NC’s largest coun­ties elected black sher­iffs

The Charlotte Observer - - Front Page - BY JOSH SHAF­FER


Vot­ers across North Carolina this week elected a black sher­iff in all seven of the state’s largest coun­ties, bring­ing a new level of promi­nence to mi­nori­ties in law en­force­ment.

Five of those coun­ties — Durham, Guil­ford, Forsyth, Cum­ber­land and Buncombe — sent black can­di­dates to the sher­iff’s of­fice for the first time in their his­to­ries. And one of them, Buncombe County in the Blue Ridge Moun­tains, did so with a 90 per­cent white pop­u­la­tion.

Both elec­tion an­a­lysts and the win­ners said black can­di­dates were pro­pelled to of­fice largely be­cause they ob­jected to hard­line im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies and could ap­peal to vot­ers who felt for­got­ten or afraid.

In Wake County, Demo­crat Ger­ald Baker ousted long­time Sher­iff Don­nie Har­ri­son, who par­tic­i­pated in the 287(g) pro­gram to part­ner with U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment, the fed­eral agency re­spon­si­ble for de­por­ta­tions and other im­mi­gra­tion law en­force­ment. Baker’s cam­paign was aided by ads taken out by the ACLU, which ac­cused Har­ri­son of back­ing Pres­i­dent Trump’s agenda and “stok­ing racial ten­sions.”

But Baker said he found an ally in the His­panic com­mu­nity from the start.

“They in­di­cated to me very early on in this cam­paign that they have not voted in sev­eral of the last elec­tions be­cause they felt like they didn’t have a voice,” Baker told The N&O on Tues­day.

In Meck­len­burg County, the state’s largest, Sher­iff Garry McFad­den won elec­tion un­of­fi­cially af­ter tak­ing the pri­mary in May be­cause no Repub­li­cans op­posed him in Novem­ber. He, too, made op­po­si­tion to 287(g) a plank in his cam­paign, and the race be­came an un­of­fi­cial ref­er­en­dum on the pro­gram.

“I don’t see any doc­u­men­ta­tion where it brings unity to the com­mu­nity,” McFad­den told the Char­lotte Ob­server in Fe­bru­ary. “I haven’t seen any data that says it makes your city safer.”

He added the ef­fect spreads be­yond His­panic neigh­bor­hoods and curbs co­op­er­a­tion with law of­fi­cers. “South Africa, Asia, any­place,” he said. “You talk to these peo­ple and you see fear in their hearts.”

The seven can­di­dates elected Tues­day are men, but black women have also made a mark on law en­force­ment lead­er­ship in North Carolina. Many of the state’s largest po­lice de­part­ments have black fe­male chiefs, in­clud­ing Raleigh, Char­lotte, Durham, Fayetteville and Win­ston-Salem.

Across the state this elec­tion cy­cle, mi­nor­ity can­di­dates ben­e­fited from wide­spread voter reg­is­tra­tion drives and free rides to the polls aimed at boost­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion, said Chani­qua Simp­son, a doc­toral stu­dent in so­ci­ol­ogy at N.C. State Univer­sity and fel­low with the Elec­toral Jus­tice League, part of the grass­roots Move­ment for Black Lives.

In­ter­net memes and so­cial me­dia posts ad­vised new or oc­ca­sional vot­ers to stay in line once the polls closed or to ask for pro­vi­sional bal­lots if they were de­nied ac­cess to the polls — both new tools aimed at keep­ing mi­nor­ity vot­ers from get­ting turned away, she said.

“We’re en­er­giz­ing vot­ers of color who haven’t voted in midterms,” Simp­son said.

In sev­eral cases, black sher­iffs will re­place white in­cum­bents who held of­fice more than a decade.

Sher­iff Moose But­ler re­tired in 2016 af­ter serv­ing 22 years in Cum­ber­land County, and he per­son­ally en­dorsed his re­place­ment, En­nis Wright. Ap­pointed by the county com­mis­sion­ers, Wright sealed his first elected term on Tues­day.

But in Guil­ford County, the tran­si­tion will not be as friendly.

Sher­iff B.J. Barnes was de­scribed as “largely un­beat­able” by ncpol­i­cy­, a pub­li­ca­tion of the NC Jus­tice Cen­ter, a left-lean­ing think tank.

In a Face­book post shortly be­fore the elec­tion, his op­po­nent Danny Rogers ac­cused him of send­ing a “racist dog whis­tle” with com­ments about bus­ing to the polls, and of be­ing aligned with Repub­li­cans who wanted to shorten early vot­ing to curb mi­nor­ity tra­di­tions such as “souls to the polls” on Sun­days.

But in Durham last spring, then-Mayor Bill Bell told the Her­ald-Sun that Sher­iff Clarence Birk­head’s elec­tion con­tin­ued a swing to­ward in­clu­sion. In 2016, he noted, the city elected C.J. Davis: its first black woman as po­lice chief.

Josh Shaf­fer: 919- 829- 4818, @joshshaf­fer08

CHUCK LIDDY cliddy@new­sob­

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