Confederate Monuments, Small Town Sheriffs: Dispatches from 2020 in the South
Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson, a lawman for the ages, tirelessly guards the Confederate statue in Graham basically day and night with his deputies, assigning sometimes dozens of his deputies to the courthouse detail, threat or no threat, like a true patriot.
It’s Sunday night and there are maybe a dozen people on the square, most eating frozen custard. My son has chosen a root beer float, and I have had him turn his Black Lives Matter shirt inside out because, well, it’s hard to say how things will shake down in Graham. Graham police and sheriff cars ring the courthouse square.
Johnson, who allegedly told his deputies to “bring me some Mexicans” and “go out there and get me some of those taco-eaters,” has been under federal investigation for discriminatory police practices — ones that resulted in Latinx drivers being stopped between 4 and 10 times as often by his deputies than other drivers. At one point even ICE refused to work with him until of course he eagerly worked out a $2.3 million contract to house detainees in Alamance County Detention Center so that ICE could operate out of Alamance County to terrorize families in the surrounding counties where the sheriffs were less open to the agencies incredible and questionable overreach. “I owe it to our state and to our county to have secure homeland security,” he explained with humility in an interview at the time, likely remembering how he had told a local board of his personal fear of “criminal illegal immigrants” who are “raping our citizens in many, many ways.”
Lawsuits for slander, lawsuits for discriminatory practices, allegations that his deputies make frequent racist remarks and jokes and engage in other “hilarious hijinks” like sharing video games premised on shooting stereotypical Mexican figures, including pregnant women and children, as they attempt to cross the U.S. border — lawman Johnson never lets any of this set him back!
He and his deputies remain dedicated to keeping precisely some of Alamance County’s citizens safe. Since Black Lives Matter protests erupted in other places, Johnson personally has been available at the county courthouse to turn away small groups of local residents wishing to assemble, citing their need for a permit. Last Friday his department posted on their Facebook page that there had been no permits issued and there would be none issued in the immediate future — this post came only hours after the Graham police chief accidentally posted a racist anti-BLM post to the department page that, apparently, was only meant for his private racist consumption. The ACLU has reached out.
Ever vigilant about government overreach and any hint of impending socialism, Johnson has bravely and patriotically instituted a curfew on local residents. That time is approaching, so my son and I walk back to our car.
On the way, an older and very tall Black man walks up next to us. He looks to be in his seventies, maybe eighties. I had seen him walking on the sidewalk, but wasn’t sure if he was there as a protestor or just happened to be downtown — in Graham, it’s hard to tell, as protestors are generally too fearful to carry protests signs after threats of arrest.
“Ma’am are you heading out now?” he asks.
“Yes, sir,” I answer.
“Can we drive out together?” he asks, indicating his car was parked next to mine.
“Of course,” I say, understanding precisely why. It makes me think of when my mother asks me to text her when I have arrived somewhere safely.
We both back our cars out and head away from the circle, his car trailing mine, carefully driving one mile under the speed limit, leaving Sheriff Johnson and his deputies and their statue, in which they seem to have a tremendous stake.