AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) — It’s been one year since George Floyd died at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. His death sent protesters onto streets around the world. In Augusta, Ray Montana’s voice can still be heard.
“This is the anniversary of George Floyd’s death,” Montana chanted at the base of the Augusta Confederate Monument. He and his organization, CSRA Street Justice Council, organized several marches in the wake of Floyd’s murder. He believes they made a difference.
“Police and community involvement have increased, but we have other issues at hand,” he says. “Because of George Floyd, I’ve seen police be more active in our community.”
“We need more conversations,” he adds. “We need to focus on black-on-black crime just as we focus on police brutality and racism in this city. “
Among Montana’s protests were those held to demand the Augusta Confederate Monument be removed. One year later, it still stands in the city’s downtown.
“We’re asking the city to listen to the community — not just the white or black community. There are a lot of us who stand and believe it’s humanity over race. Images like this [monument] must come down. I think it needs to be placed somewhere where people can learn the history of it.”
While protesters marched through the CSRA calling for reforms, the Burke County Sheriff’s Office was busy making changes.
“The cleanup starts before the crisis occurs,” Sheriff Alfonzo Williams says.
The cleanup Williams describes involves training and educating deputies.
“We are requiring more training in the areas of de-escalation and use of force,” Williams says. “We’re pushing our deputies and civilian personnel alike to get a college degree so folks will start to look at us as professionals.”
More than a dozen members of the Burke County Sheriff’s Office are now enrolled in higher education courses. Several have already graduated.
Williams is focused on making his office more transparent. His deputies wear body cameras and are making an effort to build relationships with the community.
“We’ve engaged in partnerships so when we have an experience that might involve violence, the people already know us and know they can trust us. The community has come to respect that and know this Sheriff will speak out and talk to them about what’s going on. We won’t hide things. We won’t cover up.”
It’s about building trust so the community sees beyond the badge and uniform.
“We want to be better. We want to do better.”
In June 2020, the Burke County Sheriff’s Office received a $650,000 grant to hire six deputies. Williams has not filled all six positions yet. He says the events over the last year have made it tough.
“It’s been increasingly difficult to recruit, hire, train and retain good and qualified folks. Because of what’s going on around the country with law enforcement, people are choosing not to get into this business. People who are in this business have decided they don’t want to be in this business any longer.”