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Addressing the Right Deficits

By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor

   In a free society [law enforcement] must be accountable to the people. 
                          -  Roy Wilkins


Rev. Donald L. Perryman, D.Min.

The dreaded paperwork demon struck again last week in the form of errors in candidate Earl Mackís petition filings, sidelining his primary campaign for Lucas County Sheriff. One possible beneficiary of Mackís unfortunate misstep could be Gary Johnson.

If elected, Johnson, who claims both African-American and Hispanic heritage, would become the first minority sheriff in Lucas County.

I tracked Johnson down to discuss his candidacy.

Perryman: Are you ready for what could be an historic campaign? 

Johnson:  I am ready! Some of the unique things that really need to be addressed are the position needs someone that is not intensely law enforcement - oriented and someone that is criminal justice reform Ė oriented. So, the new sheriff needs to be somebody that engages in trying to reduce crime by reducing jail population. We just canít afford somebody who will try to arrest themselves out of our problem. 

Perryman: So, are you the best person for the job?

Johnson I am uniquely qualified and I do think I am the best person for the job based on my entrepreneurial experience and my experience on the city councilís law enforcement Ė criminal justice reform committee that I am able to go in and read a budget very well. The budget for police, fire and courts was $175 million whereas the sheriffís department is $37 million.

I can read the budget and go in and reduce the overtime. I am already negotiating with the unions, something that Iíve done in my business career for the last 15 years. So, Iíve got experience with budgets and finding out where the problems are and being able to resolve them as well as having 30 years of law enforcement experience.

Perryman:  Can you provide us with details on your law enforcement experience?

Johnson: Yes, I graduated from the police academy in 1988. From there, I joined the Lucas County Sheriff Reserves and rode in the car with active deputies going on various calls such as burglaries, domestic violence, bar fights and you name it, we had to go out on those calls. And so that gave me the unique perspective as to how law enforcement actually works. After that we started doing things like presidential details, air shows, 4th of July events to utilize our skills working in a large crowd capacity. We also provided security detail on a voluntary basis for nonprofits to save them money.

Perryman: Are the reservists armed?

Johnson:  The majority of us have been certified and are armed. I have been certified with the Ohio Police Training Academy since 1988 to uphold the laws of the State of Ohio and to carry a weapon. In addition, the Sheriff has given me special deputy powers, which I have had for over 20 years. So, I have the ability to make arrests and perform other functions on a 24/7 basis.

Perryman:  Letís talk about some of the challenges within the Sheriffís department. You talked about your experience with budgets but there are also operational challenges brought to light by several civil and wrongful death lawsuits as well as employee indiscretions.

Johnson:  I think we are facing a situation that is the result of an overcrowded jail. So, weíve got to reduce the jail population. Weíve got to take a look at what we are doing by arresting people with mental health issues and people with addictions as opposed to getting them treatment.

One of the things that I would do is to continue to advocate for criminal justice reform that creates the diversion programs that are currently being looked at and make sure that they are implemented as soon as possible. This will ensure that first responders would have the ability to take nonviolent offenders to a treatment center or diversion rather than running them through the criminal justice system.

Perryman: Do you have the partnerships in place to make these innovative policies effective?

Johnson:  The partnerships are there. The MacArthur Foundation has helped to create partnerships. And, as a councilman, I have helped to put partnerships in place such as the opiate overdose response team which brings first responders, the health department, law enforcement together with non-law enforcement people such as mental health and social workers who provide follow up programs.

With Lucas County currently experiencing a $10 million deficit, my ability to bring these partnerships together can help eliminate the countyís fiscal shortfall.

Perryman: Fifty four percent of the local jail population is African American in a county that is only 20 percent black or African American. So, we are seeing an overincarceration of blacks and young blacks in particular. What are your thoughts on these disparities?

Johnson:  I think there is a crisis that needs to be dealt with immediately but I also think there needs to be some long term and long-range planning in order to reduce the number of black and brown males that end up in the criminal justice system. One of the things I would like to see happen is to try to work with the unions and the manufacturing companies to build a pipeline to jobs and find those individuals who truly want to turn their lives around to try to help them by getting them some form of employment and purpose to their lives. Also, we have to continue to look for ways to educate people to take on trades or other occupations. That way we reduce unemployment, reduce the number of people dependent on someone else to take care for them, and to make them independent. Thatís a long-range goal.  

Perryman: Judging by your response it appears that much of the blame for the disparity is being placed on those who make up the jail population rather than the criminal justice system itself.

Johnson:  I think that the criminal justice system is skewed so that if you donít have the money to fight back, the system will crush you. Growing up poor, I watched how the criminal justice system can take advantage of people who donít have the resources to be able to fight back. Once you have a criminal record it is extremely difficult to get a job, leaving you stuck in a place that is hard to get out.

Perryman: Race has always been this nationís original sin embedding bias into the fabric of our society. I believe that we cannot solve our social and economic problems if we are not able to admit the role that race continues to play in the life outcomes of people of color. I just donít hear many political candidates in Toledo willing to admit the role of race in creating the disparities in our criminal justice system.

Johnson:  I agree that we donít want to admit that a tragic wrong was done. We just want to bury it and look the other way.

Perryman: I guess Iím saying that, looking through the lens of race, we are quick to ascribe societal problems to perceived deficits in people of color rather than attributing the problems to deficits in the system. Sometimes the problem is the system and not the people or at least not the people, alone.

So, my question is what do you think are the deficits in the system and how do we address them?

Johnson:  Often, those with money are adjudicated much more favorably than those who lack resources. And, unfortunately, there are an inordinate number of African-American and Hispanic people who get crushed by harsher sentences. If a person is brought up middle class, the system often assumes they made a mistake, gives them a lighter sentence and lets them go on their way. But if someone grew up poor and of color, the thought is that they are a product of their environment and the only way to get them out of that is to give them a harsher sentence.

Perryman:  How do we correct that problem?

Johnson:   I think the more African Americans and Hispanics that we bring into leadership the better off we all will be. Itís just like teaching. If your classroom is primarily comprised of African-American students but you have no African-American teachers, what do you think is going to happen? Youíre just not going to be as effective.

So, I am certainly committed to make sure that the senior staff of the Sheriffís Department reflects the demographics of the community. Iím also committed to make sure that people get promoted based upon what they know instead of who they know. 

Perryman: Thank you.

Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, D.Min, at drdlperryman@centerofhopebaptist.org

Copyright © 2019 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 01/09/20 11:20:22 -0500.



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