Walton High School student Joseph Fisher, 18, demonstrates on the square during a protest over the recent Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, held Wednesday, June 3, 2020, in Marietta, Ga. JOHN AMIS FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Photo: John Amis
Photo: John Amis

Cobb takes stand on racism, hate crime law following heated debate

Cobb County Commissioners unanimously adopted two resolutions Tuesday, one condemning racism and another urging state lawmakers to pass new hate crime legislation.

The vote follows several days of tense negotiations over the wording of the antiracism statement.

In the end, the board approved a version very close to that which was originally proposed by Chairman Mike Boyce, declaring the county’s commitment “to actively working against the damaging effects of racism and to ensuring the Constitutional rights of every person who lives, works and visits Cobb County.”

Cobb is among the countless communities across the country that have seen protests against police brutality and systemic racism since the killing of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis, at the hands of a police officer who has since been charged with his murder. The Cobb cities of Smyrna, Acworth and Kennesaw have already adopted antiracism resolutions and Powder Springs and Marietta are scheduled to vote on similar proposals this week.

Cobb’s resolution didn’t come together easily, however.

At a work session Monday, Commissioner Lisa Cupid, the only African American and the only Democrat on the commission, had threatened to pull her support after fellow Commissioner Keli Gambrill, a white Republican, rewrote the original draft, removing the explicit reference to the Board of Commissioners actively working against racism and adding a section highlighting the Cobb Police Department’s community outreach programs.

Cupid said the police had already put out their own statement and it was up to the board to take a clear position. She also said she objected to the implication that the programs listed, which included the Police Athletic League and the Police Explorer youth program, are targeted at a particular racial group.

Cupid said Gambrill had not engaged in good faith on the issue by waiting until the last minute to send out the revised version, which did not reflect Cupid’s input.

Gambrill said she rewrote the draft resolution to incorporate the feedback she received from constituents and other commissioners. The board was inundated with emails about it since last week when Cupid shared the original version on social media and asked constituents to contact their representatives in support.

Gambrill said she waited to share the revised document because she didn’t want it shared with the public before it was ready.

“In order to truly end racism, we need to be able to trust each other,” she said. “When a document is sent and it’s supposed to be a working document among the board, there needs to be a level of trust that it’s going to stay among the board.”

Boyce said there were bound to be disagreements among commissioners when debating a fraught topic on a tight deadline, but he felt the board needed to respond to the urgency of the moment.

“I strongly believe that the community right now is looking to this board for leadership,” Boyce said. “This is real sausage-making in the political arena.”

By Tuesday, the document had reverted back to the original draft, without Gambrill’s changes and with some minor substitutions.

Following the vote, Cupid, who has clashed with other commissioners in the past over her support for police reforms following her own run-in with an undercover officer, called the debate over the resolution “one of the most hurtful experiences I’ve had on this board” in light of her years of service.

“I hope this is a new day for Cobb County and I certainly hope this is a new day for us as a board,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

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