Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond told county commissioners Thursday that comments he recently made about insecurity-driven gun sales being related to Barack Obama's presidency were sensationalized in a newspaper headline.
Hammond didn't deny making the comments. He just said the Chattanooga Times Free Press overplayed their importance in Thursday's edition.
However, a commissioner who raised the issue at Thursday's agenda session said after hearing a tape of Hammond's comments that the sheriff didn't portray the conversation accurately.
"No, he didn't," Commissioner Greg Beck said. "He was the first one who brought it up. They asked him a question, and he answered."
On Tuesday, Hammond told members of the newspaper editorial staff that insecurity has been brewing in Hamilton County.
"By far, the last three years have been the most intense from public reaction ... in my emails, and my letters, and my visits and my speech questions, all driving around this, 'What can we do to make ourselves safer, to make our communities safer?" Hammond told the newspaper staff.
When asked Tuesday what was driving the insecurity, Hammond answered promptly.
"Mostly fear, mostly fear and uncertainty. Part of it is [the] first black president. I mean, we all see that. We may dance around it, but a lot of people are fearful of, 'Ah, this is going to ruin our country,'" Hammond said.
He went on to cite a "general erosion" of moral, spiritual and legal ideals.
On Thursday, Hammond told commissioners Times Free Press staff members asked him about the gun frenzy, which prompted his comment about the president.
However, a recording of Tuesday's editorial board meeting shows Hammond wasn't asked about guns before he commented about the presidency.
On Thursday, Hammond told commissioners that he is seeing the same mentality that existed after the Civil War "... a fear that the slaves were going to become the masters. Even today, we've seen a lot of people are upset that we have a black president."
He added that he respected any person elected to the White House.
Hammond told commissioners the headline was sensationalized and didn't match the story.
"I can assure you, as sheriff, I take very seriously the healing, whether it's racial healing, whether it's political healing. ... What you see in those headlines was not Sheriff Jim Hammond. It was editorial staff taking words and making their own headlines."
Beck said true or not, Hammond shouldn't have made the comment.
"He is saying what a lot of people are saying, but he shouldn't be the one saying it," Beck said. "I caution all elected officials not to fuel that kind of tension and resentment."
Saying the controversial comment only promoted resentment, Beck said he did not believe it warranted a headline -- or prominent placement in the paper.
During the agenda session, Beck said political leaders and the media should work to guide the public.
"I'm going to do my best to help steer people in the right direction. People are just like sheep without a shepherd, and they can be told anything," Beck said. "They can be told the end of the world is going to come Dec. 21, 2012, and the whole nation will think the end of the world is coming. That's just how gullible our citizens are. So we as leaders, we as media, we need to all be working together to help alleviate the fears of our citizens."
He added that Obama had nothing to do with insecurity or crime in Hamilton County.
"Now this is nonsensical. That one man in the presidency -- whether you like him or not -- one man will cause so much insecurity, so much fear in the community. It's the dumbest thing I ever heard."