As a student at the Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy, Aaron Appelhans used to look at the photos of past graduating classes hanging on the wall. "I got to see, for the most part, ain't a whole lot of people that looked like me around here," he recalled of the mainly white faces. A decade later, Appelhans, 39, was appointed Wyoming's first Black sheriff, a post he took months after fury over racist policing roiled US cities. His turf includes one of Wyoming's last Democratic strongholds, but the state is overwhelmingly conservative and white, and he's already faced a racist remark from a lawmaker, the AP reports. It didn't surprise him. Wyoming has made progress but remains "very racist," said Stephen Latham, president of the state NAACP. The lawmaker later apologized.
A deputy's fatal shooting of an unarmed, mentally ill man two years ago played a major role in Appelhans' appointment to Albany County sheriff. The backlash carried over into last summer's national protests over racial injustice and police brutality. The group Albany County for Proper Policing formed and pushed for Appelhans to take over when his predecessor retired. "Let's take this anger and pain and turn it into progress," said a Democratic state lawmaker who leads the group. Appelhans grew up near Denver experiencing racism and had relatives in the criminal justice system. He said he understands both sides of the protest movement. "We're not 'cops,'" Appelhans said. "I'm listed, just like every other deputy here is listed, as a peace officer. We're here to keep the peace. And so that's really kind of one of the big changes I've wanted to have law enforcement focus on."
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