In the photo shown, eight beautifully polished African-American women are seated among each other in a courtroom where each one of them represents a separate branch of the criminal justice system in Fulton County, Ga. Yes, Really! About 95,000 people live in South Fulton and nearly 90 percent are black.
The city of South Fulton is Georgia’s fifth largest city and the first city in history where every criminal justice department head is an African-American woman. These high-profile women are interim police chief Sheila Rogers, Court Administrator Lakesiya Cofield, Chief Judge Tiffany Carter Sellers, City Solicitor LaDawn Jones, Public Defender Viveca R. Famber Powell, Clerk Tiffany Kinslow, Clerk Kerry Stephens, and Clerk of Court Ramona Howard.
When asked what they hoped their diversity would do for the community, they said, “Our goal is to ensure justice for everyone, however, as African-American women we are sensitive to the history of criminal justice in our country. We want to be an example of how to do things right.” Judge Sellers insists on courtroom decorum that shows respect to the accused, victims, and visitors. Likewise, the South Fulton court insist on giving each person and their case the respect they deserve from the moment they walk in the door.
Further, Judge Sellers spends much of her time ensuring everyone fully understands what is happening in the system. The hope is to restore faith in the justice system for many of the citizens who have had less than stellar experiences in other courts.
“In the City of South Fulton’s justice system, African-Americans are far less likely to be arrested, prosecuted, or detained in custody because of incidents like those seen in recent news,” the Atlanta Voice writes. “These assurances help law-abiding citizens, particularly African-Americans, feel less tense when they see blue lights in their rearview.”
“One of the primary purposes of laws is to protect citizens and the city,” City Solicitor LaDawnJones explained. “You can do that without sending everyone to jail or enforce high fees. Most people do better when they know better.”
In explaining the influence the city has had in her life and her work, interim police chief Sheila Rogers said: “I grew up in South Fulton. I grew up in neighborhoods where everyone around me were strong, independent, business-owning African-Americans, so black excellence is mundane to me. But, I recognize that this is an anomaly for other cities, and to see this many educated black women working as hard as we do is special for other little girls out there.”
According to an American Judicature Society study, 12.6 percent of judges chosen since 2000 were minorities in 2008, and 29.2 percent of judges selected in the 21st century were women. The Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics reports that of all full-time sworn personnel in large city police departments, 16.3 percent were female and 38.1 percent were minorities. This means that South Fulton is blowing other major cities out of the water when it comes to diversity.