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Gwinnett Sheriff Clarifies Controversial Op-Ed In Newspaper

Gwinnett County’s jail program joins a broader trend of finding creative ways to help veterans caught up in the justice system.
Gwinnett County’s jail program joins a broader trend of finding creative ways to help veterans caught up in the justice system.
Credit Brenna Beech / WABE
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Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway wrote a controversial op-ed in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday. It called groups who incite riots against police “domestic terrorists.”

Local activists said they feel disrespected and thought it was targeting the Black Lives Matter movement.

But Conway clarified during a press conference Wednesday evening that his definition of a domestic terrorist is an individual willing to shoot a police officer in an ambush situation. 

“Nowhere in that statement does it say Black Lives Matter, and if that’s a legitimate group and they want to talk to me, I’d love to talk to them,” Conway said. “And let’s see how we can improve, and the No. 1 thing to improve is for people not to argue or fight with police officers.” 

Interacting With Police

Conway said officers now worry they will be shot at because of the climate and allegations of racism. 

“I think officers are going to die because they’re afraid to pull their gun,” Conway said.  

He blamed the media for their role in amplifying tension between police and the public. 

“I’m used to news cycles. Police have been vilified before, for one month or two months, but not for this period of time.” Conway said. “Every time you turn on news, you’re seeing something on police and racism. And I think it’s hardened people, where people are not getting the full story or not thinking about the whole story.” 

Op-Ed Response 

Conway said nearly 95 percent of the feedback he’s received in response to the op-ed, including from state representatives and other sheriffs, has been positive. But some of it is hateful. 

“I saw a comment on Facebook [Tuesday] night that said if you keep acting like you do, we’re going to keep killing cops,” Conway said. “Perception becomes reality, if it’s hammered enough. I don’t think the situation is that bad in this country.”

He said he had spoken to activists who disagreed with him and was meeting with an activist in Atlanta on Wednesday night to find ways to work together.