Democrat Stacey Abrams said in the final Georgia gubernatorial debate that state sheriffs want to “take Black people off the streets,” handing Republicans a talking point on a pivotal issue a little over a week before the election.
During the Sunday debate on WSB-TV in Atlanta, Ms. Abrams fired back after Republican Gov. Brian Kemp touted his support from law enforcement, saying that he had been endorsed by 107 state sheriffs.
“As I pointed out before, I’m not a member of the good ol’ boys club. So, no, I don’t have 107 sheriffs who want to be able to take Black people off the streets, who want to be able to go without accountability,” said Ms. Abrams.
She quickly added: “I don’t believe every sheriff wants that, but I do know that we need a governor who believes in both defending law enforcement, but also defending the people of Georgia.”
The broadside ahead of the Nov. 8 election fed into the Republican narrative that Ms. Abrams is no friend of law enforcement, amid concerns about rising crime and officer retention following the 2020 movement to defund the police.
Effingham County Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie, president of the Georgia Sheriffs Association, said he was “incredibly disappointed to hear what Ms. Abrams had to say about the sheriffs of our state.”
“Stacey Abrams‘ comments about Georgia sheriffs in Sunday night’s debate are exactly the type of false, demoralizing, and offensive accusations that have driven good men and women away from the law enforcement profession,” said Mr. McDuffie in a statement.
Police and sheriffs “put their lives on the line for everyone in their community — no matter their race, background, or walk of life. To suggest otherwise is insulting and outrageous,” he said.
He also called on her to “immediately apologize to Georgia’s law enforcement community.”
The association does not endorse candidates for political office.
Georgia-based conservative radio host Erick Erickson said that Ms. Abrams turned in a strong debate performance overall, but that the remark about sheriffs did her no favors.
“Objectively: Stacey Abrams had a good debate and fought on culturally liberal issues like abortion. Kemp did himself no damage and didn’t get hurt,” tweeted Mr. Erickson. “BUT, Abrams accused 107 sheriffs of wanting [to] lock up black people. The issue for the suburbs is crime. This is going to hurt her.”
“So no I don’t have 107 sheriffs who want to be able to take black people of the streets.”— Barrington Martin II (@_BarringtonII) October 31, 2022
Grand opening, grand closing. At least Ms. Abrams will have a nice bank roll for her future political endeavors. #GaPOLpic.twitter.com/I0clLeYDMP
Leading the GOP backlash was the Republican National Committee, which tweeted “Stacey Abrams smears Georgia law enforcement days before the midterm election.”
RNC deputy communications director Nathan Brand tweeted: “Democrats closing message in Georgia: police are racist.”
“Stacey Abrams has been trying to convince Georgians that she is pro-law enforcement,” said the Georgia Republican Party. “But on last night’s debate stage, she slipped up.”
Republican communicator Matt Wolking tweeted: “WOW… @staceyabrams just accused 107 Georgia sheriffs of wanting to ‘take Black peoples off the streets.’ What in the world?”
The apparent gaffe came with Ms. Abrams trailing Mr. Kemp in their rematch of the 2018 race. A poll released Monday by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed the incumbent leading his Democratic challenger by 51% to 44%.
• Valerie Richardson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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