Conway's law enforcement career began in 1973 with the Gwinnett County Police Department, and he was first elected to his current post in 1996. The silver-haired, tan-skinned sheriff generally maintains a low profile, but when he speaks publicly he tends to offer strong opinions on matters he considers important — everything from animal rescue to the controversial 287(g) immigration program.
Tuesday’s wide-ranging statement (read the full statement below) — which a prominent figure in the Black Lives Matter movement called “one of the most ignorant, uninformed and inflammatory statements” he’d ever read — references the “firestorm that began” in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death last year in Ferguson, Mo. It says Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown, “became the poster child for alleged police racism and suffered damaging, irreversible life-long consequences” despite acting “within policy.”
It calls out the news media for “relentless coverage” of police shootings, saying the “common denominator in every controversial case of officers using deadly force has been police interaction with people who do not respect the law.”
“It’s not about race,” Conway wrote.
“Those inciting riots and committing murders are simply criminals and do not represent the majority of Americans. They are domestic terrorists with an agenda. Their message is that police lives don’t matter, which sure sounds like a hate group to me.”
Shaun King is a leader of the Black Lives Matter movement, which Conway does not mention by name in his statement. In an emailed statement sent to The AJC, King called the “war against police” a “dangerous lie,” and said police racism and corruption are “very real.”
“For ‘Butch’ to outright deny the role of race and racism in American policing shows me that he has [his] head completely in the sand,” King said.
During his lengthy career in law enforcement, Conway has also served as a magistrate judge and chief of the Lawrenceville Police Department. But given the current climate, his statement said, he’s “not sure” he would choose the field again if given the chance.
“My priority has been and always will be keeping our deputies and our citizens safe,” Conways statement ended. “I will do everything in my power to stop anyone intent on harming others, regardless of their skin color. All lives, and I repeat, ALL LIVES matter.”
Statement from Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway:
Like many of you, I’ve watched with growing horror the events that have unfolded over the past year involving the senseless murders of law enforcement officers across this country, especially in recent weeks. As the sheriff of Gwinnett County, I can no longer remain silent.
We’ve all heard the noisy voices blaming law enforcement officers themselves for these assassinations and it sickens me. To say that I’m angry would be an understatement. I’m angry that the fringe groups who started the culture of police hatred have widened the racial divide in our country by alleging that officer involved shootings stem from racism. I’m angry that the controversy involving law enforcement officers has been further fueled by the news media, which seems intent on trying these cases in the court of public opinion through relentless media coverage and irresponsible reporting before the facts of a case are available.
I can think of no greater example that encompasses both of those concerns than the events that took place last August in Ferguson, Missouri. An officer who acted within policy to preserve his own life became the poster child for alleged police racism and suffered damaging, irreversible life-long consequences.
The truth is that the common denominator in every controversial case of officers using deadly force has been police interaction with people who do not respect the law. To my knowledge, each of those instances involved someone obstructing police officers trying to do their jobs. The blatant disrespect towards law enforcement officers performing their duties must stop.
Like many others, I didn’t want to wade into the firestorm that began in the aftermath of Ferguson. The widespread allegations of racism made it difficult to speak up, as allegations of racism often silence those who will normally speak. It’s not about race.
Law enforcement officers are being dehumanized. Those inciting riots and committing murders are simply criminals and do not represent the majority of Americans. They are domestic terrorists with an agenda. Their message is that police lives don’t matter, which sure sounds like a hate group to me. Anyone willing to kill a cop is capable of killing anyone. No one is safe. It should be concerning to every law abiding citizen that respect for the badge and for those who wear one is diminishing because respect for the law is the structure of a civilized society.
These hate groups are using the excuse that they have been mistreated by police to justify their actions. If someone feels they have been wronged by a law enforcement officer, there are clear avenues to pursue it through legal means. There is no justification for assaulting or murdering law enforcement officers. The officers who were most recently targeted and slaughtered never even knew their attackers. If news reports are accurate, there have been no known prior encounters between these killers and the officers they murdered. They were targeted simply because of the uniform they wore.
But if you scream it loud and often enough, then add race into the mix, you effectively silence the majority of law abiding citizens. The loudest voices are heard until a credible voice speaks. The disturbing murders of police officers are not isolated events and anyone promoting violence towards our law enforcement officers must be held accountable.
This trend of law enforcement hatred threatens the fiber of our society and the safety of our citizens as good officers leave the profession because they are no longer willing to do the job. Who can blame them? Who is speaking out in their support? There have been two recent incidents in which uniformed law enforcement officers have been denied service at restaurants for no other reason than the uniform they wear. Sadly, after more than thirty years of service in law enforcement, I’m not sure that I would choose it again, given the current state of affairs. I’m sure I’m not alone in that sentiment. It is in the country’s best interest to support our law enforcement officers. The silent majority must find its voice and speak boldly in support of those who risk their lives to serve them.
We will not tolerate the slaughter of officers in this country. Those who commit acts of violence against our law enforcement officers will be brought to justice as expeditiously as possible. I stand behind each and every one of my deputies and make it my personal mission to protect their welfare utilizing every legal means available. It is my hope that every agency head shares this sentiment so that law enforcement officers don’t hesitate to protect lives because of a difference in skin color that could result in cries of racism.
My priority has been and always will be keeping our deputies and our citizens safe. I will do everything in my power to stop anyone intent on harming others, regardless of their skin color. All lives, and I repeat, ALL LIVES matter.
Statement from Shaun King, a leader of the Black Lives Matter movement:
I study police departments for a living.
The statement that Sheriff Conway just made is one of the most ignorant, uninformed, and inflammatory statements from a man of his stature in law enforcement that I have ever read.
For “Butch” to outright deny the role of race and racism in American policing shows me that he has head completely in the sand.
Currently, police in twenty states are being investigated for egregious acts of racism - including officers in San Francisco, Baton Rouge, Tampa, Miami Beach, Dayton, Alabama, Mississippi, and even right here in Georgia that have been caught via text message and email flat out calling African Americans niggers, advocating lynchings, and more. While the sheriff says we are leading hate groups, multiple police departments across the south have been found to have full fledged members of the KKK - yet we hear nothing about this from the law enforcement community.
Not only that, but the beloved Captain and Sergeant of the Ferguson Police Department that Sheriff Conway spoke of were also found to have regularly engaged in hate speech.
What Butch wants us all to believe is that police officers across the country call us [racial slurs] in their free time, but love us with their whole heart when they are on the job.
Police corruption is a very real thing. Hundreds of officers all across the nation are being investigated for police corruption of the worst kind as we speak. In the past month, thirty police officers have been arrested for domestic violence and, in fact, the rate of domestic violence is higher in police than any other profession in the nation - including the NFL.
Finally, Butch and many of his law enforcement colleagues are falsely promoting this notion that there is a war against police. This is a dangerous lie they are telling - when, in fact, fewer police officers have been killed during the Obama administration than any other two term administration in our lifetime and the deaths of police officers are on pace to be near record lows this year- so much that they are down 46% since Ronald Reagan was president and 87% from their all-time high.
Conversely, American police are killing more people per year than any time in measured history. As of today, 839 people have been killed by American police this year - which is exponentially more than any developed nation in the world. More completely unarmed African Americans have been killed by police this year than were lynched in any given year since 1923.
Sheriff Conway, you are entitled to your opinions, Lord knows you express them way more than you should for a man who has to fairly apply the law, but you are not entitled to your own facts. I implore you to face them honestly or move on.
In a scathing 818-word statement, Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway declared that “all lives matter” and said those making allegations of racism against law enforcement officers are “hate groups” and “domestic terrorists with an agenda.”
“To say that I’m angry would be an understatement,” he wrote in the statement, sent Tuesday to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I’m angry that fringe groups who started the culture of police hatred have widened the racial divide in our country by alleging that officer involved shootings stem from racism.”
Tyler Estep is a reporter covering DeKalb County, its government and its people. A Gwinnett County native and University of Georgia graduate, he has been with the AJC since 2015. He previously covered his home county and served stints on the paper's hyperlocal and breaking news teams.