Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said in a written statement Thursday that improved transparency will result from a rule proposed by the state agency responsible for oversight of assisted living and personal care homes.
Photo: Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com
Photo: Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com

Georgia governor tells ‘gangbangers’ to flee to Florida, South Carolina

When state Republicans debated a crackdown on sex offenders in the 2000s, then-House Majority Leader Jerry Keen liked to tell crowds he wanted to make restrictions so onerous that the violators would be forced to leave the state. 

Gov. Brian Kemp has taken to using a similar line in describing his plans to increase penalties on gang members, building on one of his most significant pledges during his 2018 campaign. 

At a Wednesday speech to hundreds at the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce, the governor indicated that he would make tough new restrictions a focus of next year’s legislative session.

"My message to any gang member in this area or anywhere in the state of Georgia, you should move to Florida or South Carolina,” he said in video posted by WJCL, adding that he offered a similar appeal to an Albany audience the night before. 

"I'm tired of our law enforcement officials being shot up for no reason by gangbangers. I’m tired of neighborhoods being shot up. I’m tired of them putting our children and our adults and our families on drugs, opioids ... I’m tired of them contributing to the sex trafficking epidemic.”

Though he delivered the remarks matter-of-factly, his words got a wave of laughter from the audience. His office has declined to comment, though an aide noted Kemp has said many times before he wants to drive gang members from the state.

The leaders of Florida and South Carolina have also not yet responded, though the Charleston Post & Courier took note of Gov. Henry McMaster’s pointed silence.

‘Stop and dismantle’ 

Kemp’s focus on a “stop and dismantle” anti-gang program stands in contrast to former Gov. Nathan Deal’s law-and-order priorities. 

Under Deal, Georgia embarked on an eight-year overhaul of Georgia’s famously tough criminal justice system that diverted low-level offenders from prison sentences and expanded treatment programs for nonviolent offenders. 

Kemp has praised Deal’s initiatives but said he’s focused on toughening penalties against violent gang offenders and sex traffickers. He signed several crack-down measures this year that aim to do that. 

Since taking office, he’s also installed a new head of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Vic Reynolds, who shares his focus on targeting gangs. Under Reynolds, the GBI launched a new “gang task force” that recently claimed its latest victory with a raid in Gwinnett County. 

Accurate numbers on Georgia’s gang violence are hard to come by, but top law enforcement officers said recently at a criminal justice conference attended by Kemp that they see gangs as the state’s top threat to public safety.

At the summit, Reynolds said his office plans to improve a database created in 2010 to track gang members. And Kemp said he’s considering whether to increase penalties on prison contraband and new initiatives to separate known gang members in prisons from other inmates.

As for Keen, his words might have come back to haunt him, though he said Friday he has no regrets about his phrasing.

The Georgia Supreme Court ultimately struck down the prohibitions at the heart of his sex-offender crackdown, in part because they rendered just about every piece of ground in Georgia off-limits.

Insider’s note: This item was ripped and expanded from the Morning Jolt.

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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