Herschel Walker is taking the Donald Trump approach to campaigning. Leaning into his false claims and fabrications, Walker wants to give Republican voters the impression of action on crime.
Instead of leaning into policy or specific actions he would take as a U.S. Senator, Walker seems fixated on the law enforcement equivalent of a pilot’s wings. According to NBC News, the Walker campaign ordered fake badges to hand out at an event.
Yes, the badge memes have been hilarious. But Walker and his supporters, including the Johnson County Sheriff, increasingly blur the line between fact and fiction.
“Everyone can make fun, but this badge gives me the right– wait, let me finish. If anything happened in this county, I have the right to work with the police getting things done,” Walker said in an interview.
Except that isn’t true. The badge doesn’t give Walker the right to do anything other than say he received the honor.
Walker keeps playing fast and loose with the facts. But an honorary badge being real doesn’t mean it is an actual law enforcement badge. There is no legal authority to write a traffic ticket, let alone arrest someone. It’s a sign of support, like a bumper sticker or a button.
In a bit on Stephen Colbert’s “Tooning Out the News,” Walker can be heard taking down information about an alleged crime and answering questions. At no point does Walker explain he’s not an actual officer. He also never suggests the caller report the crime to the real police. The fake badges have clearly gone to Walker’s head.
Honorary badges remain a largely unregulated practice
The New York Times previously reported on the unregulated nature of the badges. A former Georgia District Attorney, J. Tom Morgan, said there was widespread abuse of the badges at one point. (Read the full article here).
“Georgia sheriffs were seriously handing out those badges like candy in a candy dish,” Morgan told the New York Times. “That badge gives you no law enforcement authority. He doesn’t have the power to write a traffic ticket.”
Walker has claimed to have honorary badges from at least Cobb and Johnson Counties. The current Cobb County sheriff doesn’t have a record of Walker working with his department.
Allegedly giving motivational pep talks to local law enforcement isn’t the same as working in law enforcement, which he has repeatedly claimed. Walker’s handlers know this and allow him to blur the lines intentionally. By leaning into this fabrication, the Walker campaign seeks to hide from his earlier lies about being in law enforcement and working with the FBI.
Also, Walker’s insistence on claiming law enforcement bona fides is everything that is wrong with these deputy programs. Years ago, sheriff’s departments in Alabama and Arkansas paused giving out honorary badges because of abuse.
Sheriffs in Jefferson County began handing out honorary deputy badges in the early 1960s. The sheriff’s department suspended the practice in 2015 for numerous instances of abusing the privilege.
Fake badges could encourage vigilantism amid hyped-up rhetoric around crime.
Currying favor with law enforcement officers by pretending to be a member of law enforcement doesn’t translate into safer communities. Handing out fake badges could arguably encourage vigilantism, making communities less safe.
This becomes particularly concerning in a state rocked by violent vigilante justice. We’ve already seen what can happen when people think they are authorized to act under the law without regard for Black life.
In 2020, white vigilantes thinking they were entitled to patrol and take the law into their own hands, murdered Ahmaud Abrey. Now more than two years after his murder, a leader in Georgia’s Republican party is encouraging people to embrace vigilantism in a state with no gun licensure requirement.
Earlier this summer, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill removing the permit requirement to carry a concealed weapon. A viral commercial from the 2018 election cycle showed Kemp pointing a gun at a young man with no apparent regard for gun safety.
Republicans like Kemp and Walker see taking the law into their own hands as a justifiable way of resolving issues but only for those who share their ideological perspective. These same people look the other way when Black gun owners like young Marc Wilson are crushed by the alleged justice system for acting in what they believed was self-defense.
Wilson, who reasonably believed he was defending himself and his girlfriend from an aggressive act of road rage, was sentenced to 10 years in prison last month. But this is the political environment within which we find ourselves.
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