Two weeks and 600-plus bills into the 2021 Legislative Session in Alabama, and the theme is a familiar one from our conservative supermajority: cruelty. Cruelty in action. Cruelty in inaction.
It’s not a surprise at this point — not even in this alleged compassionate Christian state. The focus is so rarely on helping those in need, lifting from the bottom or taking care to respect your fellow citizens. Instead, we take care of the wealthy and powerful, penalize the downtrodden and belittle those who we don’t understand.
We’ve done this for decades now, so another year of it shouldn’t be a surprise, I guess. But don’t take my word for it, just read the bills.
For example, how about this one? In the time of a pandemic, when hundreds of thousands of Alabamians have lost their jobs, or lost a good chunk of pay, and are staring at foreclosure, unpaid health care bills, auto repossessions and hungry kids, the most pressing pandemic-related matter facing our state lawmakers was, apparently, to provide protections to business owners who forced employees back to work in unsafe environments.
Now, you might counter that your lawmaker told you that this was merely a protection for businesses to shield them from frivolous lawsuits. And I’d ask you to really think about that sentence. Because it’s like saying you’re protecting me from assault.
Frivolous lawsuits already get tossed from courts — that’s why they’re called “frivolous.” What we did was extend protections to people who slapped a “must wear masks” sign on the front door, didn’t lift a finger to enforce it — even knowing that they had at-risk employees — and then threatened to fire anyone who missed a shift.
Just thank God you’re not a kid struggling with gender identity issues, because getting essentially any sort of treatment is going to be illegal in Alabama if Republican Rep. Wes Allen has his way, and it doesn’t matter what doctors might say.
Allen’s bill would prohibit most treatments normally used by doctors for juvenile patients struggling with sexual orientation. It would also ban permanent surgeries and treatments, which are never used, according to multiple doctors who spoke at a recent committee hearing on the bill.
Because in the dream world where Republicans go to craft such bills, decisions that lead pre-teens and teenagers to doctors for gender treatments occur in the matter of minutes or hours. The kid wakes up a boy one morning, watches an unholy video on the internets, decides to put on a dress and their liberal, hippy parents rush them in for a sex change procedure.
In reality, as the doctors and parents at the hearing explained, therapy for these kids is the result of years of trauma and struggle, and years more therapy and consultation — all of which is reversible in the case of minors. Most often the treatments come after suicide attempts and agonizing years in which parents helplessly watch children they love deeply struggle through life.
Didn’t matter. The GOP supermajority on the committee basically yawned, said tl;dr, and passed the bill out of committee.
A similar fate likely awaits both of the new bills designed to protect confederate monuments. One is by Rep. Chip Brown, the other by Rep. Mike Holmes. They’re both white guys. And like all the rest of us, they watched the Black Lives Matter protests last summer.
Unlike most of us, however, their big takeaway from those marches and town halls and deep conversations was that we really need to do more to protect and keep in place monuments erected to honor the men who enslaved, beat, raped, killed and tortured other humans for the egregious sin of being born with Black skin.
Both of these men, undoubtedly, will proclaim that they are not racists. Which raises a never-answered question for me: How on earth can you possibly claim to be not-a-racist and still fail, after all this time, to recognize the astonishing offensiveness of a statue that honors a person who enslaved — or fought for the enslavement — of your fellow citizens’ ancestors?
Of course, that mindset also might explain why prisons aren’t a priority issue for Republicans to start this session. Or for the last two decades.
There is no plan — or even a discussion of a plan — within the legislature to address the deep, disturbing issues raised by multiple Department of Justice investigations and contained in a recently-filed DOJ lawsuit against the state. Over the last several years, hundreds of human beings have died in Alabama prisons. Last month, prison workers literally cooked an inmate alive in his cell. Every day, we get (delayed) reports of overdoses and accidents and COVID deaths.
It’s pathetic that a group of people elected to lead can be shown such reports of verified horrors and still fail to even attempt to solve the problems. Or to question what, exactly, ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn is doing right.
But then, maybe the treatment of those prisoners is the best indication we could have of the way Alabama’s conservative lawmakers feel about the rest of the state.
After all, that’s a collection of poor, mostly minority people within those prison walls. And the only reason our state lawmakers would have for fixing their problems and ending their unsafe, cruel living conditions is it would be the compassionate, honorable, right thing to do. We see how that’s going.
Because in Alabama, cruelty has been the point for a very long time.