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Opinion | In Alabama, we just keep spinning in the same, sad circle

If you don’t learn from history, you will be doomed to repeat it. 

Just ask Alabama. 

We’re to the point now in this state where we don’t actually have new events, just new ways to relive the same awful things we did in the past. 

Look at this week. 

There’s a protest in a major city — this time in Huntsville. Cops respond with an absurd show of force and violence — using tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets against a peaceful crowd. There is national outrage over the images and injuries that result. 

The cops then claim there were “outside anarchists” (the 2020 version of “outside agitators) and they had no choice, because they knew where things were headed (even though there had been no violence or other problems in the previous five hours). The state attorney general “investigates” with a single phone call and backs up the cops without so much as interviewing a single individual who attended the protest. 

Tah-dah. Alabama “justice” is served. 

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I think I know what comes next. Because it came next the last several times this same thing happened, with these same responses and this same embarrassment. 

Some 30 years or so from now, there’ll be a movie or pictures in a history book. Alabama’s people will be portrayed as the ignorant, backwards racists they are. 

Do these people really not see it? Can they not hear themselves? Do they not understand how history will view them? 

Because it’s not hard to figure it out. We’ve all watched the movies and read the books. 

They can pretend it’s not that bad — that they’re right about their decisions to arbitrarily spray tear gas at peaceful protesters and shoot them with rubber bullets. They can attempt to justify that violence against peaceful American citizens by claiming the whole protest was illegal — simply because they said so.  

But it all sounds so stupidly familiar. 

To Alabama State Trooper Maj. John Cloud. Cloud stood at the foot of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965, as a group of black protesters planning to march from Selma to Montgomery neared the gathered throng of state troopers. That’s when Cloud began ordering them to stop. 

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“You are hereby ordered to disperse,” Cloud yelled at the marchers. “I am saying that this is an unlawful assembly. You are ordered to disperse. This march will not continue.”

A day later, in a “Face the Nation” interview, Gov. George Wallace blamed the incident on “outside agitators” and held up newspapers to show that riots were occurring in other states, and police were using force in those cities. 

Remember those words. 

On Thursday, Huntsville Police Chief Mark McMurray and Madison County Sheriff Kevin Turner held a press conference at which they praised themselves and their departments for the response. 

During that press conference, Turner said this: “We gave them the order that this is unlawful — I gave it three or four different times. At that point, you’ve seen what’s going on around the country. Do y’all want that done to your town? We don’t want that done to our town.”

McMurray said: “It was an unauthorized protest against government. That’s what anarchists do. These were non-peaceful agitators. They, by their refusal to obey a lawful order, brought this on themselves.”

Striking, no? 

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Now, look, I’m not saying that what happened in Huntsville approaches the level of injustice that took place in Selma 55 years ago, or that the result of the Huntsville debacle will lead to grand changes or even be remembered 10 years from now. 

But I am saying that what we’re witnessing in this country right now is a massive shift — a reckoning the likes of which we haven’t seen in those 55 years. Big changes are coming, finally, to right a whole lot of wrongs and make life much more palatable for a whole lot of people. 

And it’s striking that the same language and attitudes that dominated Alabama back in 1965 — the language and attitudes we all wince at when we hear them in movies or see them in footage from those days — are remarkably similar to what we’re hearing from police chiefs, sheriffs, mayors and state leaders around Alabama. 

Not all of them, but enough that it should embarrass the hell out of us, because here we are again doing the same things, having learned nothing at all from a half-century of shame. 

The people gathered in Huntsville weren’t a problem. They were never going to be a problem. They were in that park to stand up for themselves and their fellow Americans, to protest injustice and racism. 

They weren’t there because they don’t care about America or Alabama or Huntsville. They were there because they do care. 

They see an America that is unfair and uncaring. They see an America that kicks the little guy and pays no attention to laws or constitutional rights. They see an America where minorities — and those who stand up for minorities — routinely get the shaft and no one says a damn word about it unless it’s caught on video. 

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And what happened Wednesday night proved them right.

 

Josh Moon
Written By

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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