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Candidates Call for Police and Gun Law Reform

House District 119 candidate Jonathan Wallace. Credit: Anna Watkins

Wallace and Gonzalez Predict ‘Progressive Wave’

Given calls from the left to “defund the police,” progressive politicians across the nation are voicing their policy positions on cutting funding to law enforcement agencies and redistributing the funds to other community resources. And with prominent Democratic candidates running for sheriff, district attorney and two Georgia House of Representatives seats in Athens, there’s the potential for a “progressive wave” both locally and statewide, local candidates told the University of Georgia Young Democrats last week.

Former Georgia House District 119 Rep. Jonathan Wallace, who’s trying to reclaim his seat from state Rep. Marcus Wiedower, and former Georgia House District 117 Rep. Deborah Gonzalez, who’s running for district attorney of the Western Judicial Circuit, explained how, if elected, they could work with one another to reform the criminal justice system.

“I’m running to bring change from the status quo, bring what this community needs now,” Gonzalez said. “[The community] understands that when we talk about safety, we’re also talking that it has to be sustainable and include everyone, victims and defendants.”

In light of the recent decision by a grand jury not to charge three Louisville, KY police officers for killing Breonna Taylor (one was charged for firing wildly into the apartment next door), Gonzalez and Wallace shared how district attorneys and state legislatures could work together to ensure “fair and just prosecution” against anyone accused of a crime, including police officers. While legislators enact laws, district attorneys decide whom to prosecute, Gonzalez said.

District attorneys set the policy, procedure and culture in judicial circuits, and Gonzalez hopes to “create a culture” that acknowledges systemic racism and commits to ending it, she said. She also hopes to stop the “school-to-prison pipeline,” reform cash bail and enact restorative justice. She’s in support of reinvesting law enforcement funding to other entities, including mental health specialists.

Likewise, Wallace said he hopes to reform criminal justice, both statewide and in his district, which covers parts of Clarke and Oconee counties. He said it’s “incumbent” that voters elect representatives who will take a look at the excessive use of force and racial profiling in police departments. “It infuriates me that we’re still fighting these battles and there are still folks who don’t recognize the racism that exists, especially in this community,” Wallace said.

Wallace told the students “fighting for freedom” is his top priority, as well as bolstering education, tackling gerrymandering and upholding election integrity. Only 16 Democrats need to win in this year’s election cycle to flip the Georgia House of Representatives in their favor, and the next class of the Georgia General Assembly will redraw congressional and state legislative districts.

Gonzalez, along with four other plaintiffs, filed a lawsuit to ensure the district attorney election occurs this year, as a state law initially pushed it to 2022 after Gov. Brian Kemp failed to appoint an interim district attorney in February. Gonzalez won the original lawsuit and two appeals, but she’s awaiting a decision on a third appeal. Voters will choose among Gonzalez, Brian Patterson and James Chafin, assuming a vote takes place on Nov. 3. [Tyler Wilkins]

Warnock: Appreciate Police, but Reform Them

U.S. Senate candidate Raphael Warnock also addressed Taylor’s death and the need for criminal justice reform during a campaign stop at Bishop Park Thursday, Sept. 24.

Warnock noted that the U.S. has 4% of the world’s population but 25% of the world’s prison population—more than the much larger repressive regime in China. And Black people are more likely to be incarcerated despite committing crimes at the same rate as white people.

“The land of the free is also the capital of the incarcerated, and that should shock all fair-minded people,” he said.

Warnock said that police are being asked to do jobs for which they’re not trained and that are best left to professionals, such as dealing with mental health issues. He also called for independent prosecutors for police shootings, uniform standards for use of force and an end to qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that tips the scales toward officers in such cases.

“Those who want to reform the police also appreciate the police,” Warnock said. “Those things aren’t mutually exclusive.”

Warnock said he visited with the family of Ahmaud Arbery—a Black man slain in Brunswick while jogging by white men who weren’t charged until video leaked much later—on Mother’s Day. He also gave the eulogy for Rayshard Brooks, the Black man police shot after he fell asleep in his car at an Atlanta drive-through.

“I’m running against people who are using this rhetorically to play the typical Washington games,” he said. “Meanwhile, Black people are dying.” [Blake Aued

Johnson Calls for Stricter Gun Laws

Mokah Johnson, this year’s Democratic candidate for the House District 117 seat, held a virtual town hall meeting on gun violence last week in which she and other speakers criticized Georgia’s “campus carry” and called for more restrictions on who can buy guns.

“Our society believes in increasing weaponry as a form of solving our problems,” said Johnson, noting that guns have been left out in the open and one student accidentally shot himself since the campus carry law passed in 2017. “It’s not working.”

Delaney Tarr—a survivor of the 2018 Parkland, FL school shooting who now attends UGA—called the law “asinine.” Teachers at Stoneman Douglas High School didn’t even have time to shut the door before being shot and killed, let alone pull out a gun and fire back, she said. “Weapons don’t belong in a place of education,” Tarr said. “They never have.”

Johnson and Jeff Binkley—a Dunwoody resident who founded the gun safety foundation Maura’s Voice after losing his daughter in a mass shooting—pushed for a law preventing domestic abusers from acquiring guns. “The goal of gun legislation is to keep guns out of the hands of demonstrably dangerous people,” Binkley said.

“The idea that this is about taking guns away from people is the biggest lie.” It’s “absurd” to call such laws an infringement on Second Amendment rights, Tarr added. “It’s just common sense to be responsible,” she said.

In unrelated news, Mokah Johnson also recently won the endorsement of President Barack Obama in her race against state Rep. Houston Gaines (R-Athens). [Blake Aued]