Elected and appointed officials across Cobb County avowed their opposition to prejudice during a forum on racism and policing Tuesday afternoon.
Acworth Mayor Tommy Allegood said his city had been “very diligent” and “so intentional” in building an inclusive community. Marietta city councilwoman Michelle Cooper Kelly said the “city of Marietta opposes discrimination of any kind.”
Brad Wheeler, chairman of the Cobb County Board of Education, described as “tragic” the death last week of George Floyd, a black man living in Minneapolis. Floyd was pronounced dead shortly after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes, an act that was caught on video and set off protests and riots around the country.
“I’m here to listen,” Wheeler said, before telling the forum’s organizer, south Cobb Commissioner Lisa Cupid, “I appreciate you getting this ball rolled.”
Others, however, offered words of caution.
“I am skeptical, only because there is a willingness to gloss over our current problems,” said Cobb school board member Jaha Howard. “You won’t hear many people acknowledge that we have been part of the problem. Otherwise we’re just talking. We’re going to pat ourselves on the back, we’re going to tell everyone how we’re working on making things better, how we’re going to treat all people with respect and kindness.
“I don’t want us to waste time here so we can feel better about being on a race forum,” he continued. “Enough of being passive — we have to be actively against racism. We have it on both sides of the aisle.”
His colleague on the board, Charisse Davis, agreed. She said there is “no appetite right now .... with our board majority and no appetite with our district leadership” to help teachers and students address and dismantle racism.
Floyd’s death reignited the national conversation regarding race, especially as it pertains to law enforcement’s treatment of black Americans. Protests and riots have broken out across the nation. Atlanta issued a 9 p.m. curfew for four nights after rioters burned police cars and vandalized downtown businesses.
Protesters gathered peacefully in Kennesaw, Marietta and Smyrna over the weekend and marched in Marietta on Monday. More protests around the county are planned for this weekend.
Cobb County Police Chief Tim Cox condemned the act that led to Floyd’s death, which he called “a tactic and procedure that I have never seen used before.”
And, along with other county law enforcement officials, including Cobb County Public Safety director Randy Crider, Cox expressed support for peaceful protest.
“We stand shoulder to shoulder with those who are willing and desire to speak up for what is right,” said Crider. “Are we a perfect police department? Are we a perfect public safety department? Absolutely not. … My phone is always open for ideas, for recommendations, for opportunities for us to sit down at the table face to face.”
Some of the forum’s participants shared their own examples of discrimination.
Cupid described how her husband, who often travels to work as early as 4 or 5 a.m., will cross the street to avoid walking past a woman of another color.
“I will not even put myself in the ... position, to walk and to have something happen early in the morning and for me to be at risk,” she recalled him telling her this past week.
State Rep. Erick Allen, D-Smyrna, said he has been on the receiving end of “aggression and inappropriateness” from Cobb police officers.
Attendees, who were allowed to submit questions, asked what they might be able to do to make change in Georgia and their communities.
State Rep. David Wilkerson, D-Powder Springs, laid out four “very easy, tangible steps”: Thank Smyrna City Council for passing a resolution condemning racism; ask other local officials to do the same; ask legislators to support a hate crimes bill that has stalled in the state Senate after being passed by the House; and demand that lawmakers also tackle the state statute enabling citizens’ arrests.
Waycross District Atttorney George E. Barnhill declined to prosecute three white men who were eventually charged with murdering black Brunswick resident Ahmaud Arbery in May; Barnhill argued their actions were legal under Georgia laws on citizens’ arrests, the open carry of guns and self-defense.
Representatives of the cities of Marietta and Acworth committed to passing anti-racism resolutions in the coming days, and Marietta councilwoman Kelly issued a challenge to other local elected officials in Cobb.
“With the six cities along with the county, I challenge us to sign a resolution in support of the hate crimes bill,” she said. “I think it speaks volumes when you’ve got six cities and the county that are standing in solidarity towards hate crimes.”
Cupid said she may try to organize future forums on racism and policing specific to younger people or the county school district.