look up their local sheriff’s budget and which candidates will appear on their ballot. The website gives residents an overview of sheriffs’ powers and explores how sheriffs have played a central role in upholding racist systems throughout American history, from slavery to Jim Crow. The new resource is an effort to motivate voters to rethink what policing could look like following a spring and summer of police murders, police brutality and no police accountability–events that were met with international protests and calls for the defunding of police.

“We have protested the killings of Black people by police here in Georgia and around the country, and we have demanded justice,” said Kendra Cotton, Chief Operating Officer, New Georgia Project. “While at times it may seem like we have no say in how we’re policed, this November, we won’t just be voting for president and vice president. Throughout Georgia, we will decide the direction of policing by casting a vote for sheriff.”

Georgia NAACP, New Georgia Project and Advancement Project National Office held a virtual town hall last week to announce the website launch and discuss the impact of Georgia sheriff elections alongside two-time WNBA champion Renee Montgomery and former NFL All-Pro linebacker Adalius Thomas.

The website points to dramatic changes sheriffs can make to stop criminalizing our communities, including:

  • Reducing arrests and violence by deputies;
  • Reduce arrests and violence by deputies;
  • Close jails and stop the construction of new jails;
  • Cut cooperation with ICE;
  • Stop policing schools; and
  • Cut the sheriff’s office budget and reinvest in community resources.

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The Georgia National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has had an unbroken presence in Georgia since 1917. The Georgia NAACP maintains a network of branches throughout Georgia, from cities to small rural counties. The Georgia NAACP has been the most effective and consistent advocates for African American civil rights in Georgia.

The New Georgia Project is a nonpartisan effort to register and civically engaged Georgians. To date, the NGP has registered nearly 400,000 people from underrepresented communities to vote in Georgia.  In addition to registering voters, NGP also advocates for civil and human rights causes and works to advance justice on behalf of historically marginalized communities. www.newgeorgiaproject.org

Advancement Project National Office is a next-generation, multi-racial civil rights organization. Rooted in the great human rights struggles for equality and justice, we exist to fulfill America’s promise of a caring, inclusive and just democracy. We use innovative tools and strategies to strengthen social movements and achieve high impact policy change. Visit www.advancementproject.org/home

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