News 12 at 6 o' clock/ July 16, 2014
WASHINGTON, Ga. (WRDW) -- The small town of Washington is having a big debate about whether they should disband the police department there. The Wilkes County Sheriff's Office would take over jurisdiction there.
Councilmen and neighbors gathered on the steps of City Hall. They're angry about possibly losing their police department.
"They should've talked with the police committee, came back to the council with info, and sat down and discussed it," Councilman Marion Tutt said.
The mayor is pushing the idea, but a lot of people are worried cops and even K-9's will lose their jobs. Others are worried crime will go up.
"We are pleading with the mayor and the city council: Call a public forum. Let us be part of this decision," Rev. Reginald Hunter said.
Others, like local business owner Jack Thurmond, say the Wilkes County Sheriff's Office could cover the city.
"The city of Washington's not that big. Hell, I could patrol it on a bicycle," Thurmond says, "It ain't no big deal."
While Washington remains divided over the police issue, Cullars says the real divide is race. Three white council members are expected to vote to disband the police department. The other three black council members are expected to vote against it. The mayor gets to break the tie.
Thurmond says, "If it's going to save the taxpayers $500,000 a year, then I'm all for it."
The talk has taken an ugly turn. Some say a sticker, made and being sold by Thurmond, is proof of an attack against one of the black councilmen. The sticker says, 'No Justus, no peas,' with a picture of a black monkey wearing sunglasses.
News 12's Laura Warren told Thurmond, "The sticker comes across as racist. It's a monkey pictured wearing sunglasses...," Thurmond interrupted, saying, "It doesn't mention anything about him, never mentions his name. So, it's not my fault if he looks at it and gets the impression it's him."
We asked, "So what does the sticker mean?" Thurmond responded, "It's just me trying to be funny."
"I don't see it as funny," City Councilman Nathaniel Cullars said.
Cullars believes the bumper stickers are racist, making fun of a video he posted on his Facebook.
News 12's Laura Warren asked Thurmond, just to clarify, "So, you're saying there's no racist undertones, no racist intent at all with the stickers?" Thurmond says no.
After Cullars saw the bumper stickers, he posted another video, addressing racism in the community.
"After he posted the video on Facebook, the sales of the decals have tripled," Thurmond said. "So thank you Nate Cullars for promoting my business."
The decision whether or not to disband the police department is expected to come to a vote at Thursday night's council meeting. As for those stickers, the Police Chief says she's investigating to see if they can charge Thurmond with hate speech charges.
We've also learned about a news conference and march before tomorrow's city council meeting. The news conference will be at 9 a.m. at Washington's city hall with members of Georgia's NAACP. At three in the afternoon, protestors plan to gather at the Wilkes County courthouse and march to the city council meeting.
There is a work session for councilmembers at 5 p.m. with the full meeting starting an hour later.