On Feb. 29 Georgia legislators discussed a new proposed law that would make union picketing a felony but yesterday the sheriff of the largest county in the state blasted the bill, saying it would require him to shift from policing crime to policing free speech.
In a letter to SN49's sponsor, state Sen. Don Balfour, Fulton County Sheriff Theodore "Ted" Jackson said the bill would turn law enforcement's role "into a political one, where we would have to determine what protests do and do not fall under the definition of unlawful picketing under the bill.
"The role of law enforcement should not be to police free speech. But the intent of the bill seems to be just that. By targeting only protests dealing with labor disputes, you are putting police officers in the difficult position of silencing the voices of Georgians and, in the process setting us up to face potential lawsuits that would ultimately be paid for by taxpayers."
The sheriff also declared: "In addition, the bill would divert badly needed resources away from protecting Fulton County's residents."
At a press conference yesterday, leaders of numerous civil rights, community, faith, environmental and labor organizations also condemned the bill.
Rev. Timothy McDonald III, pastor of Atlanta's First Iconium Baptist Church, called the bill "an assault on working class people in America...the epitome of hypocrisy. It violates our freedom to assemble, our freedom of speech."
Martin Luther King III, son of the slain civil rights leader, was among those at the press conference.
He told reporters that if the law had been enacted during Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s time, it would have devastated the civil rights movement.
Charlie Fleming, president of the Georgia AFL-CIO, said the law would actually be "unenforceable" and that it would have the hidden consequences of straining public safety resources already stretched to the hilt by budget cuts.