WSB-TV reports that they have been given a photo of Cherokee County Sheriff Roger Garrison wearing what appears to be a KKK robe and hood to a costume party in about 1987, and that Garrison says he never had any connection to the Ku Klux Klan.
“I don’t deny it wasn’t stupid, looking back now, but there again I say what 21- or 22-year-old in this world hasn’t made some stupid mistakes?” Garrison told Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer, who obtained the photos from a source who wished to remain anonymous.
Garrison is up for re-election this year, and is facing primary opposition next month.
“It’s purely political,” he said, “This is just the lowest of the low to infer whatever they’re attempting to infer there.”
Garrison said he and a friend were dressed as characters from a scene in the movie “Blazing Saddles” and that he has never espoused any of the KKK’s beliefs.
“I don’t think anyone who knows me is going to think anything of this, but it’s just sickening and it hurts my family,” said Garrison.
“Everybody knows everything about my life. I would just ask that they look at my honor and my integrity and the things we’ve done for this sheriff’s office,” said Garrison.
WSB notes that Garrison’s opponent in the Republican primary says he was made aware of the photo but chose not to make an issue of it, and his opponent was not the person who brought it to their attention.
Garrison’s opponent, David Waters, said someone showed him the photos a year ago, but he chose to ignore them and focus on his own campaign.
“It is a bad judgment call, and (that) type of clothing represents hate, and I certainly don’t want any part of that,” said Waters.
Waters was not the source who provided the photos to Channel 2 Action News.
I’m not sure what I think about this yet, but I’ll offer a few points.
First, as far as Garrison’s opponent, I think it was a good call on his part to not make an issue of something that Garrison did 25 years ago before he was Sheriff. In 1987, I was 16 years old and a normal, stupid, 16-year old male. Probably did some things I wouldn’t do now, and I think most people are like that as they mature.
Second, here’s my rule of thumb with respect to negative information about political opponents: if it happened in college or earlier, I probably wouldn’t use it if they’re, say, 40 years or older, unless it was rape, murder, or something of that level.
Third, as a voter, I give less weight to past actions that were simply in bad taste or bad personal choices, the further in the past they are. Garrison’s point about judging a stupid thing he did 25 years ago against his long career in public service is apt.
On the other hand, if it was twenty years ago, and Garrison has been Sheriff 20 years with a law enforcement career before that, it’s likely that the event occurred while he was a law enforcement officer professionally. That makes it a little bit more appalling, but doesn’t diminish the above points.
Finally, I note that in 1987, in the counties north of Metro Atlanta, and at that time, I don’t think Cherokee would have been considered part of Metro Atlanta, the KKK had recently been in the news in Forsyth County.
In January and February, violence erupted in Forsyth County when KKK members confronted a march led by Hosea Williams, and later staged a counterdemonstration to Williams’s follow-up march.
Given that political climate at the time, it would have been hard for any law enforcement officer wearing a Klan robe and hood for any reason to not be making an overt political statement.