Ongoing protests aren’t about race, Routt County sheriff says in Facebook post | SteamboatToday.com
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Ongoing protests aren’t about race, Routt County sheriff says in Facebook post

Mac Gregory holds a sign during a protest June 1 on the front lawn of the Routt County Courthouse in response to racial injustice and police brutality following the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd. A panel on Wednesday focused on how local law enforcement is addressing systemic racism and working with the community to improve policies.
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In a post on social media Tuesday evening, Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins suggested the ongoing protests around the country aren’t about race. Wiggins instead indicated that people are “trying to create chaos in our nation during a campaign year.”

Protests across the country have been held in response to racial injustice and police brutality against black individuals, specifically displayed in the May 25 death of Minneapolis man George Floyd, as well as notable other deaths at the hands of law enforcement. Wiggins’ remarks follow last week’s peaceful protests in Steamboat Springs as some protests in major cities have escalated to violence and vandalism.

“This nonsense our country is experiencing has nothing to do with race,” Wiggins shared in the post, which was made to his private Facebook page but had been marked as public. “It is totally political, fueled by extreme ideology and haters of America.”

Wiggins said in a telephone interview Wednesday he bases his opinions on thorough research and data, and “the data does not support this protest movement where cops are targeting blacks and blacks are overwhelmingly killed by police more than whites.”

Wiggins said the data he refers to comes from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting, among other verifiable sources. That data, however, does not delineate minority deaths versus white deaths by the hands of law enforcement. That specific data does show that, based on percent distribution broken down by race for all crimes committed in 2017, black individuals were charged with 27.2% of crimes compared to 68.1% white individuals, 2.4% American Indian or Alaska Native, 1.2% Asian and .3% Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander.

“The leaders of these violent protests use race as an excuse to riot and commit all sorts of crimes against innocent people in the name of justice,” Wiggins said in his post. “If it were a racially motivated issue, these violent thugs would not be stealing from blacks, beating and robbing or shooting black people who are trying to protect their homes and businesses.”

Routt County Garrett Wiggins
Courtesy

A link attached to Wiggins’ post, from a Facebook page called The Italian American Page, showed photos of Atlanta Police Department Officer Maximilian Brewer and asked for prayers after Brewer was “run over by an ATV on June 1 during the Atlanta riots.”

“This deputy sheriff is black, and he was violently attacked serving his community and protecting the very people who tried to kill him. Why is the media not covering this tragedy and the other blacks victimized during these violent protests?” Wiggins stated in his post.

According to an Atlanta news station 11Alive WXIA, Brewer was injured May 30 when an intoxicated black man driving an all-terrain vehicle crashed into Brewer’s police motorcycle.

The Atlanta station reported that, while on the air, the ATV sped past a row of bicycle officers. Those officers then took off running and biking down the road. An 11Alive camera then saw Brewer lying face down in the street. One of the station’s reporters described hearing a loud sound when the ATV crashed into the motorcycle.

Brewer had serious injuries to his legs, according to the Atlanta Police Department, and has since entered into recovery.

Facebook

The driver of the ATV, Avery Goggans, was later charged with DUI, serious injury by vehicle, reckless driving, possession of marijuana and other traffic charges. It wasn’t indicated that Goggans was part of the protest.

“(Wiggins) is entitled to his own opinions,” Routt County Commissioner Beth Melton said.

The sheriff is an independent elected official whose office’s budget has oversight from the Routt County Board of Commissioners. While the board hasn’t taken an official position on Wiggins’ Facebook post, Melton said it’s been clear the protests occurring across the country are about racism.

“They’ve obviously focused on the racism that is inherent in our law enforcement systems across the country,” Melton said. “I stand in solidarity with the concerns that the protesters are bringing forward, and I think it’s a really important moment in this country’s history to shed light on the racism that is such a part of the fabric of this country.”

Originally from Florida, Wiggins has been Routt County sheriff for almost 10 years and has lived in the county for 21 years. 

Wiggins said he believes race relations in the country “have come a long way.” 

“I grew up in the Deep South, and race relations were not always that great,” he said. “I visit now, and I don’t see that vile hatred coming from both sides. I don’t see that like what was present 20 to 30 years ago.”

He said he hasn’t witnessed instances of racism in Routt County either.

“It’s frustrating to see people that want to get on social media and paint this picture that there’s all these race issues going on in our country when I think we’ve made a lot of progress and reduced the amount of racial disturbances that were present many years ago,” he said.

The crux of the issue, according to Wiggins, is instead an overall ideological frustration with law enforcement.

“I think a lot of this information that people believe is happening is fueled by people with different ideologies,” he explained.

In his capacity as sheriff and president of the Colorado Association of Sheriffs, Wiggins recently joined Stephen Schulz, president of the Colorado Fraternal Order of Police, and Gary Creager, Broomfield police chief and chairperson of the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, in issuing a letter to Gov. Jared Polis and other state leaders regarding the proposed “Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity” Senate Bill 20-217.

The letter expressed support for the bill, which was drafted in response to the continuing protests calling for greater law enforcement reform, but stated it is believed that making “such a vast number of changes based on concepts that have not gone through a community stakeholder process” is not in the best interest of Coloradans.

Requests for comment from the executive director of the Colorado Association of Sheriffs about Wiggins’ post were not returned by press time.

Wiggins admitted he was disgusted after watching the video of Floyd’s death. He said he supports efforts to curtail law enforcement actions when they are racially biased or motivated.

“In the eyes of law enforcement, we should never look at someone’s skin color and use that as a determining factor of how we’re going to react or what kind of action we’re going to take,” Wiggins said. 

Though that’s something he has not previously witnessed, he added.

“I’ve never seen that. I’m not saying that it’s never occurred in other places throughout the nation,” he said. “If there’s factual information that supports that there is racial profiling or something that is actually occurring, absolutely then there should be some action taken to correct that philosophical belief or that protocol.”

Rob Douglas, a political supporter of Wiggins, said the reality doesn’t need to be witnessed professionally.

“I can attest to the fact that too often racial minorities are treated far more harshly by police, prosecutors, judges and even the very laws passed by state and federal legislatures,” said Douglas, who previously served for 20 years working as a criminal defense investigator in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia. “The evidence is all around us, if only we open our minds and hearts to seeing the historic discrimination that the criminal justice system in the U.S. continues to impose on minorities — most especially African Americans — as it has since the founding of our country.”

While Wiggins said he appreciates that Routt County residents are able to respectfully express their First Amendment rights through protest, he said he finds it difficult to be part of a protest that is not supported by facts and data.

“We can’t take information from social media and from people who don’t have the evidence or the data to back up an argument and just take for granted that their argument is the truth,” he said. “I wish people could check their emotions.”

Kendra Ruth, organizer of one of the protests held last week in Steamboat, read Wiggins’ post.

“This is so disappointing,” Ruth said.

To reach Bryce Martin, call 970-871-4206 or email bmartin@SteamboatPilot.com.


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