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Patrick Darrington’s Top 5 stories of 2023

We are taking a look back at some of our top stories in 2023.

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The New Year is closing in but here at APR, we are taking a look back at some of our top stories in 2023. I have compiled my top five here.

Carl says it’s OK to disobey federal court orders

It’s interesting when public figures say things you were not expecting them to outright admit but Congressman Rep. Jerry Carl, R-Mobile, did just that in this situation.

Alabama’s redistricting case, Allen v. Milligan, was obviously a major news story throughout the year. Many were surprised when the conservative Supreme Court decided in June to reassert a lower court’s decision that Alabama’s 2021 congressional map likely violated the Voting Rights Act by diluting Black voting power. This also meant that Alabama’s legislature would have to create a new map that remedied this problem by creating at least two Black majority districts or something close to it.

After Gov. Kay Ivey convened a special session in July it then came as a shock to some, and not as much of a shock to others, that Alabama’s Republican supermajority then decided to defy the federal court order and submit a congressional map without a second majority Black district. Carl returned to Mobile in August for a municipal league meeting which I attended as well to cover the event. 

The topic of redistricting came about after Carl was prompted by a member of the audience. Carl said that the legislature did a good job during the process. He said this after the legislature already submitted the map in defiance of the federal court’s order.

I asked Carl how the legislature did a good job if they were deliberately disobeying a mandate from a court and he responded saying the question was about creating a map that was “leaning” toward a Black majority. But I then asked Carl why wouldn’t the legislature just make two majority Black districts and be done with the process instead of playing around. 

Carl claimed the legislature did attempt to make a second majority district to which I pushed back as they clearly did not. I then directly asked Carl if he was saying it as okay for Alabama to disobey a federal court’s order and he replied, “By all means, this is the state’s job, they’re following the laws that are setup,”

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Carl’s response was the perfect distillation of power and, historically, Alabama’s attitude towards federal orders. For example, when George Wallace refused to end segregation even after a federal court ordered the University of Alabama to admit two Black students into the school. This is not a comparison of Carl to Wallace but merely acknowledging the history of defying court order.

It demonstrates that for those in power, specifically white people in Alabama, it is okay to disobey the federal orders if it intervenes in our power or advantages and if Black people have to suffer as a consequence well then so be it.

An incarcerated individual had a gun inside a maximum security facility

There has been effectively radio silence regarding the fact that an incarcerated individual obtained a gun inside Alabama’s maximum security facility. But man, if you remember, it was crazy. 

The details of the incident sound as though they’re from a movie. Derrol Shaw, at the time, had allegedly taken a guard or guards hostage with a gun and Donaldson Correctional Facility was put on lockdown. Videos then began circulating including Facebook Live depicting Shaw an officer’s vest on brandishing the weapon, talking on live and smoking. But while Shaw was on Facebook Live his words were not the ramblings of a deranged person but so clearly sincere, thoughtful and poignant.

Shaw mentioned how watching his friends die everyday affected him and that he was “fed up” with  the prison system’s constant state of chaos and violence. He even said Alabama’s prison system was upholding white supremacy and “modern-day slavery.” Interesting that Shaw mentions that several months prior to a lawsuit just filed several weeks ago accusing the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) and the parole system of maintaining and profiting from a system of modern-day slavery. 

Also, Shaw showed no intent to harm anyone or kill them. Here it was a convicted felon with the opportunity to actually hurt people with access to a gun yet all he wanted to do was go home. However, when he failed at attempting to leave the prison he returned and is then seen on Facebook Live talking about everything he is feeling and thinking.

Shaw discusses his own mortality and potential death yet at another point in the video also advocates for those inside that are routinely denied parole. A source informed me after the incident that at some point Shaw was convinced to turn himself in instead of potentially endangering himself. Shaw disposed of the gun in a trash can then a group of 4 other incarcerated people rolled Shaw out on a wheelchair to law enforcement waiting outside.

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The trash can with the gun was also taken outside to show that the gun was disposed of. One source described that one of the individuals had to walk outside and tell the officers surrounding the facility with their guns pointed to “don’t shoot,” before bringing Shaw outside. After coming outside all of the men had to get on the ground and law enforcement took Shaw into custody. 

Yet, the entire incident appears to have been swept under the rug as it feels as though it happened in passing. I understand how this is a PR nightmare for a state that is going to spend $1 billion on one new prison and tries to maintain a veneer that these prisons are secure. But I mean really how does a gun get inside a maximum security facility and an entire hostage situation occurs and there is not even a morsel of outrage, at least publicly especially when we’re spending again $1 billion on a new prison.

But sorry actually according to ADOC there was never a hostage situation only a “security-incident” that occurred. Although, according to documents APR obtained Shaw a month later ADOC contradicted itself because a disciplinary report for Shaw reads that, “after having taken Sergeant Trenton Eads hostage, you then facilitated the taking of several staff hostages.”

A security incident for sure. 

Daniel Williams’ Tragic Story

Daniel Williams’ story like many others that I’ve written in regards to ADOC just underscores the inhumanity afforded to people incarcerated even while injured or incapacitated. I think many people rightfully were taken aback at the horrible details of the abuse Daniel suffered that landed him in the hospital just several days prior to when he was scheduled to be released from prison. Daniel was kidnapped, sexually assaulted and beaten for two days before finally being sent to the hospital. 

Where were the guards at? How does an incarcerated person go missing for two days inside the prison? After ending up in the hospital and becoming brain dead Daniel was guarded by five ADOC officers despite the fact he could do nothing. For all of the understaffing issues sure does make sense to have five guards watching an individual who is brain dead at a hospital. 

Terry Williams, Daniel’s father, also revealed that the warden even lied claiming Daniel overdosed when he was abused as Terry saw the bruises on Daniel’s body at the hospital. And of course Terry discussed how information was being kept from him regarding Daniel which demonstrates the treatment families are shown when they’re just trying to learn what happened to their loved ones. Daniel’s story is a sad encapsulation of the many problems inherent to our prison system.

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John Wahl Interview

Personally this was an interesting interview and story simply to add context to how these “cultural” issues are not new and are waged cyclically every other decade or so. For example the groomer panic and parental rights both have historical antecedents that follow a similar playbook as the current culture wars. Since John Wahl, is the Chairman of Alabama’s Republican Party, it was insightful to get an understanding of how he felt about some of the topics surrounding schools and LGBTQ+ issues since he’ll have some say in the party’s political strategy.  

At the time the American Education Association was being discussed regarding it’s alleged influence in Alabama’s Republican Party specifically what Wahl mentioned was the AEA’s conflict with the idea of “parental rights.” Wahl and I would go on to discuss schools, LGBTQ+ children, the defunding of the Department of Archives and History and why mentioning “grooming” was dangerous. With the upcoming legislative session arriving I think this would be a good piece to return to as I suspect some of these issues will soon be at the forefront again.

Toforest Johnson and Earwitness Podcast

Toforest Johnson’s story is the epitome of outrageous and illuminates the incentivizes for our criminal justice system to have someone take the fall for a crime when they’re innocent. Now it has been revealed that the earwitness was paid by the state of Alabama but that was never mentioned in Johnson’s trial and it took over 15 years for the state to admit to it.

The Earwitness podcast developed by journalist Beth Shelburne and Lava For Good investigates Johnson’s story and his case. It is a tintillating yet infuriating listen that brings necessary attention to the story of a man that has had so much time stolen due to an unjust system.

Patrick Darrington is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected].

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