Members of Alabama Black Lives Matter and Alabama SaveOurselves are to hold a press conference and demonstration outside the state Capitol on Tuesday following the arrest of five members earlier this month.
Members of Alabama Black Lives Matter and Alabama SaveOurselves on July 16 held a “die-in” on the steps of Alabama’s Capitol to advocate for the expansion of Medicaid in the state, and during the demonstration, some members used yellow spray paint to paint the words “Black Lives Matter” and “Expand Medicaid” on the street in front of the Capitol. Although state troopers were watching, no one was arrested at the time.
Later that evening, the Montgomery Police Department announced that warrants had been issued for the arrest of Montgomery community leader Karen Jones, 45, and former state representative and Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford, 77. The two were each charged with one count of defacing public property, a misdemeanor.
Former State Sen. Hank Sanders told APR by phone Monday that he was at the July 16 event with his wife, attorney, civil rights activist and former municipal judge Faya Rose Toure. Both are founding members of SOS.
Sanders said the groups issued a press release later that day, noting that arrest warrants were only issued for black leaders in the groups while whites were present as well.
On Friday evening, warrants were also issued for Toure, 75, Greene County Health Care Systems Board Chair and co-publisher of The Greene County Democrat, John Zippert, 74, who is white, and 26-year-old Black Lives Matter leader Juan McFarland II.
All five turned themselves in at the Montgomery police station on July 20, but only the two women were stripped searched, Sanders said.
“I’m mad as hell,” Sanders said. “There was no reason whatsoever to strip search on a misdemeanor.”
All five were held in jail for five hours, despite the fact that they were to be released on signature bonds, usually a quick procedure, and were held with other incarcerated people and many police officers who weren’t wearing face masks despite the threat COVID-19 poses to jails and prisons, Sanders said in a social media post.
Sanders said if police wanted to arrest all five they would have issued those arrest warrants at the time. He believes the additional arrests and treatment once arrested are evidence of retaliation by police against the demonstrators. He said the demonstration wasn’t focusing on the city of Montgomery, but rather on SOS’s continued call for an expansion of Medicaid.
“Because we see that as a way of saving at least 700 lives a year, and now with this pandemic, it’s far more than 700 lives a year,” Sanders said. He hopes that Tuesday’s demonstration brings more attention to the need to expand the federal program in Alabama.
“I cannot believe that while other cities are painting Black Lives Matter on major streets, the Montgomery authorities are calling for the arrest of long-time Civil Rights leaders for spray painting a small area with the words Black Lives Matter and Expand Medicaid,” Toure said in a statement. “This is about saving hundreds of lives each year and thousands of lives since we began advocating for the expansion of Medicaid in Alabama. It is terrible when pavement is valued more than lives.”
Tuesday’s demonstration is to be live-streamed on Sanders’ Facebook page.