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
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.
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?
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
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
Perryman: Are the
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
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
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
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
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
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
Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, D.Min, at