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Opinion | Decatur mayor’s shameful permit requirement latest black eye for city

Upset because people are protesting outside of his house, Decatur mayor Tab Bowling wants to violate the constitution to stop them.

The mayor of Decatur is tired of people protesting outside of his home, disrupting his family time, disturbing his neighbors and generally making life more difficult for him. 

Yes, it must be difficult to have people show up at your home and forever upend your nice, peaceful life. 

Just ask the family of Steve Perkins. 

That’s why the protesters are there – to let Mayor Tab Bowling know that they’re still watching, still unhappy about the slow moving pace of the investigation into the shooting death of Perkins. 

Perkins was killed in his front yard by Decatur police in September. Last month, Bowling finally announced that three of the four cops involved in that shooting would be fired. A fourth was placed on leave. It’s unclear what, if any, other meaningful changes are being made within the Decatur Police Department to avoid similar incidents in the future. 

Also still lingering are the results of a criminal investigation conducted by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency. Those results were turned over to the Morgan County District Attorney’s Office a week ago, and DA Scott Anderson said he will present the case to a grand jury for possible criminal charges against the officers. 

But we don’t need a grand jury, really. We know what happened from neighbors’ security video. 

Perkins confronted a tow truck driver who was attempting to repossess his truck. According to Perkins’ brother, Nicholas Perkins, that driver left and another driver at the same company contacted friends within the police department to ask for assistance in retrieving the vehicle. While that’s against the law, and a clear violation of DPD policy, the four officers went to Perkins’ home in the early morning hours anyway and took up hiding positions around his house and across the street. 

Decatur Mayor Tab Bolling

When Perkins later emerged, allegedly holding a handgun with a light on it, and yelled at the new tow truck driver, officers sprang from their hiding spots, in the dark, and one yelled at Perkins: “Police, getonthegrou….” 

The back end of the sentence was drowned out by his gunfire. Perkins was struck seven times, never having a chance to comply with orders and likely never knowing that cops were at his home. Those cops allowed the tow truck driver to leave with Perkins’ vehicle as he was fighting for his life in his own front yard. 

And now, after months of stalling and double speak and feet dragging, here’s the mayor of the city – the guy who’s ultimately in charge of that police department and the investigation of those cops and responsible for the actions of those under him – whining publicly about the terrible disruptions to his life. Because people are yelling at his house from the street at night. 

But it’s more unimaginable than that: Bowling announced a week ago that he’s now requiring protesters to obtain a permit through the chief of police or face arrest. 

Is there any other way the city of Decatur would like to violate laws and the constitutional rights of its citizens in this ordeal? 

 Because issuing a blanket requirement for certain protesters to obtain a permit to protest on public property is one of the most obvious violations of the constitution you can find. Especially in a case like this one, where the public interest is involved. 

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The U.S. Supreme Court has settled this. Numerous times. Most recently by the Roberts court overturning a verdict against the looneys from Westboro Baptist Church. 

That hasn’t stopped Bowling. Nor has the fact that he and Decatur officials have been wrong so many times throughout this situation, making it all so much worse than it ever had to be. 

Let me help you, Tab. The protesters are still outside of your house because you and others with the city and police department, after initially getting caught in a bold face lie that tried to pin the shooting on Perkins, decided to drag this out in an effort, I can only assume, to get people to lose interest. 

The reality is there’s no reason the city’s internal investigation should have taken more than two months. Two days was probably enough time, certainly two weeks. You had everything you needed within a few hours. You knew full well that the officers had no business being there. You knew full well that they had violated policies. You knew full well that they shot a man down in his front yard and you knew, probably by the day after it happened, what the full story was. 

You could have fired those cops that week. You could have suspended them all immediately. You could have refused to stand for such criminal activity within the DPD. You could have done so many different things that would have generated respect and trust. 

But instead, you sat on it. And milked it. Looking for an escape hatch that would lessen exposure. That would prevent you and the chief and so many others from admitting that DPD has a serious problem, and that significant changes are necessary. 

You hemmed and hawed, and arrested protesters on trumped up jaywalking charges, and disappeared from meetings and tried to stall at every turn. And now, because you’re mad that these people are determined to do what you should have done – hold someone accountable for killing a law-abiding citizen in his front yard – you’re willing to violate one of the most sacred constitutional rights of this country to make them go away. 

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It’s shameful.  

Those people standing in front of your house – all they’ve ever asked is for you to do the right thing. To do mostly what you were forced to do in the end anyway.

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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