The New Sheriffs Coming to Town

From the start, the sheriff stood central to white supremacy. After the Civil War, sheriffs built power by leasing people leaving slavery to corporations. The history of lynchings in the United States is a history of sheriffs deciding only some people receive due process. The Republic, James Baldwin wrote, hired “the sheriff to keep the Republic white.”

And while the sheriff has decreased prominence in our public imagination, it remains a powerful force in incarceration and deportations. Each year, 11 million people go through county jails, most controlled by sheriffs. More than 800 people are dying in jail each year, with almost no accountability. About half of deportations from within the US during the Trump Administration pass through those same jails. Sheriffs patrol our rural areas, enforce evictions and issue concealed carry permits.

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People Want To Know The Truth About Policing

It seems that every week, there’s another news story detailing horrifying misconduct or abuse by police somewhere in the US. Recently, the Justice Department declined to pursue charges against the police officer who murdered Eric Garner, again turning attention to police violence. Even in cases where police violence does not end in death, brutality and dishonesty by those who are tasked with public safety shocks the conscience.

But many of these stories remain hidden from public view. Lack of transparency and accountability often means that the public doesn’t hear the truth behind the news items for weeks, months, or years. In fact, the most cutting-edge criminal justice policy proposals indicate that changing the way we hold police officers accountable is central to reforming our broken criminal legal system, and suggest that it is central to ensure that “data, including demographic information,regarding all aspects of the criminal justice system — including arrests, prosecution decisions, law enforcement discipline and internal investigation records, and incarceration — is public and easily accessible to all.”

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