When LaDawn “LBJ” Jones walked into a meeting at work a couple of months ago, she was hit with a serious case of “black girl magic.”
Jones, the city solicitor in South Fulton, Georgia, was meeting for the first time with the city’s municipal court staff. As she entered the room, she realized she was looking at something she’d never before seen in her legal career.
Everyone in the room looked like her.
“I walked into a very small conference room, and I noticed that it was all black women,” Jones told CNN. “I kind of got that feeling of ‘this is nice — this is exciting.'”
South Fulton, an Atlanta suburb and one of Georgia’s newest cities, has the distinction of being perhaps the first city in the nation to have its criminal justice system led entirely by black women:
Many will hail this group as a definitive sign of progress in the tortured relationship between the justice system and black America.
But does having a judicial system led entirely by black women automatically guarantee a greater degree of justice for residents of this city of 95,000 people?
They didn’t plan this
The women are quick to point out that this wasn’t some kind of grand diversity experiment by South Fulton, Georgia’s fifth-largest city, whose population is almost 90% black.
“This was not something that was pre-planned or prescribed,” said Chief Judge Tiffany Carter Sellers. “It came together very organically.”
The city of South Fulton was incorporated in May 2017, and work soon began on putting together a municipal court system. The first step was to get a judge, and Sellers was selected by a panel of Superior Court judges to serve as the city’s first chief jurist.
Jones, the city solicitor, and Powell, the city’s public defender, were hired by the city attorney. Interim police chief Rogers was selected by South Fulton Mayor William Edwards and the city council (5 of 7 of whom also are black women).
Then Sellers hired Cofield, the court administrator, and then they worked together to hire everyone else.
By January 2018, South Fulton’s municipal court was up and running.
The women are all the first hires in those positions in the young city’s history.
They were hired not because they were black women, Sellers said, but because of their experience and expertise in law enforcement and the courts — and also, in many cases, their ties to the community. Many of them grew up in South Fulton.