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Black in America: I Am Afraid, But I Summon My Courage.

Hank Sanders

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By Senator Hank Sanders

Selma, AL – Every time I am stopped by law enforcement, I’m afraid. I recently shared this fear with a friend who is White. He said he understood, but it is very hard for most Whites to understand what it is like to be stopped by law enforcement when you are Black. I understand that difficulty, so I want to share why I’m afraid in spite of being a lawyer, a state senator, a graduate of Talladega College and Harvard Law School, a father of three lawyers, a husband of a lawyer, a grandfather of nine and a senior citizen. I am afraid, but I summon my courage.

I have had personal experiences that make me afraid. In 1979, I was in Detroit, Michigan in the church pastored by Rev. C.L. Franklin, the father of Aretha Franklin. A shooting occurred a couple of blocks away from the church that involved a policeman. The Detroit police came to the church and started shooting. We hid under the pews in fear of our lives. They stopped shooting and shouted for us to stand up with our hands over our heads. Every time we stood up with raised hands, the police started shooting again and we dived back under the pews. Finally, we were all standing with our hands up. A policeman ran down the church aisle with a shotgun shouting, “We can kill them all! We can kill them all!” I was afraid, but I summoned my courage.

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While my hands were over my head, the same policeman threatened to shoot me. He also threatened to shoot a woman standing next to me with a baby in her arms because the woman refused to drop her baby on the floor to raise her hands. He then grabbed me and pushed me down, tearing my clothes. I was handcuffed for hours. I was afraid, but I summoned my courage.

The police arrested all of us. I could not believe that all 152 of us were arrested, including the children and babies. I thought Faya Rose’s and my being law students at Harvard Law School would make a difference. It didn’t make one iota of difference. I was afraid, but I summoned my courage.

A policeman threatened to shoot me in a municipal courtroom because I cross-examined him vigorously. He said I called him a liar. I did not. I did challenge him on inconsistencies in his testimony on a traffic case. The municipal judge did not say a word while the policeman repeatedly threatened to kill me in his court. I was afraid, but I summoned my courage.

I was sitting in my car waiting for Faya Rose to purchase some kind of chocolate fudge. As I recall, she was pregnant. I did not know that Black people were not allowed to go to this Dairy Queen in Selma. I saw a White man walk up to Faya as she was standing in line and push her down and stand over her. I jumped out of the car, ran over, and knocked him down. He stabbed me in the side with a knife. I was arrested in the hospital and subsequently convicted. Neither education nor status nor profession mattered. I was afraid, but I summoned my courage.

I could go on with additional personal stories. However, I am not afraid just because of personal experiences. I am afraid because more than 4,000 Black people, mostly men, were publicly lynched between 1865 and 1965. We don’t know how many tens of thousands more were murdered in cold blood. We do know that law enforcement did nothing about these lynchings even though most were performed in public. Law enforcement sanctioned these lynchings. Neither the government nor the people in general opposed these lynchings. It was state-sanctioned terrorism for a hundred years. I am afraid, but I summon my courage.

I see how often law enforcement kill Black men – over a hundred so far this year. I see how these lawmen are rarely charged. I see how the few who are charged are almost never convicted. I am afraid, but I summon my courage.

I know Black lives matter less than White lives. I know that during hundreds of years of chattel slavery, Blacks were considered sub-human. The Supreme Court set forth this doctrine as the highest law in the land in the 1857 Dred Scott case. When one group thinks that another is subhuman, it is easy to enslave, kill and abuse. I am afraid, but I summon my courage.

I know that the belief that Black people are less than White people did not stop with the end of slavery. It continued for another one hundred years in the form of segregation. The Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision legalized this practice. Black people were certainly separate but never considered equal. Even after segregation officially ended with the enactment of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the construct of Black inferiority and White supremacy continued. I am afraid, but I summon my courage.

I am convinced that if I was stopped and killed by law enforcement this very day, nothing would likely be done about it. I know that the huge majority of lawmen will not kill me. However, I never know which of the small minority may kill me. I also know that too many other lawmen rally behind the ones who do kill. Too many lawmen consider it an attack on law enforcement just to say “Black lives matter.” I am afraid, but I summon my courage.

Finally, I am not afraid just for myself. The day my son Kindaka passed the Alabama Bar, he was beaten, arrested and charged by the Selma Police for no reason and for which he was ultimately completely cleared. Neither his Morehouse College and his Harvard Law School degrees nor his being a lawyer prevented police brutality. Yes, I am even more afraid for my son and grandsons by birth and for all my other sons and grandsons by heart. I know that they don’t have to do anything wrong in order to die. I hope this sharing will help us understand why millions of us are afraid but we summon our courage everyday and go on.

The roots of White supremacy and Black inferiority reach so deep. The great tragedy is that we don’t even see the trees so we fail to even search for the roots.

 

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | House passes VA bill, funds Choice Program

Martha Roby

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The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed S. 2372, the VA MISSION Act, taking another critical step towards fulfilling our promise to make the Department of Veterans Affairs work for the men and women who have selflessly served our great nation. I was proud to support the legislation, and I am very pleased that it addresses a number of important pieces of the large VA puzzle.

First and foremost, the VA MISSION Act extends and makes permanent funding for the VA Choice Program that many veterans depend on to receive care. You may have heard that Choice funding was set to expire at the end of May, and this bill prevents that from happening. In both densely populated and rural states alike, it can be very challenging for the VA medical centers to properly care for all veterans in a timely fashion, particularly when specialists are required. The Choice Program is an attempt to bridge this gap by allowing veterans to access private-sector care at VA expense if they have to wait longer than 30 days for a VA appointment or if they live more than 40 miles from a VA health care facility. It has been recorded that 550,000 veterans have used Choice so far this year, and in 2017, 14,790 Alabamians enrolled. Therefore, I am extremely glad that the House has taken action to ensure that this important program is funded.

Secondly, the VA MISSION Act expands the VA’s Post-9/11 Caregiver Program to include veterans of all eras. Currently, only caregivers of veterans from the post-9/11 era are eligible for monthly stipends through the VA, and I believe expanding this program to caregivers of veterans from all eras will help ensure that more veterans receive the help they need.

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Finally, officials at the VA have said that their current physical footprint includes “hundreds of outdated or obsolete facilities,” and many of these facilities are often not in close proximity to large veteran populations. This is a gross waste and misuse of precious resources. Congressman Phil Roe, the Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and author of the VA MISSION Act, said he believes a process free from bureaucratic politics is needed “to fix the massive and misaligned footprint” of the VA. The bill directs President Trump to establish a team to review the current VA operations across the country and make recommendations about ways we can modernize, improve, and streamline facilities and the services they provide. We can do better than this for our veterans, and I believe we will.

Before the House voted on the bill, 38 veterans groups issued a letter of support for the legislation and called it “a major step towards making improvements to and investments in the VA health care system… so that veterans have access to care when and where they need it.” I agree, and I believe this bill will improve the lives of veterans. Fortunately, I believe the Senate will act quickly on this important piece of legislation, and the President has suggested he will waste no time signing it into law.

You know as well as I do there’s no “quick fix” for the problems plaguing the VA – of course, I wish there was. Nonetheless, I will continue to support commonsense measures like the VA MISSION Act to deliver positive change for veterans. I have heard from countless veterans in Alabama’s Second District about the continued need for VA changes to improve the care they receive. We owe the men and women who have served our country the absolute best care possible, and I won’t stop fighting to achieve this. I hope we will soon see the VA MISSION Act signed into law.

Martha Roby represents Alabama’s Second Congressional District. She lives in Montgomery, Alabama, with her husband Riley and their two children.

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Opinion | Appreciation for law enforcement

Bradley Byrne

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Each day, law enforcement officers leave the safety of their homes not knowing if they will pass back through their own front doors at the end of the work day.  They leave their families behind to ensure the safety of our loved ones at schools, in neighborhoods, and on the roadways.  There is never enough we can do to show our appreciation for their work.

These men and women often go far beyond their official job descriptions.  Even when they are not wearing the uniform, law enforcement officers play a significant role in our neighborhoods, schools, and churches.  They even serve as positive role models for our children.

 I have had the chance to ride along with some of our local law enforcement officers and witness firsthand the challenges they face on the job.  Law enforcement officers encounter dangers on the job that do not exist in other professions.  It shocked me to realize that even a task as routine as a traffic stop can turn hostile, and in some cases, even deadly.

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That is why each year we celebrate National Police Week, which gives us an opportunity to reflect on the hard and dangerous work our nation’s law enforcement officers do daily.   Police Week attracts people from across the country to our nation’s capital for memorial services, parades, and vigils in honor of our men and women in blue.

Police Week also serves as a time to pay our respects as a nation to those whose end of watch came too soon.  I recognized National Police Week by speaking on the floor of the House of Representatives to honor these brave men and women and remember the life of one of our very own who was killed in the line of duty just four months ago.

Mobile Police Officer Justin Billa paid the ultimate sacrifice after being shot and killed while responding to a domestic violence call on February 20th, 2018.  In such a time of immense grief, we saw our community rally together to support the family and friends of fallen Officer Billa.  The impact of his death was felt throughout the United States, as officers and first responders from across the country traveled to Mobile to pay their respects.

To remember our fallen heroes and honor all of those in law enforcement, the House of Representatives passed several pro-law enforcement bills last week.

The Protect and Serve Act of 2018 toughens federal penalties against people who intentionally target law enforcement officers in attacks, including ambushes.

Additionally, we passed the Justice Served Act of 2018, which provides funds to prosecute cold cases that are solved by breakthrough DNA evidence, including backlogged rape kits.  This bill will strengthen our criminal justice system by making sure that newly-tested evidence is used to prosecute unsolved cases, thus ensuring violent criminals are brought to justice.

From legislation to prevent attacks on our officers to providing funding for additional resources, we are working to ensure these dedicated individuals have the tools they need to do their jobs and keep us safe.

Let us not forget that we sleep soundly at night due to the sacrifices our law enforcement officers make out on the streets.  We owe these individuals far more than our thanks for the services they provide.

I ask you to join me in showing your appreciation for the law enforcement officers in Southwest Alabama for living a life of service. May we honor them each and every day.

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | Let’s get our facts straight on the bridge

Tony Kennon and Robert Craft

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It’s always amazing how some people can misinterpret the facts. A case in point is the recent controversy over the proposed coastal bridge in Baldwin County. It’s hard for us to comprehend the opposition because we live here.

Opponents have deemed it a “bridge to nowhere,” but that couldn’t be further from the truth, because the Gulf Coast is Alabama’s largest economic engine. There isn’t a place in Alabama that contributes more tourism revenue than the cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Check our state budgets for the revenue we contribute. Check the studies performed to assess our economic impact to the state. This new bridge is headed to the future of our state.

The fact is, we are at capacity in our transportation system with the exception of a toll-paying option for a privately-owned, unregulated bridge many motorists aren’t willing to choose. Drivers will approach that toll bridge, but then cut across to Highway 59. That was fine when we had 10,000 to 15,000 visitors a day, but now those numbers are increasing at an overwhelming rate. Today, traffic is backing up through Foley toward Summerdale putting traffic at a standstill during peak seasons.

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This can have a damaging impact on state revenue because, not only does congested traffic make our visitors less likely to return, but we can’t grow our capacity when the transportation infrastructure won’t handle the load. Their “bridge to nowhere” is our bridge to the future.

Those few who oppose it say there haven’t been enough studies and that it hasn’t been proven to be in the public interest. We would invite anyone with any concern to take a ride to our beaches. They are welcome to study the parking lot called Highway 59. Approaching the cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, they will witness the traffic bottleneck caused by a bridge which is woefully over capacity.

Building a bridge wasn’t our first option. There was an attempt to purchase the existing toll bridge. But, why would we want to pay more for a bridge than we could build a new one ourselves?

And speaking of the bridge owners, let’s get down to who’s really opposing this project. Outside of a handful of local residents, the real opposition comes from the toll bridge company. After previous liquidation and bond actions, their investors want to get their money back. They have launched an ambitious, but misleading, campaign to stop the project so they can sell their bridge for hundreds of millions in taxpayer money.

These bridge owners want to attack this project as not being in the public interest. Let’s be honest with ourselves, who really thinks the bridge owners have the public interest at heart? Furthermore, when the public drives on Highway 59 or the proposed new coastal bridge, that is without a doubt a public interest.

As elected mayors, we’ve both served our communities for over a decade. And as such, we know what is in the public interest. There is no need for additional studies. We’ve listened to the travelers and our residents who must navigate our congested roads. We realize there is a desperate need for infrastructure expansion to move the growing traffic to and from the cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Doing so will improve the daily lives of our local citizens and entice our guests to return for years to come. And, it will create more and more revenue for the State of Alabama.

It’s time to put the wishes of the driving public first. And, it’s time to look after the interests and needs of those who live on the Gulf Coast and the millions who visit here every year.

 

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Black in America: I Am Afraid, But I Summon My Courage.

by Hank Sanders Read Time: 5 min
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