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Gary Younge
New black sheriff sacks opponents

The county's antebellum architecture has given way to suburban strip malls, and political dominance has passed from the white slaveowners to the African-American middle class.

Nothing quite signifies this transition as much as its newly elected black sheriff.

On his first day Victor Hill invited 27 supervisors, deputies and correction officers loyal to the former, white, sheriff to what they thought was a swearing in ceremony.

When they got there armed colleagues took their badges, weapons and car keys and escorted them from the building under the eye of rooftop snipers - offering them a ride home in prisoner vans. "How do you safely tell 30 people that they're not being reinstated?" Mr Hill told the New York Times from his courthouse office. "You do it in a jail where there are no weapons."

And Mr Hill told the Los Angeles Times that he deployed the snipers because a sheriff-elect in neighbouring DeKalb county was assassinated four years ago by the defeated incumbent when he declared his intention to dismiss some staff; the snipers were there "just in case someone got emotional".

Emotions were indeed running high. Before the dramatic lockout the brother of the rival candidate for sheriff was charged with making harassing phone calls to Mr Hill; the latter also claims that his predecessor, Stanley Tuggle, left personnel files missing or shredded and computers infected with viruses.

Mr Hill insists he has the authority to fire staff at will. He has, however, been forced to rehire them by a superior court judge pending a hearing on Friday.

Some in Clayton County believe Mr Hill has marred what would have been an amicable shift from white to black control. The county's black population has doubled in 14 years, giving it a narrow 51% majority that last year was translated into significant political gains with its black majority government, county commission, district attorney, solicitor general, magistrate, and sheriff.

While most of the people Mr Hill fired were white, the defining issue seems to be whether they supported his opponent, Stanley Tuggle; they included a number of African-Americans, like the commander of personnel and training, Tina Daniel. She had counted Mr Hill as a friend, even though she did not vote for him.

Ms Daniel said she was prepared to support him once elected, and, even though his actions had maddened her, she would go back if given the chance. "He's our first black sheriff. If he fails, I fail."

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