They understand what it’s like to fear the criminal justice system
So is justice really any different in South Fulton compared to the rest of the country, where it’s mostly meted out by white men?
Yes, the women say. Being both black and female means they see things a little bit differently. Being black means they have empathy for many of the defendants who end up in police custody or appear in the courtroom, and they understand the fear that the criminal justice system will be biased against them because of the color of their skin.
They also say that as women they are natural nurturers, so they care deeply about the citizens they meet and want to help them succeed in life.
“We are wives, we are mothers, we are daughters, we are sisters, and we bring those experiences with us,” Sellers said.
Rogers, the interim police chief, says that being black and a woman doesn’t change the way she enforces the law. But she believes her empathic point of view and nurturing tendencies do influence how she treats people, and that trickles down through her 91-person department.
“The respect is there,” she said. “That same respect is what I expect of the South Fulton police department in their dealings with people (and) giving them an opportunity for a better way to live.”
They administer justice a little differently
In Sellers’ courtroom, all those good intentions are put into action, as South Fulton does a few things differently than other cities.
- Its municipal court has a pretrial diversion program called “Second Chance South Fulton,” which looks at people’s records to see if they can be diverted from the criminal justice system and instead given resources, such as counseling, to keep them out of further trouble. Sellers, who was a trial attorney for over a decade, said she’s never seen a pretrial diversion program at the municipal court level as strong as the one in South Fulton.
- Under state law, defendants don’t need to have an attorney present when they first go before a judge. In South Fulton, however, every defendant is given a public defender for their first appearance. “The law doesn’t require that you get a lawyer for that. I think that’s kind of silly,” Sellers said. “I think we can do it better, so we do.”
- The city places extra emphasis on educating citizens about the law. “I think that we should be educating people that if you are driving with a suspended tag, your license will be suspended for six months if you are found guilty,” Sellers said. “People don’t know that, but it’s a reality that happens every day. I’m very big on making sure that people really understand the law, understand the consequences of bad decisions.” She added, “I think it’s part of the woman thing that we do, where we nurture people … to seek a life-changing, life-altering result.”
By Doug Criss, CNN