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Selma March: Reactions

Brandon Moseley

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By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Over 80,000 people from across the country, including 2 Presidents and 98 members of the US Congress, were in Selma over the weekend to honor those brave souls who made the march from Selma to Montgomery 50 years ago. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama were there along with their First Ladies, Laura and Michelle.

US Representative Terri Sewell (D-Selma) said, “Words can’t describe the emotions I felt as we marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge yesterday…we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to those who had the courage to take those steps 50 years ago! They changed the world!”

Alabama Republican Party Chairwoman Terry M. Lathan said in a statement, “A night I’ll never forget: at the Selma 50th Anniversary dinner with Civil Rights icon Rep. John Lewis; GOP US Sen. Tim Scott (SC) and US Sen. Susan Collins (Maine); my friend and Congressman Bradley Byrne; and 2 young men with different career paths-one applying for the military academy and one a stand-up comic, both high school students planning their futures. Love will build a bridge…many thanks to Congresswoman Martha Roby with Rebecca Byrne.”

President Obama said in his speech on Saturday, “There are places, and moments in America where this nation’s destiny has been decided. Many are sites of war – Concord and Lexington, Appomattox and Gettysburg. Others are sites that symbolize the daring of America’s character – Independence Hall and Seneca Falls, Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral. Selma is such a place.”

Governor Robert Bentley thanked Congressman John Lewis (D-Georgia) and the faith and politics staff for their hard work in putting on the annual “Faith and Politics” pilgrimages to Selma. Bentley praised Lewis for that day 50 years ago when, “He led 600 men and women across that Edmund Pettus Bridge.” Bentley standing on the Capital steps in Montgomery said that it is hard to imagine that we are standing on this very place where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “How long?” speech.

Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-Montrose) said, “Rebecca and I had such a special day in Selma as we commemorated the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches. I was happy to show the nation how far Alabama has come and honor the courage of so many who helped us get to where we are today.”

State Senator Hank Sanders (D) said in a recent column, “Selma became a symbol of struggle for voting rights. Others all over the world drew inspiration and strength from the Selma Struggle and Selma Victory. Selma sowed the voting rights seeds but did not reap the fruits. The fruits were reaped near and far but not by Selma.” Sen. Sanders is calling for a “harvest time” for the people of Selma to actually benefit from it’s contribution to civil rights.

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Congressman Gary Palmer (R-Hoover) said in a statement, “The events in Selma 50 years ago showed America at both its best and at its worst. Yet ultimately, it was the best of America that triumphed. Men and women of all races stood up, against scorn, intimidation, and violence to uphold the truth of an idea that was laid out by America’s founders in the Declaration of Independence, ‘that all men are created equal, and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.’ It was for those rights, enshrined in our founding documents but not fully realized, that they marched. It was only with faith in God and in solidarity with one another, they were eventually victorious in helping to realize Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream that people are judged, not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. We honor those men and women who marched as we continue to strive to live the ideals expressed both in the Declaration and so eloquently by Dr. King.”

Alabama Republican Party Secretary Lynn Mitchell Robinson said on Facebook, “I loved being in Selma with my Molly and Jeb to honor those who suffered/sacrificed for their rights and freedoms. Wonderful to join hands with strangers and say prayers, sing hymns before crossing Edmund Pettus Bridge. I’m thankful for unifying love of Our Father and that we could just be there and experience it.”

State Senator Linda Coleman, “We pause to remember Selma, the events that occurred on Bloody Sunday and those who were beaten, maimed, and made the ultimate sacrifice. We pause to remember and say a prayer of thanks for the brave clergy, and our Caucasian brothers and sisters who were so moved to risk their own lives, leave their families and stand with their brown and black brothers and sisters in solidarity; some gave the ultimate sacrifice, to stand against human injustice in their resolve in reminding us all that injustice to one is an injustice to all. We pause to say a prayer for those who gave so much that we are here today to serve, work and to continue to carry the torch to light the path for those who will come. Please, let Selma not just be a memory.”

Former President George W. Bush said on Facebook, “In Selma, Alabama, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday – a seminal date in the history of human rights and dignity.”

Democratic Party Whip in the US Congress Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) said, “Today I laid a wreath with my House colleagues and Juanita Abernathy at the civil rights memorial in Montgomery, Alabama to honor the brave men and women who fought for equal rights fifty years ago. We should continue to honor them and their legacy by working to protect equal access to the ballot box for all Americans.”

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Crime

Three more prison workers test positive for COVID-19, testing of inmates remains low

Eddie Burkhalter

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Two workers at the Bullock Correctional Facility and one employee at the Kilby Correctional Facility have tested positive for COVID-19, the Alabama Department of Corrections said Thursday evening.

The latest confirmed cases among staff bring the total of COVID-19 cases among prison workers to 58. Twelve of those workers have since recovered, the Alabama Department of Corrections said in a press release Thursday. 

ADOC is investigating to determine whether inmates or staff had “direct, prolonged exposure to these staff members,” according to the release. Anyone exposed to the infected staff members will be advised to contact their health care providers and self-quarantine for two weeks, according to the release. 

The latest case at Bullock prison makes 5 workers there who’ve tested positive for coronavirus, and the worker at Kilby prison also became the fifth employee at that facility with a confirmed case of the virus.

There have been confirmed COVID-19 cases in 18 of the state’s 27 facilities, with the Ventress Correctional Facility in Barbour County with the most infected workers, with 12 confirmed cases among staff.

As of noon Thursday, there were no additional confirmed COVID-19 cases among inmates, according to ADOC. Of the 11 confirmed cases among inmates, two remain active, according to the department. 

The extent of the spread of the virus among inmates is less clear, however, due to a lack of testing. Just 155 inmates of approximately 22,000 had been tested as of Tuesday, according to the department. Test results for six inmates were still pending. 

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An ADOC spokeswoman was working to respond to APR’s questions sent Wednesday asking whether the department had plans to broaden testing among inmates to include asymptomatic people, but APR had not received responses as of Thursday evening. 

ADOC this week completed installation of infrared camera systems at major facilities that can detect if a person attempting to enter or exit the facility is running a temperature greater than 100 degrees, according to the release Thursday. 

“This added layer of screening increases accuracy of readings while reducing the frequency with which individuals must be in close proximity at points of entry/exit,” the release states.

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Elections

League of Women Voters of Alabama sue over voting amid COVID-19 pandemic

Eddie Burkhalter

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The League of Women Voters of Alabama on Thursday filed a lawsuit against Gov. Kay Ivey, Secretary of State John Merrill and several Montgomery County election officials asking the court to expand Alabama’s absentee voting and relax other voting measures amid the COVID-19 outbreak. 

The nonprofit is joined in the suit by 10 plaintiffs who range in age from 60 to 75, many of whom have medical conditions that put them at greater risk for serious complications or death from COVID-19. 

“Voting is a right, not a privilege, and elections must be safe, accessible, and fairly administered,” the League of Women Voters of Alabama said in a press release Thursday. “Alabama’s Constitution specifically requires that the right to vote be protected in times of ‘tumult,’ clearly including the current pandemic.” 

Currently, to vote absentee in Alabama, a person must send a copy of their photo ID and have their ballot signed by a notary or two adults. The lawsuit asks the court to require state officials to use emergency powers to waive the notary or witness requirement, the requirement to supply a copy of a photo ID and to extend no-excuse absentee voting into the fall. 

Among the plaintiffs is Ardis Albany, 73, of Jefferson County who has an artificial aortic valve, according to the lawsuit. 

“Because she fears exposing herself to COVID-19 infection, Ms. Albany has already applied for an absentee ballot for the November 3, 2020, general election,” the complaint states. “Her application checked the box for being out of county on election day, and she is prepared to leave Jefferson County on election day if necessary to vote an absentee ballot.” 

Another plaintiff, 63-year-old Lucinda Livingston of Montgomery County suffers from heart and lung problems and has been sequestered at home since March 17, where she lives with her grandson, who’s under the age of five, according to the complaint. 

“She fears acquiring COVID-19, given her physiological pre-morbidity, and she fears spreading the virus to her grandson at home,” the complaint states. “She has never voted an absentee ballot, but she wishes to do so in the elections held in 2020. She does not have a scanner in her home, cannot make a copy of her photo ID, and has no way safely to get her absentee ballot notarized or signed by two witnesses.” 

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In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Gov. Ivey pushed the Republican runoff election back until July 14. Although Merrill has allowed those who may be concerned about voting in person in the runoff to vote absentee by checking a box on the ballot that reads “I have a physical illness or infirmity which prevents my attendance at the polls.”

Merril has not extended that offer for voters in the municipal and presidential elections in November, however. 

Meanwhile, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alabama continue to rise, while testing for the virus has remained relatively flat in recent weeks. 

“We’re extraordinarily concerned about the numbers that we have been seeing,” said Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, speaking during a press briefing Thursday. 

Harris said the department continues to see community spread of the virus and have identified several hotspots. He’s concerned that the public isn’t taking the virus seriously or following recommendations to wear masks in public and maintain social distancing, he said Thursday. 

“One hundred years ago the nonpartisan League of Women Voters was founded to protect and preserve the right to vote and the integrity of the electoral process,” said Barbara Caddell, President of the League of Women Voters of Alabama, in a statement. “The unexpected risks posed by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) challenge our election system to the utmost.  Today, we ask that Alabama’s courts use Alabama’s laws to make it safe and possible for all citizens to vote.”

The League of Woman Voters of Alabama’s lawsuit is similar to a suit by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program which asks the court to require state officials to implement curbside voting for at-risk citizens during the coronavirus pandemic and to remove requirements for certain voter IDs and witnesses requirements.

The U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday filed a brief in that suit that states the department doesn’t believe Alabama’s law that requires witnesses for absentee ballots violates the Voting Rights Act.

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Health

Two patients at Mary Starke Harper Geriatric Psychiatric Center die from COVID-19

Eddie Burkhalter

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Two patients at the state’s Mary Starke Harper Geriatric Psychiatric Center have died from COVID-19, the Alabama Department of Mental Health confirmed to APR on Thursday. 

There remained 17 active coronavirus cases among patients at the state-run facility, said ADMH spokeswoman Malissa Valdes-Hubert in a message Thursday. 

One patient at the facility has recovered from the virus, Valdes-Hubert said. Two nurses at the facility have also tested positive for the virus, Valdes-Hubert said on May 15. 

There were no confirmed cases at ADMH’s two other facilities in Tuscaloosa, Bryce Hospital and the Taylor Hardin Secure Medical Facility as of Thursday, Valdes-Hubert said.

Among the preventative measures being taken at the Mary Starke Harper facility are staff temperature checks and screening for other symptoms, and workers are required to wear FDA approved masks, Valdes-Hubert previously said.

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News

Inmate at Elmore prison dies after attack from another inmate

Eddie Burkhalter

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A man serving at the Elmore Correctional Facility died Wednesday after being assaulted by another inmate, the Alabama Department of Corrections confirmed Thursday. 

Jamaal King, 33, died Tuesday from injuries he received after an attack from another inmate, ADOC spokeswoman Samantha Banks wrote in a message to APR.  

“The ADOC condemns all violence in its facilities, and the fatal actions taken against King by another inmate are being thoroughly investigated,” Banks said in the message. 

King was serving a 22-year sentence after being convicted of murder, according to ADOC. His exact cause of death is pending an autopsy.

 

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