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A Disquisition on greed in politics, Part 2: Examples of greed in Alabama politics

Samuel McLure

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By Sam McLure
Alabama Political Reporter

Politics is No Place for the Invisible Hand of Capitalism

In the early 20th century, G.K. Chesterton responded to a newspaper inquiry which asked readers to send in answers to a pressing question: “What is wrong with the world?”  Chesterton’s write-in response was, “Dear Sir: Regarding your article ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ I am. Yours truly, G.K. Chesterton.”

Any analysis of greed in politics must start with this kind of humility.  We must acknowledge that the test of influence is far more perilous than the test of obscurity. With more power comes more opportunity for greed – more opportunity to use our position and influence to promote ourselves to the detriment of our neighbor.

This accurate self-assessment, is, in-part, what drove the founders of our government to establish safeguards to prevent too great a consolidation of governmental prowess. No man is up to the task of absolute power. In an ideal world, everyone would be as reluctant to acquire power as George Washington, who had to be begged into the Presidency. But, we do not live in an ideal world. We live in a very fallen world. Thus, in 2017 we must accurately diagnose occurrences of greed in politics and consider how to restrain the opportunity for acting on it, just as the founders of America did in 1776.

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In our Introduction with Mr. Blue Suit, we explored a satirical analogy of greed in politics; and  in Part I, we highlighted Sen. Calhoun’s observation that, behind the scenes of both political parties, there is a group of “active politicians”, controlled by greed, with whom “a regard for principle or this or that line of policy is a mere pretext. They’re perfectly indifferent to either and their whole effort is to make up on both sides such issues as they may think for the time the most popular, regardless of truth or consequences.”

Sen. Calhoun also observed “that our whole system is rapidly becoming a mere money-making concern to those who have the control of it.” And that “every feeling of patriotism is rapidly sinking into a universal spirit of [greed].”

On this point I must disagree with Sen. Calhoun; he could have benefited from a little more historical perspective.  The American governmental system was not “rapidly becoming” consumed with and controlled by greed. On the contrary, this has always been the bent of government.  As long as fallen men and women have the reigns of power, the most difficult questions of proper governing will revolve around how to restrain vicious greed in politics.

Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations 

The same year the American Declaration of Independence was submitted to the Crown, Adam Smith submitted his treatise to the world, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.  The notion of capitalism’s “Invisible Hand” and the great benefits of free trade between countries are some of the more conspicuous attributes of Smith’s work.

A less known attribute is Smith’s disdain for business-conglomerate-interests which tend to control governments for their own greedy interests, in violation of the free market, and to the detriment of the community.

“[T]he cruelest of our revenue laws . . . are mild and gentle, in comparison to some of those which the clamour of our merchants and manufacturers has extorted from the legislature, for the support of their own absurd and oppressive monopolies. Like the laws of Draco, these laws may be said to be all written in blood.”

“The capricious ambition of kings and ministers has not, during the present century, been more fatal to the repose of Europe, than the impertinent jealousy of merchants and manufactures.

It is the industry which is carried on for the benefit of the rich and the powerful, that is principally encouraged by our mercantile system. That which is carried on for the benefit of the poor and the indigent is too often either neglected or oppressed.”

Where do we find greed in Alabama Politics?

The examples of greed in Alabama politics are as ubiquitous as the aroma of peanuts in the Wiregrass. We need look no further than Oliver Robinson, Luther Strange, Mike Hubbard, or Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama’s monopoly on health insurance.

The atrocities of greed are grievous regardless of party affiliation. No five year old dreams of growing up to be a greedy bastard.  Children dream of being pure-hearted superheroes, or talented athletes, or kind and beautiful princesses.  Greed perverts the good intentions of our hearts in small and great ways every day.  It is thus incumbent upon those endowed with the public trust, our elected officials, to rigorously and daily subject themselves to the highest levels of scrutiny.

Lobbying for “Business Interests” to the Detriment of the Community

Prowling in the shadowlands of Alabama politics are two, so-called, non-profits which posses such a conglomeration of power over the processes of Alabama’s government, that they are inevitably used for greed: Business Council of Alabama (BCA) and the Medical Association of Alabama (MASA).  And, by “used for greed,” I do not mean that they only perpetuate policies of greed which serve a detriment to the community.  They often exude noble goals for the good of the entire state.  Their employees and members are not all evil actors consumed with greed. Their lobbyist aren’t all secretly serpentine sewer dwellers.

Yet, what they posses is such a conglomeration of power over the processes of government, that they are inevitably leveraged for greed.

Again, Adam Smith explains:

“It cannot be very difficult to determine who have been the contrivers of this whole mercantile system; not the consumers, we may believe, whose interest has been entirely neglected; but the producers, whose interest has been so carefully attended to and among this latter class, our merchants and manufacturers have been by far the principal architects. In the mercantile regulations … the interest of our manufacturers has been most peculiarly attended to; and the interest, not so much of the consumers, as that of some other sets of producers, has been sacrificed to it.”

The first red-flag to notice about BCA is that the CEO of this “non-profit” takes home a salary that is 1,500 percent higher than the average Alabamian’s income, not to mention his complimentary Montgomery Country Club membership.  There is nothing a-moral about earning such a salary, but there are two things which should alarm us, right off the bat. First, Bill Canary and the BCA are lying. The mantle of “non-profit” is a farce when the CEO takes home $600,000 in salary.  Second, living at this level of economic elitism, 1,500 percent above average, has the tendency to make a man 1,500 degrees out of touch with the average Alabamian – out of touch with the community and what serves its good.

The second red-flag is that almost nobody in the Yellowhammer State spends more on influencing elections than BCA.  In the last election cycle, BCA spent almost $250,000 just on ensuring that the two most powerful men in the Legislature, Mike Hubbard and Del Marsh, were re-elected … Not to mention dozens of other candidates from both major parties.

Is this inherently evil? No. It is not. But, it endows BCA with, at least, the reputation of being able to get anyone they want elected. It has the tendency to send a message to any politician who opposes their agenda, “Vote the way we want you to vote, or  you will not be sitting here after the next election. We will find someone more ‘business friendly’ to run against you, and will mega-fund their campaign.”

While this business-interest-power-conglomeration is not inherently evil, the net effect of the intoxication of its power gave Bill Canary the audacity to track down a Legislator in the halls of the State House and publicly wag his finger in this Legislators face demanding an account: “What were you thinking introducing that bill! You didn’t get our permission!” If Bill Canary is so brazen as to do this in public, we must wonder what cupidity transcends in private.

A third red flag we should notice is the irregularities in the source and frequency of contributions to BCA’s political action committee, Progress PAC. Most donations are from hundreds of different business in the $200-$300 dollar range.  Then there is the seemingly “random” donation of $15,000 from a towing company or $10,000 from a major law firm.  Gaining an explanation for these amounts and what specific benefit the larger “sporadic” donors hope to obtain, is a veil that perhaps only the Alabama Attorney General can pierce.

Politics is No Place for the Invisible Hand of Capitalism

Some of the initiatives that BCA has pursued seem noble and good for “the body of people” – like tort reform. While BCA’s stated mission is “to improve industry and labor conditions for the State of Alabama,” the trend of BCA’s legislative initiatives, of late, has been harder to connect with a state-wide benefit to business.  One particularly troubling trend should be highlighted.

Any time the Federal Government dangles the carrot of Federal money, BCA chases it. Under the Obama administration, the Federal Government promised billions of dollars if Alabama would implement certain educational policies known as Common Core. Under the Trump administration the same carrot is used with infrastructure money.  In both cases, BCA has served as the impetus for Alabama to relinquish its sovereignty for the financial benefit of a few business who gain exorbitant contracts.

The evils of being beholden to Federal Money have been covered in-depth and can be reviewed in the article, Something Wicked This Way Comes.  In order for Alabama to be truly free, we must stop taking money from the Federal Government.

Take the Orwellian Data Collection Bill, HB 97, for example. The ODC, as I like to call it, proposed to keep data on all Alabama citizens from pre-kindergarten, all the way through school, and into a persons working career, and until they die; then store all that data in one central location. After 30 minutes of debate in the House Committee, it became clear that this bill would expand government and put Alabama citizens at risk of identity theft.  But, the benefit to the State was that we would get more Federal money. That’s right, the Federal Government is bribing the states to gather and store data on all their citizens.

The Orwellian Data Collection bill is a terrible policy for the people of Alabama, but because certain business interests will profit from the arrangement, BCA lobbies in its favor, regardless if it is good for the citizens of the State of Alabama.

If time and space allowed, we could write an entire article on BCA’s chase to enrich select businesses with Federal infrastructure money and their plan to make the “body of people” pay with the excise of a 9 cent gas tax. We could cover the special subdivision BCA has established to convince Alabamians this is for their own good, Alliance for Alabama’s Infrastructure, their Twitter account Fix AL Roads, and their Facebook page, Fix My Roads Alabama, which coincidentally is endorsed by Vulcan Materials, which coincidentally is one of the nations largest producers of the stuff that is necessary to build roads and bridges. Alas, it does not.

 

Medical Association of the State of Alabama – Monopoly of the Home Market

Adam Smith poignantly observed the conflict of interests between the “merchants and manufacturers” and the “body of the people”:

“[The interests of the merchants and manufacturers is] directly opposite to that of the great body of the people [in buying whatever they want of those who sell it cheapest]. As it is the interest of the freemen of a corporation to hinder the rest of the inhabitants from employing any workmen but themselves; so it is the interest of the merchants and manufacturers of every country to secure to themselves the monopoly of the home market.”

The same is true of the Medical Association of Alabama, MASA.  They protect the turf of medical doctors. They seek a monopoly on healthcare by opposing expanded practice rights for chiropractors, oppose the licensing of naturopathic doctors, and oppose the practice of mid-wives.  MASA opposes protecting pre-born infants from murder and any policy that would permit the free-market to disturb their members’ monopoly on healthcare.

While it is true that MASA works on some laws and regulations that keep Alabamians safe, we must ask what restrains MASA from being used as a tool to accomplish what Adam Smith described as “a manifest violation of the most sacred rights of mankind,” to wit, preventing the citizenry “from making all that they can of every part of their own produce, or from employing their stock and industry in the way that they judge most advantageous to themselves”?

 

BCA and MASA are Just Playing the Game!?

I’m obviously picking on BCA and MASA, but they are not alone. 298 PACs supported Hubbard for a total of $1.25 million or 75% of his campaign contributions.  Del Marsh’s numbers are almost identical: 237 PACS for $1.1 million or 65% of his campaign contributions. And, let’s not be too hard on the candidates that took BCA money. In 2014, it was BCA that helped to ouster AEA … and the resulting Republican take-over.  It was almost a stamp of honor to take BCA money, because that meant you weren’t taking money from AEA.  Even the anti-establishment golden boy, Rep. Ed Henry, took $15,000 from BCA.

The sheer volume of PACs makes it nearly impossible for the people of the State of Alabama to understand what influences “their” politicians. For example Retailers of Alabama PAC gave Del March $42,500; ROADPAC gave $35,500; CAREPAC gave $35,000; Automobile Dealers Assoc. of Alabama Inc. Auto PAC gave $40,000; MASA gave $70,000; and Alabama Power Co. Employees State PAC gave $50,000.

ROADPAC for example is Chaired by Terry Bunn and has the stated purpose of “the protection and advancement of the roadbuilding industry.” The Bunn family is based out of Tuscaloosa and has been in the transportation industry since 1917.  Since 2013, ROADPAC received $450,000 in contributions from 40 construction companies.  These 40 companies used ROADPAC to pool their resources to get the biggest bang-for-their-buck.  What’s better than 40 small sticks? Answer: one big stick.

What would stop ROADPAC from using their one-big-stick to pass laws in Alabama that are contrary to the best interests of the State of Alabama, like the 9 cent gas tax? Certainly ROADPAC will pressure it’s politicians to pass laws that will enable the 40 companies who contributed to ROADPAC to get access to the $4 billion in infrastructure money promised by the Trump administration.

What if the next president says she will give $8 billion to each state for infrastructure on condition that each state implements an educational policy which promotes the “principle” that Christianity is a religion of hate.  Would ROADPAC be able to stop itself from going after the Federal Money? Would the 40 companies which fund ROADPAC step back and say, “Wait a minute guys … maybe we shouldn’t go after this Federal money.”

I don’t think so. Federal Money is like a heroine addiction.  Without an outside force acting on the addict, without an intervention, the addict will persist in his self-destructive ways.

The fact is that BCA and MASA are not villains. They’re just the best at the game.  And can we blame them? It’s a game everyone is trying to play.  Get control of government to get control of tax revenue and protect the turf of your industry. 

The citizens of Alabama must expect and fight for better.  In Edinburg, Scotland, at the base of so-named Castle, stands a monument with the inscription, “A true Scotsman gives up his freedom, only at the cost of his life.”  I wish this were true of Alabama. Adam Smith explained that the prohibitions and regulations on trade extorted by the business-interests-conglomerates of his day as an impertinent bases of slavery imposed upon [the community], without any sufficient reason, by the groundless jealousy of the merchants and manufacturers.”

BCA, MASA, and the hundreds of other business conglomerates in Alabama seek the same thing, “an impertinent bases of slavery,” imposed through the State Legislature, enforced by the Governor, and upheld by the Judiciary. Rep. Davy Crocket warned of this when he proclaimed that “the power of collecting and distributing money at pleasure is the most dangerous power known to man.”

Adam Smith is an Optimist

In addition to his bleak analysis, Adam Smith gives us hope that the invisible hand of capitalism can be restrained in politics:

“The violence and injustice of the rulers of mankind is an ancient evil, for which, I am afraid, the nature of human affairs can scarce admit a remedy: but the mean rapacity, the monopolizing spirit, of merchants and manufacturers, who neither are, nor ought to be, the rulers of mankind, though it cannot, perhaps, be corrected, may very easily be prevented from disturbing the tranquility of anybody but themselves.”

In Part 3, we expect to explore remedies for restraining the province of greed in Alabama politics.

 

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Opinion | Mayor Woodfin: Tear down that statue

Josh Moon

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Dear Mayor Woodfin,

Tear it down.

Get a few blow torches and axes, maybe a jackhammer or two, and tear down that Confederate monument in Linn Park. If you’d like, to appease the phony historians out there, save a portion to be put in a museum in town.

But tear it down.

A Jefferson County Circuit Court judge ruled Monday night that you have the authority to remove it, and why wouldn’t you? It’s your city. It’s your city park. You maintain it. You should have complete authority over what goes or what stays in it.

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As Judge Michael Graffeo wrote in his order, “Just as the state could not force any particular citizen to post a pro-Confederacy sign in his or her front lawn, so too can the state not commandeer the city’s property for the state’s preferred message.”

It’s the perfect ruling. Because it’s so obviously accurate.

In fact, numerous people who worked in several cities around the state tried to explain to the legislature that this law was ridiculously encroaching — to the point of being counterproductive.

And a number of attorneys tried to explain to state lawmakers that the overreach was troubling and likely illegal.

But as the Legislature usually does, it ignored those cries of rationality. And instead chose the path of pandering.

Pandering to the most awful among us.

Pandering to the racists. Pandering to those who refuse to believe in an accurate history. Pandering to those who don’t care that statues honoring traitors and murderers offend large numbers of citizens in this state.

How couldn’t they offend black citizens?

Imagine learning stories of the horrific ways that your ancestors were treated — beaten, raped, tortured, bought and sold like cattle, and separated from their children — and then being told there was a statue of the men who did those things in the town square.

If this state’s citizenry had half the decency and morals that we proclaim, we’d be ashamed that we ever had the gall to erect these statues, or to honor the dishonorable men who led the fight to preserve slavery.

But instead, our state’s citizens have been brainwashed by decades of an absurdly whitewashed history, and will, in response to fact-based arguments for why the statues should be removed, talk passionately about the southern general’s great strategic mind or explain that this confederate treated his slaves well or tell you with a straight face that the whole damn thing wasn’t and isn’t about race and slavery.

Quite honestly, Mayor Woodfin, I am tired of the stupidity and the phony arguments and the wink-and-nod racism from closeted racists. They don’t really care if the statue is in the park. It’s not like they’re bringing their families by on Saturday afternoons to have picnics in front of the Confederate monuments and soak in the history.

They only want the statues to remain because those statues are one last poke in the eye to the people who say they have to treat black people as equals.

That’s it.

They get a little demented joy out of knowing that that statue is aggravating the blacks and the libs and the yankees.

That’s why they’ve erected a huge confederate flag beside the Interstate north of Montgomery. It’s why three confederate groups attempted a couple of years ago to put up a large confederate flag across the Interstate from Alabama State University, a historically black college.

And it’s why, most of all, they run around waving a flag that was never an official flag of the Confederacy, but was the battle flag of one confederate army and was later adopted by the KKK and other hate groups.

Because the history doesn’t matter to these people. And those who are interested in it would be just as well served visiting the monuments in a museum.

So, Mayor, I’m suggesting you do the right thing and set an example for other cities around the state to follow.

Tear that statue down.

 

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Opinion | What will our Congressional districts look like after the 2020 Census

Steve Flowers

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Preparations are being made to take the 2020 Census. This process is not just a fun game to spell out demographic changes and interesting tidbits about us as Americans. It is a very important mandate dictated by the Constitution. The number of people counted determines how many seats each state has in Congress. Thus, it is taken every 10-years.

The Country has been changing, demographically, over the last decade, as it always has over the course of history. The states of California, Texas and Florida continue to grow exponentially. All Americans, not just older ones, seek the sun. They like a sunny, warm climate. That is why our neighboring state of Florida is and has been for decades America’s growth state.

Last week I visited with you about our 1940’s Congressional Delegation. At that time we had nine seats. We lost one after the 1960’s census. We lost another after 1980. We are projected to lose another one after this upcoming Census of 2020. We now have seven seats. It is predicted that we will only have six after next year. We most certainly will lose one to California if they are allowed to count illegal immigrants.

The State Legislature is constitutionally designated as the drawer of lines of congressional districts for each respective state. Currently, we have six Republican seats and one Democratic seat. If indeed we drop from seven to six Congressional districts, how will it shake out.

The census will reveal that Huntsville and North Alabama have been our growth spots. Alabama’s population continues to move toward the northern tier of the state. Two out of every three Alabamians live in Birmingham, Hoover, and Tuscaloosa north.

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The Black Belt continues to lose population. The census will also reveal quite a disparity of financial prosperity. It will show that the same Black Belt counties are some of the poorest areas of the country and conversely Huntsville will be one of the most prosperous.

So who are the winners and losers under Congressional redistricting? You start with one premise. You have to have one majority minority African American district. The federal courts have mandated this edict. Therefore, Congresswoman Terri Sewell’s district is sacred. It now is very large, geographically. It will become even larger. The district will take in most of the African American population in Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and Montgomery, and the entire Black Belt stretching from south of Birmingham and Tuscaloosa all the way to Mobile. It will be a big geographic district and be numbered district six rather than seven.

This leaves us with five Republican districts and six incumbent Republicans. Therefore, who gets the short end of the stick. A cursory look says the odd person out is Martha Roby in the second district.

However, our current delegates have already come up with a plan to save everybody. Mo Brooks, the Congressman from Huntsville, will choose to move up or out in 2022. He is assuming that Senator Richard Shelby retires at age 88. Therefore, Brooks will see his fast-growing Tennessee Valley district divided and delved out to a plan that grows the districts north, which complies with the growth pattern.

Our senior and most seniority laden Congressman, Robert Aderholt, will opt to stay in Congress rather than risk a run for the Senate. This is a very wise and prudent move for him and the state. He has over 24-years in seniority and is in line to be Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. He will move north and pick up part of the Huntsville area and he will cut Gadsden loose. Mike Rogers will move north and pick up Gadsden and all of northeast Alabama, which is a more natural fit for him with his native Anniston area.

Rogers’ move north will allow him to abandon Auburn-Opelika, which in turn allows Roby’s district to exist primarily like it is with the population centers of East Montgomery, Elmore, Autauga, and the Wiregrass and Dothan and that district will add Auburn-Opelika.

The current 6th District of Jefferson-Shelby represented by Gary Palmer will remain essentially the same. Its upscale suburbs will make it one of the most Republican in the nation.

The last district seat of Mobile-Baldwin will remain intact and will still be District 1. However, the tremendous growth of Baldwin will require that the district only contain Mobile and Baldwin. The cadre of rural counties north of Mobile that are currently in the District will have to be cut loose to probably go to the Black Belt district.

The current 1st District Congressman, Bradley Bryne, is running for the U.S. Senate in 2020. However, his replacement will be a conservative Republican.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

 

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Opinion | Why do Alabama governors insist on taking the unpopular path?

Josh Moon

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We’re doing it again.

The same thing. We’re doing the same thing again, and hoping for a different outcome. Which I believe is the definition of insanity. And that might as well be our state motto at this point.

Alabama: The Insane State.

The state where the people continue to elect people who promise to do the same things as the last people who we hated, and who will eventually totally renege on those promises and try to do the opposite.

Case in point: Kay Ivey.

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At her inauguration on Monday, Ivey was all smiles and upbeat rhetoric. She talked of steadying the ship and putting Alabamians back to work. And she was governor while those things happened, so the rules say she gets credit, even if it’s mighty tough to pinpoint exactly what it is that she did to cause any of those good things.

But Ivey also dropped a few hints about the future.

To no one’s surprise, she discussed a gas tax without ever saying the word “tax,” and she talked about a new prison construction proposal.

Actually, neither of those ideas is “new,” and the proposals Ivey and the Legislature will put forth in the coming months won’t be new either. We’ve been talking about prisons for three years now, if not longer, and the gas tax was kicked around during the last legislative session.

And both will be met with roughly the same amount of disdain by voters this time around.

No matter how badly we might need to renovate our current prisons or build new ones, the average Alabama voter doesn’t want to do that. In fact, those voters have proven to be amazingly willing to let prisoners out of jail, if the alternative is a higher tax bill.

And on the gas tax front, yeah, that’s a big ol’ no.

I’m sorry, but you can’t set up a state income tax system that charges janitors more than CEOs, leaving the state with consistently no money to make necessary repairs to infrastructure, and then ask the working stiffs to pick up the bill for those repairs when things fall completely apart. And make them pay for it by charging them more to get to work every day.  

I don’t care that we just held elections and most lawmakers are safe for another four years. You vote for that sort of a tax on working people, and it’ll hang around your neck for the rest of your political career. What’s left of it.

If you doubt this, ask Robert Bentley.

He tried something similar. Actually, come to think of it, he was a lot like Ivey following his re-election in 2014. Very popular. Had pledged not to raise taxes. Was generally trusted by most people around the state.

And then he hit people with a proposal for a cigarette tax.

His whole world blew up from that point forward.

Because it’s not right. Taxing gas or taxing cigarettes is a coward’s tax.

It’s an admission that you know we don’t have enough revenue but you’re not brave enough to attack the real problem — to raise property taxes or restructure our state income tax.

Or to do what’s popular: Legalize gambling.

Why do Alabama Republicans continue to run from legalized gaming? It makes zero sense, considering the massive edge they hold in statewide voting and the unprecedented popularity of gambling among Republican voters.

Poll after poll shows that conservative voters in Alabama now massively favor legalizing gambling. In one of the more recent polls, more than 60 percent of likely Republican voters were in favor of a vote to legalize full-fledged casinos with sportsbooks.

And yet, Ivey, like the two governors who came before her, will stand on a stage at her inauguration and push for two completely unpopular ideas —— prisons and a gas tax — but never speak of the one subject that’s both popular and could raise enough money to pay for the infrastructure repairs. And the prisons.

So, here we are again. Another governor who thinks she can thumb her nose at the will of the people. Another governor who seems hellbent on ignoring a popular solution. Another fight that will lead to nowhere.

Insanity. That’s what it is.

 

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Crime

Opinion | Slain Birmingham officer needed our help

Josh Moon

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On Sunday, Birmingham Police Sergeant Wytasha Carter was shot and killed by some criminals who were apparently trying to break into cars.

Carter died at the scene. His partner was also shot, and remains in critical condition at UAB Hospital.

It was senseless. And stupid. And maddening.

And not at all unpredictable.

In fact, it’s astounding that it has taken this long for a cop in one of the most violent cities in America — one of the most violent industrialized nations on earth — to be killed. Carter was the first police officer murdered in the city in 14 years.

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In that same city, more than 200 people have been killed — most of them by gunfire — in just the past TWO YEARS.

And it will get worse.

It will get worse because we continue to turn a blind eye to the root causes of the violence that permeates our major cities: under-education, extreme poverty, drug use and a flood of easy-to-obtain firearms.

To put that another way: you have large groups of people who are hopeless, desperate and angry. They have been failed at every step of their lives — by their parents, their government, their schools and their justice system. They have been immersed in horrific violence since birth. They have no idea what acceptable conflict resolution even is, much less how to practice it. And they have been afforded ridiculously easy access to any firearm they would like.

A few years ago, as Montgomery suffered through one of the ugliest and deadliest years on record, I spent several days essentially hanging out in the highest crime neighborhoods — the projects, the abandoned apartment buildings, the neighborhoods you tell your kids to avoid when they start driving.

What I found was depressing.

Because these were not bad people, They were not lazy or unmotivated. They were not happy with their lives, nor were they particularly hostile.

They were hopeless.

Every single day mothers in those neighborhoods sent their kids off to schools that they knew were failing them. Every day, they prayed that their kids found some crack to slip through and into a better life — maybe they would be great at sports or a gifted student who landed in a magnet program or … hell, anything.

But deep down, they knew.

They knew that at some point reality would take hold. Their kids, lured by quick and easy money, would fall into the gangs. The violence and crime would take root and become common. Juvenile detention facilities would follow. And probably, if their kids survived, jail and prison.

The stories are more nuanced, and there are more twists and turns along the way, but this was life in a nutshell for a good chunk of Alabama’s capital city.

The people had no hope.

And when such a thing happens, when you remove hope from hurting people, you also remove a valuation of life. Their life seems to be so utterly unvalued by everyone, so why should they value yours?

Or a cop’s?

This is where we are. And it’s getting worse.

You can get angry and stomp your feet and pretend that sticking kids in electric chairs or locking ‘em all up is going to solve it, but it’s not. Deep down, after centuries of that nonsense, surely you all know that by now.

The only thing that will solve it is love.

Until we love the poor kids, the black kids, the brown kids and all of the other kids who are a little bit different, this will never get better. Until we are as invested in the kids who dress in ratty clothes and have bad attitudes, in the kids who don’t speak the language well and who fight first and ask questions later, we will continue to produce murderers and cop killers.

It seems that Sgt. Carter knew this.

In interviews with local media outlets, those who knew Carter best said he served Birmingham because he wanted to make a difference in his city. He wanted kids and the good people to feel some measure of safety. He wanted kids to know there were alternatives to the gangs..

But mostly, he wanted the people in the worst parts of his city to simply know that someone cared about them.

Sgt. Carter didn’t die because his efforts were naive or misguided, or because the people he tried to help are too hopeless.

He died because not enough us joined him.

 

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A Disquisition on greed in politics, Part 2: Examples of greed in Alabama politics

by Samuel McLure Read Time: 14 min
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