John Williams

Athens-Clarke County Sheriff, GA

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John Q. Williams was born and raised in Gary, Indiana. John Q remembers a childhood in a town that was struggling, but he lived in a safe area where we could leave the windows open at night and the door unlocked. Then the steel mills went away and the crack epidemic hit. He watched his hometown spiral into a place of violence, lawlessness, and desperation. He lived in a majority-minority community that was struggling in the face of a white police force and government that just didn’t care. John Q. came to Athens, Georgia to be closer to his family, and he applied for the role of communications officer at the University of Georgia. He didn’t realize at the time that this was a professional term for 911 operators, but he thrived in the role and quickly moved up the ranks. He transferred over to the Athens-Clarke County police department, where he was selected to be the 2010 Non-Sworn Employee of the Year. Eventually, he decided that he wanted to be on the responding side of things. John became POST certified, and at this point he has worked his way up to Sergeant. He spent the past few years in charge of police bias training with the ACCPD, and he has been in charge of the division that handles domestic violence and missing persons cases. He has spent 20 years in this community.

John has experienced the consequences of structural racism as a black man growing up in Gary, Indiana during the 1980s. He and all of his love ones have been stopped or detained for no reason. Athens-Clarke County has a community violence problem - gun violence, domestic violence, and mental health-related violence. As the top law enforcement officer in the county, the Sheriff has the responsibility to take initiative in addressing these problems and uniting all the municipal and campus police departments. The jail is understaffed and has serious transparency problems; there are also concerns about prisoner treatment. The current Sheriff’s department as a whole is suffering from staffing issues, low morale, and a general absence from the community at large. All of these problems persist under a 20-year incumbent who has cooperated with ICE and uses tough-on-crime rhetoric despite having been elected as Democrat in 2000.

Between the ICE controversy and many other missteps, it is clear that the incumbent no longer represents the values of this progressive community, and he went entirely unchallenged in 2016. The status quo is no longer acceptable and the community needs fresh leadership that is smart on crime, not tough on crime. Athens-Clarke need a Sheriff who respects the rule of law, but also the values of the community. The county needs a Sheriff who is willing to learn and give respect to the voices of activists, as opposed to protecting “how we do things” and scorning all people who bring up concerns.

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