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“Don’t Vote the Stupid Way You Did Up North” Sheriffs and Protests
April 27, 2021
De Santis Flaked by Sheriff Grady Judd and Sheriff Wayne Ivey
Last week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law HB1, which is an anti-protest bill. The provisions of the sweeping legislation increase charges for those found guilty of committing crimes or participating in a protest where crimes happened (protest is defined very broadly); it also hold municipalities liable for failure to protect property using the police, removes civil liability in incidents where police or other counter-protestors drive through or over BLM protestors (“Black lives flatter,” one of the individuals speaking against the bill said, referring to an online meme he had seen on social media), and prevents municipalities from defunding police or prosecutors (sheriff’s offices already have this protection, which allows them to appeal funding decisions to the state). Listening to the hearings held in the Florida legislature debating this bill, it’s clear that the elected members were targeting BLM protestors. Few people spoke in favor of the bill; many spoke against (and were summarily silenced after 60 seconds).
Sheriff Judd telling northerners they wish they had Disney.
DeSantis had a nice little ceremony to sign the bill, and both Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd and Broward County Sheriff Wayne Ivey spoke. It’s worth pointing out that Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gaultieri was there, but did not speak.
To be fair, not every Florida sheriff is into this terrible law. Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister was not present at all. Chronister wasn’t even invited, it turns out. He also wasn’t invited to the September event where DeSantis announced his intent to push the bill. (The prosecuting attorney in Hillsborough, Andrew Warren, opposed the bill.) In Broward County, the sheriff ordered his deputies not to enforce HB1 because he thinks it will ruin community-police relationships. (There’s also already a lawsuit pending.)
At the official bill signing, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd spoke, showing pictures of people at Disney World and saying, “Welcome to Florida. But don't register to vote and vote the stupid way you did up north; you'll get what they got.”
“Pay attention! We got new laws.” Sheriff Judd shows pictures to make his point and yell at Democrats.
Judd just won his fifth term (no one ran against him) and boasts about his Arpaio-like showboating. He denies people in his jail underwear (unless they buy it) and removed the basketball hoop just to make people miserable. He was also the sheriff who checked for open warrants and immigration status of those who sought shelter from Hurricane Irma in 2017. Judd is also on top of all of the important culture war issues: He opposes mask-wearing and slammed people to did not kneel for the national anthem, calling it “abhorrent.” Perhaps in reward for his loyalty, Trump appointed Judd to lead the “Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention,” some sort of federal committee that meets quarterly.
Judd is also, shall we say, not secretive about his abhorrence for Black Lives Matter and other progressive movements. One of Judd’s own deputies was arrested for participating in the events of January 6; this deputy also sent texts threatening to kill people and making “the streets of DC run red with the blood of these tyrants.” Last summer, Judd threatened BLM protestors saying that his constituents “will blow you back out of the house with their guns.”
It’s not a surprise that Florida sheriffs are particularly invested in this legislation. (Many other Republican states are considering similar bills, like Oklahoma and Iowa.) Sheriffs in Florida and other states are specifically tasked with “suppress[ing] tumults, riots, and unlawful assemblies in their counties with force and strong hand when necessary.”
Throughout history, sheriffs have been instrumental in repressing expressions of dissent from the protests of enslaved people to expressions of protest in the Civil Rights movement by Black leaders and white supporters who sought to enforce the voting rights of Black citizens.
Other writers have commented on the sections of the bills that eliminate liability for running over protestors and seem to prioritize traffic flow over people. While there are many recent examples over the last year, I wanted to discuss the specifically racist implications of this tactic. The idea of people blocking the road has long been used as a justification for excessive violence against Black residents, and sheriffs have often been the means because of their involvement in protest suppression.
Most people already know about Alabama Sheriff Jim Clark and Bloody Sunday, but his violence towards protestors, mostly Black, was far from isolated. In the 1940s, a Louisiana sheriff in New Iberia Parish named Gilbert Ozenne used violent tactics to prevent the organization of Black residents who sought fair labor and education funding. When some organizers started an NAACP chapter in New Iberia, Sheriff Ozenne warned them that they would be “personally responsible for anything that may happen in New Iberia.” He told the FBI that the NAACP was stockpiling ammunition for a race war.
Then Sheriff Ozenne decided he needed to rid New Iberia of the NAACP once and for all. One night, a black car with four deputies kidnapped the chapter president, Leo Hardy, a bartender and insurance agent, and took him to see the sheriff. Two deputies held Hardy down while the sheriff kicked and punched him. “Where do you want to go? East or west?” he then asked Hardy. Deputies grabbed Hardy by his necktie, threw him into their cruiser, and drove him to a deserted road. They told him to walk, fast, and fired a pistol to make sure he did not turn around.
Sheriff Ozenne repeated the expulsions with the other leaders of the NAACP chapter. They were pistol-whipped, beaten, and stomped on the face, then driven out of town and dumped on the roadside. One of the most infamous deputies working for Sheriff Ozenne was Deputy Gus Walker, nicknamed “Killer Walker,” who delivered most of the worst beatings. News spread through the town, and Black leaders left.
The national chapter of the NAACP pressured the FBI, then run by Herbert Hoover, no fan of civil rights, to investigate. An FBI agent confronted Sheriff Ozenne in his office; he described the sheriff as “belligerent” and “armed to the teeth.” The sheriff told the FBI that he was just clearing out “troublemakers.” No witnesses wanted to talk for fear they would “be found dead in a gutter somewhere,” according to one anonymous would-be witness. The FBI reports themselves dismissed Sheriff Ozenne’s overt racism, arguing that Hardy and the others were “arrogant troublemakers.”
The Department of Justice brought the charges to an all-white grand jury. They returned no indictments. The creation of the Civil Rights division of the Department of Justice in 1939 was supposed to end racial terror. By 1944, it had only successfully won three police brutality cases. There would be no accountability for Sheriff Ozenne.
Racist violence and suppression of dissent was far from over in New Iberia. On September 24, 2006, the residents of the West End, a largely Black neighborhood of New Iberia, were attacked by Sheriff Sid Herbert’s Office. At least 500 people, including the elderly and children, were celebrating. The deputies decided that the residents were blocking a major thoroughfare, so they, without warning, emptied canisters of tear gas into the crowd. A teenager said it sounded like fireworks, and he began running. An elderly woman was already headed to her car with her eight-month-old grandchild in her arms. A can of tear gas hit her on the shoulder. All around her, people were screaming, crying, and choking. Later, Sheriff Hebert conducted an internal investigation of the incident and found no wrongdoing. The official story remained that the sheriff, concerned that the West End revelry was getting too “rowdy,” sent a group of deputies to dispel the crowd, who were then attacked with thrown bottles. “They felt…they had the right to block the street,” Sheriff Herbert’s official statement read. But to the residents of a deeply segregated town, some of whom had experienced Jim Crow, this was another example of law enforcement committing acts of violence justified by “traffic.”
The most recent sheriff in New Iberia, Louis Ackal, was sued dozens of times and prosecuted by the Department of Justice for killing, maiming, and torturing people inside of his jails and running a campaign of excessive violence in the streets of the West End. He was never convicted.
Another South Carolina sheriff was found guilty of seven corruption charges. Over the past 11 years, 14 South Carolina sheriffs have been convicted of felonies.
According to the Eerie County, New York, Democratic candidate for sheriff Kimberly Miller-Beatty, the Democratic chair for her county told her she “didn’t look like a sheriff,” and was not eager to endorse her because he thought the white people in the county wouldn’t elect a Black woman.
A coalition of Arizona border sheriffs (mostly Democrats) disagrees with their governor Doug Ducey’s decision to deploy the Nation Guard to the border. Their comments are in stark contrast to the panic being led by other sheriffs in the state. Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos said, “If the governor is really interested in assisting law enforcement in his counties, I could use a lot of assistance. I could use some body cameras at about two million dollars and I could use some electronic monitors to lower the incarceration rates in my jail.” See my post on PANIC! At the Border.
Sheriff deputies killed Andrew Brown in North Carolina. The video is apparently so disturbing that the sheriff’s office is prepping for protests. Thinking about the role of such videos makes me think of this wonderful interview with Allissa Richardson on Amicus.