Alabama editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:
Dothan Eagle on the execution of a Muslim inmate:
The State of Alabama put a man to death Thursday. He was the 217th person to die under the state’s death penalty - the 64th execution since a moratorium on executions in Alabama was lifted in 1983.
Dominique Ray’s execution is troubling. Not because there was any question about his guilt. Debates about the moral failings of the death penalty aside, there was no reason why Ray should not see the sentence imposed on him for the murder of 15-year-old Tiffany Harville almost 25 years ago carried out at long last.
What’s troubling about Ray’s execution is the constitutional question it raises. Ray, who embraced Islam while incarcerated, wanted an imam present with him in the death chamber. Prison officials refused, saying they could provide a Christian prison chaplain. Ray’s attorneys sued, and a stay of execution was issued to sort it all out.
Prison officials argue that only corrections system employees are allowed in the execution chamber as a matter of security, which is reasonable. In an earlier editorial, we suggested the prison system work to create a pool of spiritual leaders from other faiths, and vet them accordingly. That seems reasonable as well.
However, Ray’s position was that he was receiving unequal treatment because he, a Muslim, did not have the same opportunity in the execution chamber as a Christian prisoner would. And he’s right - the constitutional religious protections suggest that a condemned inmate of any stripe should have the same access to a representative of their chosen faith.
The matter made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which, in a 5-4 decision, vacated the stay imposed by a lower court to allow the execution to proceed. The reason - Ray had waited too long to raise his objection.
In her dissent, Justice Elena Kagan argues that Alabama’s policy of making available only a Christian chaplain violates the constitution’s Establishment clause:
“Under (Alabama’s) policy, a Christian prisoner may have a minister of his own faith accompany him into the execution chamber to say his last rites. But if an inmate practices a different religion — whether Islam, Judaism, or any other — he may not die with a minister of his own faith by his side. That treatment goes against the Establishment Clause’s core principle of denominational neutrality.”
For Ray, the argument is moot. However, despite the high court’s green light for Ray’s execution, Alabama officials must undertake an in-depth review of procedures surrounding the treatment of the state’s inmates, not only to ensure constitutional rights are upheld, but to avoid future litigation that the state can hardly afford.
The Decatur Daily on an Alabama mall shooting in which a police officer killed a black man he mistook for the gunman:
EJ Bradford could have been a poster child for the National Rifle Association.
On a busy Thanksgiving night at the Riverchase Galleria in Hoover, Emantic “EJ” Bradford Jr. was the good guy with a gun. He had a concealed carry permit, according to his father. He had no criminal record.
In the seconds after shots were fired at the mall, Bradford initially ran for safety, according to a report released Tuesday by the Alabama Attorney General’s Office. Then he bravely pulled his gun and approached the danger, attempting to assist the shooting victim. As others panicked, the armed Bradford was determined to help.
Up to this point in that tragic evening, Second Amendment enthusiasts could have pointed to Bradford with I-told-you-so grins. A crowded mall, shots fired by a bad guy, but the good guys were empowered. Because Bradford had a gun.
The NRA theme, however, quickly unraveled. Not because Bradford shot the wrong guy, as sometimes happens, but because there were other good guys with guns.
Hoover police had been trained in active shooter situations, and that’s what they confronted at the Galleria. They heard two shots. They saw an injured man being assisted by another man. Scared shoppers were running in every direction.
“Next, I observed an armed suspect quickly moving toward the two males standing near the railing,” said unidentified Officer 1, quoted in the attorney general’s report. “The suspect was advancing on the two males and had a black handgun in his right hand. I fired my duty weapon at the armed suspect to stop him.”
At least one officer, who had a different vantage point, knew Officer 1 had shot the wrong man. Others thought he had targeted the active shooter. One said he would have shot Bradford too, but he “believed that the threat was eliminated when EJ Bradford fell to the ground.”
Officer 1 shot Bradford in his lower back, in the back of his head and in his neck.
Bradford fell down and died, his handgun sliding across the mall floor.
Had events played out differently, Officer 1 would have been a hero.
“I turned toward the noise, drawing my firearm. . I instinctively started moving toward the area where the gunshots were heard while looking for immediate threats,” he told investigators.
Indeed, that’s precisely what Bradford did. Now one good guy is dead, and the other — while he will not be charged — must live with the knowledge he killed an innocent man.
The idea that a good guy with a gun helps protect the public from an active shooter makes a good slogan, and occasionally it may even be true. It can be disastrously false, however, if there’s more than one good guy with a gun.
Attorney General Steve Marshall — endorsed by the NRA, proudly forcing city halls to allow gun-toting patrons, and enforcing a law allowing school administrators to be armed — implicitly acknowledged Tuesday the problem with guns in a public place as he declined to file charges against Officer 1. In the chaos of an active shooter situation, even trained police officers struggle to distinguish between good guys with guns and bad guys with guns.
“Officer 1 responded to an active shooting scene inside a crowded shopping mall,” according to the attorney general’s report. “Just three seconds after hearing two gunshots, Officer 1 encountered an armed individual (EJ Bradford) who — unlike every other person at the scene — was running toward the shooting site, rather than fleeing from it.”
Bradford’s death is tragic. It’s also a cautionary tale to a state that is too quick to believe that equipping more good guys with guns increases public safety.
Opelika-Auburn News on blackface:
It is sad commentary that in the year 2019, we still see examples every day of racism, bigotry and ignorance that - sometimes intended and sometimes not - hurts those offended by it and smears the character of those so willingly pervasive in sharing it.
Some of the related firestorms in recent years remain mired in emotional public debate, such as the differences of opinion centered on Confederate monuments, police shootings and immigration. No easy answers come with one-solution-fits-all applications.
Yet other examples of racism leave no excuse for misunderstanding other than pure ignorance, indifference or insecurity.
The trendy course of cultural division these days in our nation is that of so-called blackface.
If you want to know what it is like to live with black or brown skin, there are much more meaningful and sensible conduits of information and sensitivity than smearing your face with shoe polish.
Why, some might still ask, is it offensive?
It conjures up racial stereotypes from history, memories, and insults to the black race that hearken back to the days of slavery and segregation.
Days when street shows, theater productions and later movies and television all performed entertainment acts using white actors poking fun at the plight and expense of dignity for blacks.
But the problem is not that simple. It gets more hurtful because in most cases, there are additional racist overtones with it; often blunt, inappropriate language or name-calling.
We have enough problems in our society today that we shouldn’t offend or be insensitive to our neighbors just because they are black, white or different.
Instead of borrowing a person’s skin color to find out what it’s like or to portray a lifestyle, perhaps instead it is their shoes that should be shared.
Metaphorically speaking, just a short walk in them might go a long way.