Gwinnett Sheriff Keybo Taylor had a simple message for young people as he was sworn in at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center on Saturday: the past, with whatever setbacks lie there, is not a barrier to the future.
Taylor, who has made history as the first African-American to be elected sheriff of Gwinnett County, talked about growing up in one of Lawrenceville’s poorer neighborhoods. He grew up to serve in the county’s police department and became its first Black major and the first African-American leader of the department’s narcotics unit.
The sheriff, who admitted he is not without his flaws, also talked about the criticisms of him that he faced on the campaign trail last year, whether it be over his finances, how much name recognition he had or other items.
But, Taylor said that anyone who wants to make history has to let go of whatever limitations they believe they have because of issues or struggles in their past.
“Failure builds character, but we must also understand that failure is not final and that it should never control or foretell the vigor or your enthusiasm for success,” Taylor said. “Your failure will leave scars and those are your badge of courage. You can hide it or you can proudly display it, but your scars are not the sum of who you are.
“Our life stories are not without suffering, troubles and antagonists. Some of us want a fairy tale, ‘Once upon a time,’ ‘the end.’ I charge you to show me a story with an epic challenge and I guarantee you a story with an epic ending.”
Taylor’s swearing in ceremony was original supposed to take place in December, but it was postponed until this weekend after he tested positive for COVID-19 right before Christmas.
The event on Saturday was about celebrating the start of Taylor’s history-making tenure as sheriff. Taylor is one of eight African-American sheriffs currently serving in metro Atlanta counties.
While Taylor told attendees he was honored to make history as Gwinnett’s first Black sheriff, and the county’s 45th sheriff overall, he also pledged to be inclusive of the county’s entire community.
In addition to Taylor being the first Black sheriff in Gwinnett’s history, the sheriff’s office also now has its first LGTBQ section commander, as well as its first Hispanic assistant chief and first Black assistant chiefs and its first Black chief deputy.
“When we see diversity within the law enforcement community at the top of the chain, it gives us hope for tomorrow,” Taylor said. “Don’t you know that when we lock up a son or a daughter, we lock up the mother, the father, the family. Now, my words and my comments here now is by no means a pass to let criminals run free.
“But the words are, however, a torch which shines a light on what we have accomplished towards serving all of the members of our community. Everybody in Gwinnett County, whether you’re Black, whether you’re brown, whether you’re white, I’m here to be the sheriff of everybody here in Gwinnett County.”
After the swearing in ceremony, Taylor said there are several areas he would like to tackle in the future to deal with various issues, where it be educational programs or addressing mental health issues.
“We have a large platform of areas that we’re talking about, but I want to see here real soon where we’re starting to roll out more, talking about more educational projects that are coming out, more projects that are working with our mentally ill, more things as far as how we partner with the school system (to help) our kids,” Taylor said.
He kicked off his tenure as the county’s top law enforcement official on Jan. 1 by disbanding the county jail’s embattled Rapid Response Team and terminating the office’s participation in the controversial 287(g) detention program on his first day in office.
Under the 287(g) program, the office detained non-U.S. citizens who had been arrested on other crimes until they could be turned over to federal immigration officials for possible deportation. It had long been the source of controversy, with supporters, including former Sheriff Butch Conway, claiming it made Gwinnett safer while opponents claimed the people being detained were more often than arrested on non-violent offenses, such as traffic issues.
Taylor replaced the 287(g) program and the Rapid Response Team with new initiatives aimed at tackling gang activity and human trafficking, two issues that he said in earlier January were priorities he heard people on the campaign trail say they wanted to see addressed.
“As sheriff of Gwinnett County, Georgia, my concrete vision is to protect, preserve and defend our highest ideals of our community and safety,” Taylor said. “When a mentally ill inmate is released ... I’ll use the resources of this office to make sure that this person gets what they need.
“When a drug-addicted daughter who has been in and out of trouble for 10 years loses her only sister while she’s incarcerated in our jail and her father reaches out for help, I’ll use the influence of the office to grant that father a visit so that he can come in and break that news to his daughter in person.”
And, in the end, Taylor kept coming back to his point there are no limits to what a person can do if they do not let their past define their future.
“You just know that if you work hard and do what you’re supposed to do, get your education, get your training, you don’t let them put those limitations on you,” the sheriff said after the ceremony. “Those are limitations that someone else put on you, but you don’t put limitations on yourself, and once you get past that, then the sky’s the limit.”