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Confusion Causes Ruckus at the State House

Susan Britt

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By Susan Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

About 400 to 500 protesters came to the State House in Montgomery on Tuesday to protest immigration bill HB 56. After the rally, they were given limited access to the building to deliver Valentine’s Day cards to senators and representatives. There was confusion within the crowd as to why some accesses were limited.

When the House opened it session, Representative Merika Coleman (D-Birmingham) protested to the Speaker and the House that she had been receiving calls all morning regarding people being denied access to the State Capital Building such as religious groups that had traditionally given out Valentine’s Day cards. She said that people were usually allowed to walk the halls since it is a public building. She said that in the 10 years she has been in the House, she has never heard of this happening before. She demanded to see a copy of the new policy.

Speaker Mike Hubbert said that it was not a policy of the House and Senate but a decision that had been made by security.

Catherine Montoya with the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice said, “We were only permitted to go to the fifth and seventh floor today. All of the other floors we were not permitted to go on.”

When asked if they were allowed to go into the galleries, she replied, “No.”

She went on to say that “it seems rules were applied differently to different types of people. We are still confirming some things but we believe that we have a constituent now that is going to talk to the press. We do think that some project managers and community members that came to meet with their legislators were treated differently based on the way that they looked.”

Chief Sgt. at Arms for the House of Representatives Derek Hamilton took opposition to this assertion and said, “No one was denied access to our galleries.

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He said that House and Senate security were contacted last week by the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice who asked for their assistance with the rally. He commended the organization for sending a representative in advance of the event. “Everything that happened was preplanned from a meeting that took place last week,” he said. “We met with a spokesperson from the organization last week and we were open for any suggestions or recommendations of anything that they would need.”

The organization had anticipated and informed State House law enforcement that they were anticipating 1,000 protesters to be at the rally.

Hamilton said that the plan was a request from the organization. “What was structured and in place today was something that they requested assistance with for the delivering of the Valentine’s Day cards that were coming to the House representative and senators. No one within that group was denied access. This is a public building.”

The measures that were in place were a joint effort between all of the law enforcement in the Alabama State House and also some outside agencies and departments, as well.

But again, no one was denied access to any floors here in the Alabama State House

Hamilton said they met with an individual by the name of Salvador who was the organizations point of contact. He said Salvador shared their agenda and offered their services, at which State House law enforcement extended their services to them “to be able to be in a position to assist them.”

“Again, no one to my knowledge, was denied access to any areas of the building. Once the Valentine’s Day cards were delivered to the legislators, our understanding, per Salvador, was that the group would exit and then board the buses,” said Hamilton.

“At the conclusion of their rally if there were any other individuals who did not arrive by bus, if they were to arrive by personal vehicle, they were welcome at that time to re-enter the building and the building was open. They have free access to the galleries for both the House and the Senate and any other public space within this building,” he concluded.

He said that other groups that are planning rallies or already have them scheduled are welcome to contact House and Senate security so that they can accommodate and assist.

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ACLU of Alabama says Birmingham’s ban on demonstrations is overreach

Eddie Burkhalter

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Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin’s ban on all demonstrations on city property runs counter to the city’s history of protest and of the U.S. Constitution, says the ACLU of Alabama. 

Woodfin on Monday issued a state of emergency proclamation that set a city-wide curfew from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m., and banned demonstrations, parades, marches or vigils on all public roadways and property from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m. daily. 

The state of emergency proclamation followed the death of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis that sparked peaceful protests in Birmingham on Sunday which turned into sporadic rioting early Monday morning, resulting in numerous businesses being burned and an attack on two journalists. Twenty-four people were arrested in connection with the rioting. 

“I want you to know that I 100 percent support civil disobedience. That is very different from civil unrest,” Woodfin said Monday. “I support activism and your right to peacefully assemble. I don’t support mobs of people destroying things just because.” 

But on Tuesday Woodfin amended his proclamation and extended the ban on demonstrations and marches to be in effect 24 hours each day, indefinitely.  The new order makes an exception for any such event if the city issues a permit to allow such, however. 

Woodfin announced the amended proclamation to Birmingham City Council members in a Tuesday meeting, and said that because of “infiltrators, in the form of agitators or looters infiltrating peacefully protesting” and some locals participating in the unrest, he’d added to his original proclamation. 

“At this point, under the state of emergency, there are no opportunities for any type of marches until further notice. Until we can get a handle on and secure the city to make sure people are protected, those in the media are protected, commercial residential properties protected as well as the city as a whole is protected,” Woodfin told City Council members. 

“Banning all demonstrations, marches, vigils, or parades is government overreach, plain and simple. It is unconstitutional to retaliate against protesters by banning future protests because of past protest activity,” said Randall marshall, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, in a statement to APR on Wednesday.  “Assuming that because some property destruction occurred over the weekend and in other cities does not mean that government officials can assume future protests will be the same and ban them.” 

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“Birmingham has a long and important history of protest, not all of which was nonviolent, but that was an integral part in paving the way for civil rights advancements for Black people in Alabama and across the country,” Marshall continued. “It is unfortunate that Mayor Woodfin has chosen to utilize the police force now to protect property instead of supporting the call for accountability and justice for violence committed by the police. We strongly urge Mayor Woodfin to reconsider this ill-advised order and respect the constitutional right of his constituents to protest.”

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Moody police officer shot and killed in the line of duty

Brandon Moseley

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Moody Police Sergeant Stephen Williams was shot and killed Tuesday in the line of duty at the Super 8 Motel on Highway 411, multiple news outlets have reported.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a statement in response to the officer’s death.

“I am deeply saddened to hear Sergeant Stephen Williams was killed in the line of duty last night,” Ivey said. “He served the Moody Police Department with distinction and had a long, honorable career in law enforcement. In the end, he died a hero, fulfilling the oath he swore to do — to uphold the community he served.”

“Beyond his career in law enforcement, he was a father, and now, three children are left without their dad,” Ivey said. “We must not forget Sgt. Williams’ ultimate sacrifice was that of his family. This senseless violence must end. Every day, brave men and women who wear the badge put their lives on the line in order to keep us safe. We are greatly indebted for his service on our behalf. I ask the people of Alabama to join me in prayer for his family, friends and his brothers in arms.”

U.S. Attorney Jay Town also issued a statement.

“Moody Police Sergeant Stephen Williams’ end of watch has come much too soon,” Town said. “Our condolences and prayers are with his family, friends, and fellow officers. His loss is a loss for all of Alabama. This serves as yet another heartbreaking and stark reminder of the perils encountered by law enforcement each day.”

Moody Police Chief Thomas Hunt said Williams made the rank of sergeant last year.

“He was awesome. He was awesome — just a good man, good person, funny to be around, won officer of the year award a couple years ago,” Hunt said. “Very thorough in his paperwork, very thorough as a sergeant, good teacher and a good mentor. Lot of guys looked up to Stephen. He was a very good close friend.”

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Two suspects, a male and a female, are in custody.

Williams’ death is being investigated by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and the St. Clair County Sheriffs Department.

Williams served three years with the St. Clair County town, but he had 23 previous years of service in law enforcement with Bessemer and Calera. He is survived by a wife and three children.

Williams was shot multiple times. No motive for the slaying has been released by police at this time.

Williams is the second Moody police officer killed in the line of duty. Officer Keith Turner was murdered in the line of duty by escaped Mississippi prisoner Mario Centobie in 1998. Centobie was executed for the crime.

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | With liberty and justice for all

Bill Britt

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Photo: Rosa Pineda

As peaceful protests over the last week have been marred by violence and looting, the nation should be asking what kind of country we are and what we are to become?

Are we to be the shining city on a hill or a lord of the flies kingdom of warring factions?

Most of the protesters who have taken to the streets across the nation are only asking for those things promised in The Declaration of Independence and quoted in the nation’s Pledge of Allegiance.

They want the promise of “all men are created equal,” with “liberty and justice for all,” to be fulfilled.

Amidst the chaos, we hear calls for “law and order” and chants of “No justice, no peace.”

A nation can have law and order without justice, but when justice is denied or meted out unequally, people will only remain silent or peaceful for so long.

Law, justice, and peace should flow from the same fountain but rarely ever do in equal measure.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Gandhi before him, showed the world the power of nonviolent resistance. From the Salt March, which took place from March to April 1930, in India, to the Selma-to-Montgomery March in 1965, a small band of individuals has shown that peaceful protests can overcome even institutional wrongs.

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But laws passed in the 1960s, while changing what was legal, didn’t answer inequities or alter everyone’s hearts and minds.

Even today, the dog whistles of racism and bullhorns of hate compete against calls for change.

Only when bigotry is shown in bright relief against the suffering of a nation’s citizens, do the powerful lose their stranglehold.

The murder of George Floyd is further evidence of a long-festering problem, and the ensuing rage is simply the manifestation of years of systematic mistreatment of black citizens. The laws may have changed in the 1960s, but the mindset of those who fought against that progress has been reborn.

As a nation, we cannot stand with a Bible in one hand and a club in the other and claim equal protection under the law.

Perhaps opening the Scriptures and letting the voice of Jesus speak, rather than holding his words as a prop, would be a good first step. Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Are these not the values we should hold dear?

I do not condone violence or property destruction, but I do understand the grievances that lead to both. We, as a state, and nation, can’t address the one without offering to answer the other.

President Trump’s failed attorney general Jeff Sessions has appointed himself as the spokesman for law and order. In a recent press release, Sessions said, “All over the country we have seen the results of ‘politically correct’ and completely ineffective leadership.”

Sessions blames, “Antifa, far-left radicals, and criminal thugs,” and many agree with him.

During George Wallace’s political rally at Madison Square Garden in 1968, he blamed anarchists, activists, militants, revolutionaries and communists for the nation’s ills.

Wallace also said, “The Supreme Court of our country has hand-cuffed the police, and tonight if you walk out of this building and are knocked in the head, the person who knocks you in the head is out of jail before you get in the hospital, and on Monday morning, they’ll try a policeman about it.”

Today, Wallace, like Sessions, would say that political correctness was the problem, not a culture that targets certain citizens.

Wallace expressed his disdain for demonstrators who tried to block President Lyndon B. Johnson’s limousine saying, “I tell you when November comes, the first time they lie down in front of my limousine, it’ll be the last one they ever lay down in front of; their day is over.”

On Facebook, some Alabamians have suggested protesters be shot in the head if they resist arrest. And so it goes that the ugliness of human nature stands ready to repeat the sins of the past over and over again.

In an Op-Ed, Alabama State University President Quinton T. Ross, Jr., invoked the past in a very different way.

“Our nonviolent stand proved successful in the past, and I believe it could be the catalyst for real and impactful change. Let peace be at the core of all of our actions,” wrote Ross.

“While it seems as though remaining calm in the midst of a racist storm is a signal to be disrespected, disregarded and endangered, remember the lives that were lost to get us to this day. Remember the examples of those who were brutally beaten and rose up from that brutality to walk the halls of Congress, to become mayors, governors, state legislators and community leaders.”

Our nation was born out of public defiance in the face of political oppression. Our nation was to be a port for those seeking hope and justice in a world of tyrants.

President Ronald Reagan called the United States “the shining city upon a hill.”

“In my mind, it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace,” said Reagan in his 1989 Farewell Address to the Nation. He further said he saw the nation as, “A city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors, and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”

Reagan saw a nation where everyone was allowed to live with peace and prosperity. A place where all were equal, deserved freedom and justice. Is that not what we all want, including the protesters?

America has always been a land of promise, and many times, promises are not kept.

But today, our nation may very well be at a turning point.

Will the moral imperative of fairness break over the dam’s edge, or will some just add more sandbags to the top?

Will we decide liberty and justice for all are more than words we repeat by rote, and that everyone deserves the promise of America?

That is the question before us, and now what we choose will show who we are and what we will become.

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Opinion | Racism has broken America. We can fix it

Josh Moon

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The happiest day of my life was March 9, 2018 — the day my daughter was born. 

People who know my wife and me, or who follow either of us on social media, can likely tell that we’re crazy, helicopter parents who think our little Andi Lou is perfect. Because, well, she is. 

We also worry — A LOT. About everything. As we try to keep this little live wire safe and happy. It’s like a never-ending stream of what-ifs and what-abouts and should-we’s. 

Honestly, it’s exhausting. And there are times when I think it’s overwhelming. 

And then someone like Devin Adams gives me a glimpse into a world that I know nothing about. A world that I will never walk in. A world that will forever remain foreign to me. 

That’s the world navigated by the parent of a black child. 

Adams, a senior on the Auburn University football team, on Tuesday tweeted about using his football gear to stay safe in everyday life. Not the pads and helmet, but the jersey and other clothing that identifies him to cops as an Auburn football player. 

“I’ve been asked so many times why I wear Auburn gear all the time…,” Adams tweeted. “then they hit you with ‘YoU MuSt wAnT pPl tO kNoW YoU PlAy FOoTbAlL oR SoMEthINg’…. Lol not even knowing sometimes it’s a protection mechanism to just make it home safe.”

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Other black players responded that they do the same thing. 

Think about that. 

You can dismiss it as an exaggeration if you like — and maybe in some cases, it could be — but this is how a young, college educated guy in one of the safer cities in America feels every single day. 

He fears for his life to the point that he has altered what he wears every day to make OTHER PEOPLE more comfortable with him. To make cops not automatically assume he’s a criminal. To lessen the likelihood of a deadly encounter. 

Now, imagine sending your child out into that world every day. Imagine how Adams’ parents must feel — both knowing that he carries that fear and that the danger he faces is very real. 

Look, we can throw rocks back and forth at each other forever, and place blame on this person or that group, but at the end of the day, we know this is wrong. That young men feel this scared on a daily basis in our country, in our states, in our communities is simply wrong. 

And it is something that every single one of us should want to correct. 

We certainly want that safety for our white kids. We’ve moved mountains and rewrote laws to make sure they’re safe and protected. We’ve built new cities and schools. We’ve put fences and regulations up around our neighborhoods. 

But along the way, we vilified black citizens in the process.

For far too long (and even today in some spots), especially in the South, a “safe neighborhood” meant a neighborhood without black families in it. A “safe school” meant a school without many black students enrolled. Keeping your community safe meant isolating the black citizens to one specific area, dubbing it “n– town,” and telling your children to steer clear of it. 

These things are what led us to today. To the fires and the protests. To the anger and anguish. And to Devin Adams’ heartbreaking fear. 

We have to do better. 

And yeah, I know that’s a common sentence these days. One that’s tossed around without much thought. But I actually mean it. And I have an idea of how to make it happen. 

Affect those around you. 

Racism grows and spreads because it is not challenged. Racism flourishes out of fear — usually of the unknown. 

Don’t allow that with the people you can affect. Don’t stay quiet when friends and family members say ignorant things or pass along ignorant, clearly wrong information. After all, if they’re bold enough to say something stupid out loud, why shouldn’t we be bold enough to say something right? 

But most importantly: Teach your children — and anyone else who will listen to you — that the color of a person’s skin is as meaningless as the color of their shoes, and that skin color should never, ever be a barrier to friendship and love. 

Racism is learned. And it’s just as easy to teach kindness and inclusion. 

My daughter will never hear her parents use racist rhetoric or see us discriminate against anyone. She will play with kids of all races, and it will be as normal as a summer bike ride. She will watch animated shows with black and brown characters and will never know that there was a time when such a thing was incredibly odd. She will one day learn that she is named after a Civil Rights heroine, and she’ll learn that real history too. 

These are not grand gestures. They’re literally the least we can do. 

But I have to believe that if all of us focus on being decent people and changing and molding those we can, it will matter eventually. At least enough that Devin Adams’ children won’t have to wear football gear to feel safe in their own communities.

 

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