Meet The New Bosses Of the South Fulton, Ga, Municipal Criminal Justice System. This Photo Went Viral

Written by Dana Sanchez

Once a suburb of Atlanta, South Fulton is now Georgia’s fifth-largest city, it’s 90 percent Black and every criminal justice department in the city is headed by a Black woman — a first in U.S. history, according to The Atlanta Voice, an African-American community newspaper.

It has been just over a year since South Fulton was incorporated. In January 2018, the city’s municipal court began operating and in March 2018 the city’s police services officially began.

A photo published in The Atlanta Voice earlier this month went viral. It showed the eight African-American women who are leading the City of South Fulton’s law enforcement and municipal court system.

The women are dressed in black with the wood-paneled walls of a courtroom as their backdrop.

“In the City of South Fulton, that is what justice looks like — a law enforcement and municipal court system that is led exclusively by black women,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

South Fulton
This photo went viral showing the eight African-American women who are leading the City of South Fulton’s law enforcement and municipal court system. They are, front row, left to right: City Solicitor LaDawn Jones, Court Administrator Lakesiya Cofield, Public Defender Viveca R. Famber Powell, Interim Police Chief Sheila Rogers. Back row, left to right: Clerk Kerry Stephens, Chief Judge Tiffany Carter Sellers, Clerk of Court Ramona Howard, Clerk Tiffany Kinslow. Photo: Reginald Duncan, Cranium Creation

The racial and gender makeup of the team came together after months-long talent searches that started in 2017.

The fact that they are all African American wasn’t pre-planned or prescribed, said Chief Judge Tiffany Carter Sellers in a CNN interview. “It came together very organically.”

The city of South Fulton was incorporated in May 2017. The first step was to get a judge. Sellers was selected by a panel of Superior Court judges to serve as the city’s first chief jurist.

Jones, the city solicitor, and Powell, the city’s public defender, were hired by the city attorney. Interim police chief Rogers was selected by South Fulton Mayor William Edwards and the city council (5 of 7 of whom also are Black women).
Then Sellers hired Cofield, the court administrator, and then they worked together to hire everyone else.

Many of them grew up in South Fulton, Sellers told CNN. They were hired because of their experience, expertise in law enforcement and the courts, and their ties to the community.

Does a judicial system led entirely by Black women guarantee justice for residents of this city of 95,000 people?

The women are quick to point out that this wasn’t some kind of grand diversity experiment by South Fulton, CNN reported, but they acknowledge that they’re a source of pride and inspiration for many people.

Public Defender Viveca Famber Powell shared with CNN how a man with a traffic ticket brought his young daughter to court so she could see the women running it.

“He wanted his daughter to see this combination of Black women handling business,” Powell said. “He had a ticket and I wondered why he had his little girl with him. Most of the time, people do not bring school-aged children to court. He told me … this is why he brought her.”

Since 2000, 12.6 percent of judges were minorities in 2008, and 29.2 percent of judges selected since 2000 were women, according to an American Judicature Society study, AJC reports. Of all full-time sworn personnel in large city police departments, 16.3 percent are women and 38.1 percent are minorities, the Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics reported.

“You’ll see a lot of people who come to court and have had less than stellar experiences with police officers,” Solicitor LaDawn Jones told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “To them we are an extension of whatever happened to them during their arrest or some previous arrest.”

“I think all of us are genuinely invested,” Sellers said. “I know several of us live in the community, have gone to school or have been reared in the community and so there is this personal attachment to the community that I’m not certain exists in other places. It’s personal for us.”