Gwinnett County’s New Sheriff Keybo Taylor Discusses the Atlanta Spa Shootings, Voting Bill SB 202, and Changes to Approach on Policing

Gwinnett County’s New Sheriff Keybo Taylor Discusses the Atlanta Spa Shootings, Voting Bill SB 202, and Changes to Approach on Policing

In a conversation with GGC’s The Globe, Gwinnett County Sheriff Keybo Taylor sat down to discuss his goals for the department’s approach to improve its relations and trust with Gwinnett’s diverse communities, condemned the GOP backed legislation on GA election laws, and addressed the Atlanta spa shootings, saying it constituted as a hate crime.

Sheriff Taylor was sworn in on February 27th, becoming Gwinnett’s first elected Black sheriff. Taylor defeated the Republican candidate Chief Deputy Lou Solis during the general election after running on a progressive campaign to dismantle the county’s 287(g) ICE collaboration program and the controversial Rapid Response Team, which he terminated on his first day in office.

“I campaigned on the fact that I am the sheriff for everybody, regardless of what your race is, regardless of your gender, your sexual orientation,” Sheriff Taylor said. “That has been the framework of a vision that we have here and the culture that we want to establish here at this organization.”

Now representing the most diverse county in the southeast, Sheriff Taylor grapples with the task of bridging policing services to communities that have been historically distrustful of policing tactics.  

After the March 16th Atlanta spa shootings in neighboring Fulton and Cherokee counties that left 8 dead ( Hyun Jung Grant, 51; Suncha Kim, 69; Soon Chung Park, 74; Yong Ae Yu, 63; Daoyou Feng, 44; Xiaojie Tan, 49; Paul Andre Michels, 54; and Delaina Ashley Yaun, 33), including 6 women of Asian descent, Asian Americans debated the role of policing in their communities. 

Some civil rights organizations like Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta voiced opposition to increased policing as the right solution. 

“Nobody wants somebody to come in and actually be a problem solver if you don’t trust that person that’s coming in to be the catalyst or the vehicle to solve that problem,” Sheriff Taylor said.

Hoping to address the distrust communities of color have had in law enforcement, Taylor said, “first and foremost, it’s up to law enforcement to create that level of trust. We have to be the ones to step out and take the lead on getting people in [under]represented communities, communities of color, to begin to trust us and the law enforcement community.”

The Atlanta spa shootings came after a year of rising anti-Asian hate crimes. A study published by the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University found anti‐Asian hate crimes increased 149% while overall hate crime dropped 7% in 2020.

Cherokee County charged Robert Aaron Long with four counts of murder and an aggravated assault charge, but authority responses to the incident sparked backlash when they hesitated to call the shootings a hate crime. 

“The fact of the matter is he targeted Asian victims,” Sheriff Taylor said. “I can’t so much speak for what they’re looking at and how they’re investigating, but I definitely see it as a hate crime, especially targeted toward Asian women.” 

Sheriff Taylor partly blamed former President Trump for the rise in anti-Asian sentiment. “When you have a president who is the leader of the country, who is spouting off this type of hatred and division toward Asian people for causing the pandemic, then naturally people are going to try to follow his lead,” Sheriff Taylor said. 

The Integrity of Elections

Sheriff Taylor also condemned Trump’s claims of election fraud in Georgia. “If you really want to address voter fraud, then let’s start the conversation with what the president tried to do here in the state of Georgia as far as affecting the results of the election.”

After Biden won Georgia’s electoral votes in November, Trump and other GOP leaders alleged cases of mass voter fraud. After three recounts and investigations, Georgia’s Secretary of State Office found no evidence of election fraud.

The state’s GOP passed Senate Bill 202 and Republican Governor Brian Kemp signed the bill into law on March 25th. According to a statement Kemp issued after signing the bill, his premise for changing voting measures was to address the “crisis of confidence in the ballot box.”

“Those bills are direct results of lost elections from the Republicans, and instead of changing their narratives to better serve the people, they’re changing the rules and the regulations,” Sheriff Taylor said. 

Sheriff Taylor also discussed plans to implement a community relations section, focusing on efforts to reach out to communities to gain insight into the representation they would like to see from their law enforcement division. 

As an example, Sheriff Taylor mentioned interest in meeting with college students to facilitate conversations on policing in communities. “I want to be able to create councils, or panels, for [college students] to help give me feedback on how do we best serve you and your community,” Taylor said.

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