On Friday, December 28, scores of local citizens in Macon-Bibb County attended a rally in a show of support to the family of Sammie Davis Jr., who was shot by a Macon police officer exactly one week ago.
Over the past several days, family and friends of Sammie Davis Jr., have criticized how the Macon Police Department has handled the case and Officer Clayton Sutton, the person who fired three shots into the chest of an unarmed 49 year-old man with no previous criminal history at a Kroger store on Pio Nono Avenue in Macon.
An investigation is ongoing. However, there is another angle to this story that deserves attention and that is the future of the Macon Police Department and law enforcement here in Bibb County.
In January 2014, the Macon Police Department will be dissolved, and the Bibb County Sheriff Department’s power and jurisdiction will expand while its top official –the Bibb Co. Sheriff– becomes the ‘top cop’ in Central Georgia’s largest and most progressive city–Macon– in addition to unincorporated Bibb and Lizella.
Previous mayors had been able to appoint the Chief of Police and had the power to fire the Chief of Police, but under HR-1171, the Sheriff would not be beholden to the mayor and the Macon City Council.
Starting in 2014, the majority-black Macon City Council and the majority-black Bibb County Commission will be dissolved into a more conservative-leaning and smaller nine-member city commission.
Districts have been drawn by Georgia Republicans or some say ‘gerrymandered’ in a way in which conservatives could conceivably win a majority of the proposed city commission districts.
If Democrats have a 5-4 majority on the city commission, the consolidation law demands that a two-thirds majority–not a simple majority– is required to pass a budget.
Elections will be held in 2013 to decide who will hold the positions of a newly constructed Macon-Bibb government which is the figurative brainchild of Republican State Rep. Allen Peake.
Under the HB-1171, the new consolidation law for Bibb, the Sheriff is immune to term limits and would have as much or more political clout as the mayor who is limited to two terms.
Peake’s HB-1171 was passed through the Georgia Legislature in February and was quickly placed on the ballot as a referendum item for the July 31, 2012 general primary.
Many Macon-Bibb citizens were not aware of the short term and long-term political consequences of radically changing local government and how it could possibly impact their everyday lives.
On Tuesday, July 31, 2012, with 48 total precincts reporting, HB-1171–the Macon-Bibb consolidation referendum–passed with 19,193 votes and 56 percent of the overall vote.
However, the bigger story is that out of 84,000 registered voters in Bibb County, only 34,000 bothered to vote.
In essence, tens of thousands, for whatever reason, decided this was not important enough to cast a ballot.
All elections matter, not just presidential elections. Mid-term and mayoral elections matter and have consequences as well.
Former mayor Jack Ellis only lost to conservative Democrat Robert Reichert by less than 600 votes. Ellis had won 17 of the 28 Macon-based precincts in the 2011 mayoral elections.
Reichert received the most support from North Macon-based local precincts that voted for Mitt Romney in this past election along with Allen Peake.
The difference was turnout.
If the African-American community and progressive Democrats of all races want to invoke change, and address grievances of the community or on the behalf of an individual who was wronged we must participate by registering and going to the polls and voting.
2013 gives Macon and Bibb County another chance to take voting seriously.
One person held a sign at the December 28 rally which said, “Wanted for Murder: Clayton Sutton.”
Members of Sammie Davis’ family and former mayor C. Jack Ellis also said Sutton should be arrested.
Ellis led the group in chanting “No Justice, No Peace.”
The ‘Junebug’ Davis case will continue to bring a lot attention in the coming weeks and months, but there needs to be a renewed discussion about whether the two police departments should merge.
When tens of thousands of registered voters decided not to vote on the issue of consolidation on July 31, I would venture to say many did not know or bother to ask how consolidation will affect our community.
Ellis and other Democrats running for the city commission have an opportunity to bring the consolidation debate to the light and have a more substantive dialogue about Macon’s future.
The Bibb County Sheriff would have more influence and political impact than the elected mayor and if an incident or multiple incidents would happen under the sheriff’s tenure, protests might not be an effective tool to force constructive action or even a resignation.
Beginning in 2014, the Bibb County Sheriff will be more immune from criticism and may not be compelled to address the community grievances.
Valuing the vote is a significant next step in achieving justice for ‘Junebug’ Davis.