There’s a new sheriff in town, pardner, and I am liking what I’m hearing. Craig Owens, a major and a 30-year veteran of the Cobb County Police Department, took over the reins as Cobb County sheriff after defeating 4-term incumbent Neil Warren in this past November elections, becoming the first Black sheriff in the county’s history.
Owens was endorsed by such Cobb heavyweights as former Governor Roy Barnes, Cobb County Chairman and former Attorney General Sam Olens, the Kermit Sanders Lodge #13 of the Fraternal Order of Police and Lance Lamberton, chairman of the Cobb Taxpayers Association and a staunch Republican. An ecumenical group, to be sure.
The sheriff sounds like a new broom sweeping clean. In a wide-ranging interview with the Marietta Daily Journal editorial board, along with his second-in-command Chief Deputy Rhonda Anderson and Chief of Staff Michael Register, Owens says his priorities include ending the office’s participation in the federal 287(g) program, which allows local law enforcement to help enforce federal immigration laws. He is also conducting an extensive audit of the policies and practices at the county detention center and working to fill a number of open positions in the sheriff’s office. (See the full interview in the upcoming Weekend edition or at www.mdjonline.com.)
But that’s not why I am giving him a journalistic pat on the back. It is for something he said during his visit to the MDJ and quoted in last week’s Around Town.
Asked how we can lower the rhetoric in the country – and the county – Owens told the editors, “We’ve just got to learn how to work together and have, as we like to say, that ‘courageous conversation’ and talk things out versus … (branding) someone as being bad because they don’t think the same way I think.”
He added, “Just because I like steak and you don’t like steak doesn’t make you a bad person. So we’ve got to be able to communicate that way. Everybody has a right to an opinion, but you’ve got to be respectful with that opinion, and you’ve got to be able to talk about it, because there’s something you can learn from someone else who has a different perspective on things. So I would say we just need to learn how to talk, communicate more effectively, get off these phones and quit all this texting and emailing and learn how to have, like I say, an adult conversation.” In other words, get off social media and talk face-to-face.
Wise words and well-said. I am afraid, however, it is an uphill battle. Social media has allowed us to threaten, bully, insult and spread misinformation in an instant and anonymously.
For example, some public official makes a decision we don’t like and we send death threats to the official and his family. It is today’s version of yesterday’s obscene telephone call.
In my opinion, social media is about the worst thing to befall our society since hemorrhoid advertising. The acerbic American journalist and social critic, H.L. Mencken observed, “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” I can’t imagine what Mencken would have said about the Leader of the Free World getting into a Twitter war of words with late night television hosts and irrelevant actors in Hollywood, not to mention dissing his own vice president.
I provide a few shekels annually to my beloved Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Georgia for a Crisis Communications Leadership discipline. (I tell the faculty and students that I am an expert on crises. I have caused about as many as I solved). It is a worthwhile expenditure.
My generation of external counselors dealt with the printed press and the broadcast media primarily. The next generation will be dealing with social media in which a single tweet, Facebook posting or Tik Tok whatever can put an organization’s reputation in jeopardy or incite a riot in the seat of our democracy. I don’t know how they are going to deal with this un-brave new world but since the students themselves have grown up on social media, I am counting on them to figure it out.
In the meantime, if the sheriff would like to see a ray of hope, I suggest he look to two members of the Cobb County legislative delegation, Reps. Erick Allen and Bert Reeves. One a Black Democrat, the other a white Republican. One running for Lieutenant Governor, the other an influential floor leader for Governor Brian Kemp. Both ably represent their constituencies and their parties but without the name-calling and outrageous behavior that seems to dominate politics today. I pray they are a harbinger of better days to come and not the last of a breed.
I am sure I won’t agree with everything Sheriff Craig Owens does going forward and if I don’t, I hope we can have an adult conversation and talk about it. Certainly, he won’t be hearing from me on Twitter. I hate that stuff worse than hemorrhoid advertising.