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Sewell implores Alabamians “to speak out and demand change without violence”

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama U.S. Rep.Terri Sewell said that her heart aches for George Floyd and that anger should be directed not to violence but to action.

“The heroes of the Civil Rights Movement showed us it is possible to change history without damaging property and torching businesses that our community members depend on, so I implore all Alabamians to speak out and demand change without violence,” Sewell said. “We cannot let violence distract from the legitimate anger and frustration that we must channel toward action. I pray for both peace and justice.”

Sewell posted a video message Monday in response to protests across the country, which have at some points, turned violent and chaotic. On Sunday, several reporters were attacked in Birmingham, and some businesses were vandalized.

The representative’s video message comes after Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin and Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed also called peaceful demonstration. Birmingham implemented a curfew in response to the riotous demonstrations Sunday evening, but the city also removed a Confederate monument from Linn Park.

“To all those who feel marginalized because of the color of your skin: I see you and I hear you,” Sewell said. “Your pain and hopelessness is legitimate — since the founding of our nation, our criminal justice system has failed our black and brown communities. My heart aches for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and the countless others whose senseless deaths have not made the national news cycle.”

Sewell represents Alabama’s 7th Congressional District and is the only black member of Alabama’s congressional delegation.

“As a daughter of Selma, I myself have struggled to reconcile with the moment in which we continue to find ourselves, over and over,” Sewell said in the video statement. “The Foot Soldiers who came before us fought to create a better future, but every day we are reminded that that fight is far from over. They sacrificed their lives in pursuit of an America that lives up to its ideals – an America that we have not yet reached more than 55 years later.”

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Sewell said the racism that causes pain can be seen plainly in police brutality and in the staggering health disparities black communities have endured before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It can be seen in thinly-veiled attempts to put African Americans in our place, holding on to and idolizing a time when our bodies were not our own,” she said. “And it can be seen in the state-sanctioned holidays and monuments that honor the leaders of the Confederacy, including today, ‘Jefferson Davis Day.’”

Sewell said she also knows that the vast majority of Americans across the country and in Birmingham are peacefully protesting for social justice.

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“I wish I had all the answers and I could give us all the solutions we need,” Sewell concluded. “For now, I promise that I will work tirelessly to do absolutely everything within my power to bring peace and justice to our communities.”

“My Administration is fully committed that for George and his family, justice will be served,” President Donald Trump said on Monday. “He will not have died in vain. But we cannot allow the righteous cries of peaceful protesters to be drowned out by an angry mob.”

Floyd was killed while being arrested by the Minneapolis Police Department on suspicion of counterfeiting. The police officer who killed Floyd has been arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. Activists say more widespread reform of policing and the criminal justice system needs to happen, and the other officers involved in Floyd’s homicide should also be charged.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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National

Tuberville bests Sessions in Republican runoff

Throughout the campaign, Sessions found himself on the wrong side of President Donald Trump’s Twitter attacks.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Republican U.S. Senate nominee Tommy Tuberville. (TUBERVILLE CAMPAIGN)

Tommy Tuberville, former Auburn football coach and first-time political candidate, beat former U.S. Senator and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in Alabama’s Republican runoff Tuesday. 

“It’s hard to win without President Trump in this state, I’ll be honest with you. It’s been good to have his full endorsement for four months,” Tuberville told CBS 42 earlier on Tuesday. 

Sessions found himself on the wrong side of President Donald Trump’s Twitter attacks, with the president throwing support behind Tuberville and lambasting his own pick for attorney general for recusing himself during the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. 

Turnout was even lower than expected Tuesday. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill earlier on Tuesday said he predicted turnout for today’s runoff election to be somewhere between 10 percent and 15 percent. 

Tuberville will face Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, in the November general election. 

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Health

Alabama reports record rise in COVID-19 deaths

At least 129 deaths have been reported in the last week, the most in any seven-day period since the state’s first confirmed death in late March.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Alabama’s death toll from COVID-19 rose by 40 on Tuesday, the largest single-day increase in reported deaths since the onset of the pandemic, coming weeks after the state began to see a rise in cases that every day reaches new highs.

As of Tuesday, at least 1,136 people in Alabama have died from COVID-19. While deaths had largely plateaued since early May, death from COVID-19 typically occurs weeks after onset of symptoms, and public health experts worry that deaths will eventually rise as cases rose several weeks. It may take even longer for deaths to be reported in statewide data.

At least 129 deaths have been reported in the last week, the most in any seven-day period since the state’s first confirmed death in late March. At least 210 have come in the last two weeks — the most of any 14-day period.

Because deaths most often come weeks after infection — and because death data is even more delayed — the true toll from the state’s current surge in cases may not be seen for several more weeks.

Dr. Don Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association and a former state health officer, told reporters during a press conference hosted by U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, on Monday that about 13 percent of the state’s intensive care beds were available, or 211 beds.

“We can stretch that. We can take care of patients in other critical care areas, but as a measure of the impact of COVID, as that ICU bed availability goes down, it just tells us that our system is becoming increasingly stressed,” Williamson said.

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Williamson said he’s concerned about continued surges in new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, especially as schools soon begin to reopen and the regular flu season approaches, when hospitals regularly fill with flu patients even during a normal year.

“That’s the scenario where I become extremely concerned about system wide capacity,” Williamson said, noting that hospitals could be doubly strained by both COVID-19 and the flu.

Alabama on Tuesday added 1,673 new COVID-19 cases, and on Tuesday the total number of current hospitalizations of coronavirus patients again reached another all-time high. COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased more than 61 percent since July 1.

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The seven-day average statewide positivity rate Tuesday was 16.58 percent, the highest since the start of the pandemic, taking into account incomplete testing data in April that threw off figures.

“Every single life, it does matter. Every single life is important, and is an absolute tragedy. Just to hear these statistics is alarming,” Jones said during the Monday press conference.

“What I’m extremely concerned about is if we find ourselves with 1,500 to 2,000 people hospitalized with COVID by the middle to end of this month, and we’re having 1,500 to 2,000 new cases diagnosed a day, as we approach the gathering of children together in August, in K 12, and in our colleges, I think we set ourselves up for what could be a potential disaster, in terms of new infections and new demand on hospitals,” Williamson said.

Asked by APR if he believes a statewide face mask order would help stem the continued surge in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, Williamson said yes, especially if a statewide order is coupled with local mask orders.

“I do think that now a statewide ordinance, and the association thinks that a statewide ordinance, added to the existing local ordinances will give us our best chance,” Williamson said. “Because in communities that may not be under a local ordinance, that doesn’t mean we don’t have virus being transmitted.”

Williamson said a statewide mask ordinance would also give business owners some cover, and the ability to tell customers that the order to wear a mask is statewide.

Alabama Hospital Association President Dr. Don Williamson speaks during a press conference Tuesday, July 14, 2020.

Despite surging COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across Alabama and in many other states, an extra $600-per-week in unemployment compensation through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program is expected to expire July 26.

Asked by APR whether the extra aid could be extended, Jones said it’s possible, but encouraged the public to get back to work safely, because unemployment benefits will eventually end.

“We may see some type of extension, but we’re seeing pushback from Senator McConnell and the administration on extending unemployment benefits,” Jones said. “I’ll have to see how that goes. I do think, in my view, we need to kind of stair step this down a little bit.”

APR also asked both Jones and Williamson to speak on concerns about the reopening of schools while the state continues to see surging new cases and hospitalizations.

“Everyone is concerned about that,” Jones said, adding that a bill is pending that would provide more money for local school systems to prepare and help keep students, teachers and families safe.

“We’ve got to get more resources for schools to open safely too — whether it is masks for kids, whether it is more testing, whether it is reconfiguring school space,” Jones said.

What troubles Jones, he said, is that the reopening of schools is beginning to become a political issue, just as the wearing of masks has become a political issue.

The White House and President Donald Trump have publicly called for all schools to reopen, and Education Secretary Betsy Devos on Monday threatened to withhold federal funding to schools that decided not to reopen.

“One thing that is troubling me so much right now is that it seems that opening schools back up has become a political issue, and not an education or health issue. … We can’t let that happen folks,” Jones said. “This is about our children. It’s about our families. It’s about our teachers who are going to be there every day,  and we’ve got to try to find that balance.”

Williamson said he is concerned about the possibility of spiking cases once schools reopen, and that comparison some have made recently of the safe reopening of schools in some European countries isn’t applicable to the U.S., where cases continue to surge.

“My concern is if we find ourselves in a situation where we still have significant ongoing viral transmission, and we aren’t able to maintain six feet of social distance in the classroom, are we going to have those same sorts of results,” Williamson said of the reopenings in Europe. “And I don’t know the answer to that. I worry about it.”

Jones discussed legislation he and a bipartisan group of other Senators filed, called the Reopen Schools Safely Act, which would cover the costs of protecting students and educators from COVID-19. He hopes it will be included in the next packages of COVID-19 legislation.

“Anything we could do to get schools open safely and that local school systems feel appropriate,” Jones said.

Williamson encouraged the public to wear masks in public, and to practice social distancing to help ease the surge in cases, and try and stave off what he fears could become dangerously stressed hospital systems. “I think we have a very, very short window to get this under control,” he said.

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National

Cannabis advocates troubled by veteran’s 5-year sentence for medical marijuana

Brandon Moseley

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Sean Worsley (VIA ALABAMA APPLESEED)

The Alabama Cannabis Industry Association on Monday released a statement critical of the decision by an Alabama court to imprison an Arizona man for five years after his probation for a 2016 marijuana arrest was revoked in April.

Sean Worsley was an Iraq War vet who legally uses marijuana for post-traumatic stress disorder, and for back and shoulder pain stemming from being wounded in an IED attack in Iraq.

He and his wife were arrested in Gordo, in Pickens County, in August 2016 after a police officer found the marijuana while questioning the Worsleys about the volume of their music when they stopped to get gas.

That Worsley had a valid medical cannabis card in Arizona — one of 33 states where that is legal — was no defense for the authorities in Pickens County. Worsley missed a court date in Pickens County after the VA rejected his application for a substance abuse program, so Pickens County issued a fugitive arrest warrant.

When Arizona arrested Worsley for letting his medical cannabis card expire, he was extradited back to Alabama. He is currently detained in Pickens County awaiting a spot to become available in an Alabama Department of Corrections facility.

Worsley could spend the next 60 months as a guest of Alabama taxpayers.

“The Alabama Cannabis Industry Association (AlCIA) has seen the need to bring clarity to the laws related to the medical marijuana issue facing our citizens,” said Michael Fritz, the general counsel for the Alabama Cannabis Industry Association.

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Fritz said that legislators created the new Class D category of offenses so that habitual offenders don’t serve long prison systems, but they left police and district attorneys with broad discretion to determine whether a person possessing cannabis is using that solely for “personal use.”

That discretion is the difference between having misdemeanor charge and becoming a  felon, Fritz said.

“States all across this country have acknowledged the medical benefits that cannabis brings to those suffering” from conditions like PTSD, Fritz said. “The ALCIA is fighting to allow those already suffering to have access to proper medication without the fear of becoming a felon.”

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“Sean Worsley is a prime example of why we are fighting,” Fritz told APR. “Medical Marijuana can help our veterans that suffer from PTSD, anxiety as well as pain from physically disabilities. It’s time to permit medical cannabis in our state, as our sister states have done and avoid needlessly jamming our already over crowed prisons with marijuana arrest.”

A counselor who treats veterans with PTSD told APR that it is common for veterans with PTSD to use medical marijuana to self-medicate with cannabis and that veterans like Worsley should not be mistreated by our criminal justice system.

Chey Garrigan, the executive director of the ACIA, said that Alabama Appleseed and the Southern Poverty Law Center partnered with Western Carolina University economists Angela K. Dills and Audrey Redford to calculate that enforcing Alabama’s possession of marijuana laws costs the state an estimated $22 million a year.

Fritz told APR that if you are caught with 2.2 pounds of marijuana, the Alabama Courts charge you with trafficking, but that there are no guidelines under Alabama law in how to determine whether an amount smaller than that is for personal use — a minor offense — or not for personal use, which is a Class C felony in the state of Alabama.

Worsley was charged with the Class C offense.

Worsley’s mother has hired an attorney to appeal the conviction. Meanwhile, the Worsleys are hoping that he can receive clemency from the Alabama court system. Sean has already served approximately six months in jail in Arizona and Pickens County for this.

A bill to legalize medical marijuana has passed the Alabama Senate in each of the last two years, but the bills have failed to come to a vote in the Alabama House of Representatives.

“It’s time to permit medical cannabis in our state, as our sister states have done and avoid needlessly jamming our already over crowed prisons with marijuana arrests,” Garrigan said.

Sean’s plight was first made public by original reporting by Alabama Appleseed’s Leah Nelson.

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Elections

Campaign for Common Sense endorses Sessions, Carl and Smith

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The Campaign for Common Sense on Monday announced that it has endorsed Jeff Sessions for Senate, Jerry Carl for Congress in the 1st Congressional District and Will Smith for Court of Criminal Appeals Place 2 in Tuesday’s Republican primary runoff elections.

“While every election is important, this year we have a Marxist inspired Democrat Party trying to undo the Constitution, rewrite American History, promote leaders who say they want to ‘burn the system down’ as well as some such as Ilhan Omar who says that we must ‘dismantle the whole system of oppression’ — really?” Lou Campomenosi wrote.

“This type of rhetoric suggests that we are in a much different political place than any of us have seen since perhaps the anti-war movement during Vietnam — but even then, we did not see the anarchy linked to liberal elected officials closing their eyes and not stopping rioting and looting,” Campomenosi wrote. “The breakdown of Law and Order has never manifested itself as we have seen since Memorial Day when it all began, which means this is a critical election and all of us must vote!”

In the U.S. Senate race, the CSC has endorsed Sessions over former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville.

“For 20 years Senator Sessions served us honorably and as a strong Christian Conservative — he is squeaky clean and can withstand anything the democrats concoct to try to politically hurt him,” the CSC claimed. “His past record includes supporting Obama’s tariffs on Chinese tires in 2011 as part of his long opposition to the Globalists’ agenda. Senator Sessions led the fight against illegal immigration and open borders. He has warned about China’s aggression and worked for fully funding the needs of our military. With regards to all nations, Senator Sessions has long supported fair trade, protection of jobs for America’s workers along with American intellectual property. Senator Sessions is a Constitutional Originalist who has always defended the First and Second Amendments guaranteeing protection for our free speech and right to bear arms. Senator Sessions has not forgotten us in Mobile and Baldwin Counties with his work to bring the companies of Austal and Airbus here.”

In the 1st Congressional District, the CSC endorsed Carl, a Mobile County commissioner, over former Sen. Bill Hightower.

“Jerry Carl was first endorsed by the Board for the March 3rd primary and was recently re-endorsed because in the time since the March 3rd primary and now, CSC has seen Jerry validate its trust in him time and again on the issues that are critical to our region,” the Tea Party group explained. “Whether it was working to improve the Port of Mobile that is critical to Alabama’s commerce or by taking a leading role on the Mobile Planning Commission by saying NO to an absurd $6 toll being proposed by Governor Kay Ivey for a new bridge over the Mobile River, Jerry has shown a willingness to fight for what was right for this region. For CSC, that means that Jerry Carl understands how the other counties in this District work and he has working relations with his fellow County Commissioners in the District and he has been ‘in the trenches’ at the local level gaining experience not only in development, infrastructure and budget issues, but he has also been heavily involved with Mobile’s Public Health Director in fighting the Wuhan Virus pandemic.”

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For the Court of Criminal Appeals, the CSC endorsed Smith, who is challenging incumbent Beth Kellum.

“I first met Will Smith when we were living in Florence at the time of the beginning of the Tea Party,” Campomenosi wrote. “We worked together on a great TP meeting on July 4th 2009 that brought out over 1000 patriots to hear among others, Mo Brooks. Will’s background is well suited to this position because in addition to his 25 years of practicing law, he served as a County Commissioner in Lauderdale County where he fought against tax increases and as an NRA member supported the Second Amendment. As a lawyer, who is a member of the Federalist Society, Will brings a wide range of experiences as a criminal defense lawyer and a special prosecutor in thousands of cases spanning his 25 year career. As a member of the Alabama, Georgia, and U.S. Supreme Court Bars, he has handled appeals at the state and Federal levels, which means Will is well prepared for accepting the responsibilities of a Judge on the Court of Criminal Appeals. Attesting to that, Will has received the endorsement of the Alabama Republican Assembly and various conservative groups in the state including the Common Sense Campaign. I think it is also important to keep in mind that Will has been a servant leader in his community, where he has been a Sunday school teacher, has devoted his time to his Church’s Special Needs Ministry, and has been a basketball coach in a program called Upward Basketball. In addition to all of his local community work, Will has also found time to join an International Missions program as a worker. I think you can see from this brief review that Will Smith is ready for this job based on his quarter of a century in law practice, his life experiences as a husband and father in a faith-based community, and importantly, his Christian conservative foundation that is necessary in applying the law to so many different circumstances.”

Polls open at 7 a.m and close at 7 p.m.

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