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Black sheriffs make history in sweep of seven largest NC counties

Gerald Baker unseated long-time Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison

An interesting and underreported trend emerging from yesterday’s elections: a historic sweep of black candidates in county sheriff’s races.

The state’s seven largest counties – Buncombe, Cumberland, Durham, Forsyth, Guilford, Mecklenburg and Wake – all elected black men to their county’s top law enforcement positions. Five of those counties – Buncombe, Cumberland, Guilford, Durham, Forsyth – did so for the first time ever.

Each of the new sheriffs will replace a white man in those roles, several of whom are are long-serving GOP institutions in their counties.

In Guilford County Danny Rogers ended the 24-year run of Sheriff BJ Barnes, a Republican figure so powerful and popular he was considered largely unbeatable.

Issues of racial profiling, advancement of minorities and immigration played a part in the campaign.

That was also the case in Wake County, where Gerald Baker upset long-time Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison.

In Forsyth Democrat Bobby Kimbrough Jr. defeated five-term incumbent Sheriff Bill Schatzman, a Republican. In comments after his victory he said his campaign was about building bridges and said he’ll serve all the county’s citizens regardless of race.

In Cumberland County Sheriff Ennis Wright has already been serving as sheriff, appointed by the county commissioners after the retirement of his predecessor, Moose Butler. With last night’s election, Wright becomes the first elected black sheriff in Cumberland. Butler, a Democrat himself, retired two years into his sixth term. He endorsed Wright.

Quentin Miller will be Buncombe County’s first Black sheriff.

A national discussion of racial inequities in policing led to more black sheriff’s candidates this year and those issues playing a larger role in general elections.

In Buncombe County, Quentin Miller’s campaign addressed those issues head-on. In comments to the Citizen-Times newspaper, he cast his historic election as the beginning of a community reconciliation.

“We now must work together as a community,” Miller told the Citizen-Times. “We must come together with the local government, with the communities and law enforcement as one. We have to address our issues in that fashion, in that way. And we all must have a place at the table and we must learn to work together to solve our issues and problems.”

And in Pitt County, Paula Dance achieved three firsts – becoming the first female and the first African American to be elected sheriff.  Dance, who has 28 years of law enforcement experience, will be the first black female sheriff in North Carolina. (Thanks to all of the Policy Watch readers who made us aware of Paula Dance’s victory and accomplishments.)

Paula Dance defeated Republican Gary Weaver to become Pitt County’s new sheriff.

 

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