By Brianna Nargiso
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – As COVID-19 continues to spread globally and the U. S. has now become the first country to top 100,000 cases, prisons and jails across the country continue to house inmates and employees who have tested positive for the Coronavirus and authorities are desperately trying to abate the spread.
For example, due to the severity of the virus that had killed 32,137 around the world and 2,054 in the U. S. as of Sunday, March 29, The Board of Corrections, an agency providing oversight of New York City jails, urgently recommended that all people with a high risk of dying from the virus be released from the jail immediately. The board also asked that the jail take the necessary steps to significantly decrease the jail’s population immediately since social distancing has been among the keys to preventing the spread of the virus along with thorough hand washing and decontamination of surfaces.
In response to the recommendation, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio released 40 people from New York’s Rikers Island last Friday and another 23 people on Sunday who were considered at a high risk of dying from the virus.
De Blasio took to Twitter to tell New Yorkers “…an additional 200 being evaluated right now for release who have less than 90 days left in their sentences.”
However, the release of 63 people is just not enough to stop the spread of the virus, which easily moves from person to person and can also be contracted from surfaces and the environment where an infected person has coughed or sneezed. Therefore, advocates for the incarcerated are pressing authorities to do more.
Jails throughout the United States have followed similar precautions to protect inmates, staff and the general public:
As states struggle for answers and public health advocates encourage release of non-violent inmates endangered by the virus, the federal prison system on Sunday, announced its first death. Patrick Jones, 49, who was housed in a minimum security prison in Oakdale, La., has died from the virus after testing positive on March 19, according to widespread reports.
California has also begun releasing large numbers of inmates in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. According to the L.A Times, Los Angeles County reduced their jail population by 6 percent in February.
Pennsylvania, Maine, Texas, Illinois and Ohio have also begun releasing inmates amidst state outbreaks.
The Bureau of Prisons has suspended all visits for 30 days. Inmate transfers has also been with few exceptions.
Many inmates who are assumed to have had contact with the virus are being quarantined.
The New York City’s union for corrections officers have demanded to be given more protective materials like masks, gloves, soap and hand sanitizer.
According to NPR, Arizona and Minnesota prisons have waived copays charged for inmates seeking medical visits and waived fees for personal hygiene supplies amidst the outbreak.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) said in a letter to The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), “Our incarcerated population faces severe threats to their health and safety every day, and BOP must prioritize and work diligently to improve prison conditions nationwide. As the country prepares for coronavirus, it is also incumbent upon BOP—in coordination with HHS—to prevent outbreaks and to safely and humanely treat all affected individuals.”
Compiled by Erica Wright, The Birmingham Times
Kenneth Boswell, director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, is chair of the Alabama Counts 2020 committee. He responded to these questions from The Birmingham Times.
BT: What impact does the recent coronavirus pandemic have on the Census efforts in Alabama?
Kenneth Boswell: The great thing about the 2020 Census is that it has never been easier to respond on your own, whether online, over the phone or by mail—all without having to meet a census taker. Notification letters from the Census Bureau to Alabama households began going out on March 12 and are continuing until March 20.
There are three ways to respond: online at http://www.my2020census.gov, by phone at 1-844-330-2020 or by paper form.
We are keeping in contact with the U.S. Census Bureau and know that they are monitoring the situation very closely. We anticipate any changes would likely be to the in-person follow-up by census workers to households who do not complete their census by April 30. Right now, that portion is scheduled to begin in May.
BT: How does the state plan to proceed with the Census in light of the pandemic?
Boswell: The census is something that is quick and easy to complete at home, so that is our main message right now. We have a statewide awareness campaign that includes TV, newspaper, radio, social media, billboard and digital messages. Some census-related events scheduled for the next couple weeks have been postponed, but we are adjusting accordingly and will continue to do everything we can to encourage all in Alabama to take their census.
BT: What’s the significance of the April 1, 2020 deadline with the Census?
Boswell: April 1 is simply what the Census Bureau calls Census Day. It is a symbolic day designed to encourage all who live in the United States to self-respond to their Census form. Right now, we are encouraging participation as soon as the invitation letters are received and by April 30 which is the designated self-response period before the Census Bureau follows up in person with those households who have not yet responded.
BT: How much does the state stand to lose in funding if there is an under count or drop in Census numbers? What are some of the programs that will be affected if that money is lost?
Boswell: Alabama receives about $13 billion in census-derived funding per year for important programs that support Alabama’s healthcare, schools, infrastructure and community services.
Here is a link to a study by George Washington University that details 55 federal programs linked to census data and their impact on Alabama: https://census.alabama.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/IPP-1819-3-CountingforDollars_AL.pdf
BT: Is there a certain percentage for example, 70-90 percent that the state has a goal to reach for the Census count?
Boswell: We are asking for maximum participation as close to 100 percent as possible. We must do better than the 72 percent participation rate that Alabama recorded in 2010.
This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.
ATLANTA (AP) — The Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, a veteran civil rights leader who helped the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and fought against racial discrimination, died Friday, a family statement said. He was 98.
A charismatic and fiery preacher, Lowery led the SCLC for two decades — restoring the organization’s financial stability and pressuring businesses not to trade with South Africa’s apartheid-era regime — before retiring in 1997.
Lowery, considered the dean of civil rights veterans, lived to celebrate a November 2008 milestone that few of his movement colleagues thought they would ever witness — the election of an African American president.
At an emotional victory celebration for President-elect Barack Obama in Atlanta, Lowery said, “America tonight is in the process of being born again.” An early and enthusiastic supporter of Obama over then-Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, Lowery also gave the benediction at Obama’s inauguration.
“We thank you for the empowering of thy servant, our 44th president, to inspire our nation to believe that, yes, we can work together to achieve a more perfect union,” he said. “Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back; when brown can stick around; when yellow will be mellow; when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right,” Lowery prayed. “Let all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen! Say Amen! And Amen!”
In 2009, Obama awarded Lowery the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
In another high-profile moment, Lowery drew a standing ovation at the 2006 funeral of King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, when he criticized the war in Iraq, saying, “For war, billions more, but no more for the poor.” The comment also drew head shakes from then-President George Bush and his father, former president George H.W. Bush, who were seated behind the pulpit.
Lowery’s involvement in civil rights grew naturally out of his Christian faith. He often preached that racial discrimination in housing, employment and health care was at odds with fundamental Christian values such as human worth and the brotherhood of man.
“I’ve never felt your ministry should be totally devoted to making a heavenly home. I thought it should also be devoted to making your home here heavenly,” he once said.
Lowery remained active in fighting issues such as war, poverty and racism long after retiring, and survived prostate cancer and throat surgery after he beat Jim Crow. His wife, Evelyn Gibson Lowery, who worked alongside her husband of nearly 70 years and served as head of SCLC/WOMEN, died in 2013.
“I’ll miss you, Uncle Joe. You finally made it up to see Aunt Evelyn again,” King’s daughter, Bernice King, said in a tweet Friday night.
Lowery was pastor of the Warren Street Methodist Church in Mobile, Alabama, in the 1950s when he met King, who then lived in Montgomery, Alabama. Lowery’s meetings with King, the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy and other civil rights activists led to the SCLC’s formation in 1957. The group became a leading force in the civil rights struggle of the 1960s.
Lowery became SCLC president in 1977 following the resignation of Abernathy, who had taken the job after King was assassinated in 1968. He took over an SCLC that was deeply in debt and losing members rapidly. Lowery helped the organization survive and guided it on a new course that embraced more mainstream social and economic policies.
Coretta Scott King once said Lowery “has led more marches and been in the trenches more than anyone since Martin.”
He was arrested in 1983 in North Carolina for protesting the dumping of toxic wastes in a predominantly black county and in 1984 in Washington while demonstrating against apartheid.
He recalled a 1979 confrontation in Decatur, Alabama, when he and others were protesting the case of a mentally disabled black man charged with rape. He recalled that bullets whizzed inches above their heads and a group of Klan members confronted them.
“I could hear them go ‘whoosh,'” Lowery said. “I’ll never forget that. I almost died 24 miles from where I was born.”
In the mid-1980s, he led a boycott that persuaded the Winn-Dixie grocery chain to stop selling South African canned fruit and frozen fish when that nation was in the grip of apartheid.
He also continued to urge blacks to exercise their hard-won rights by registering to vote.
“Black people need to understand that the right to vote was not a gift of our political system but came as a result of blood, sweat and tears,” he said in 1985.
Like King, Lowery juggled his civil rights work with ministry. He pastored United Methodist churches in Atlanta for decades and continued preaching long after retiring.
Born in Huntsville, Alabama, in 1921, Joseph Echols Lowery grew up in a Methodist church where his great-grandfather, the Rev. Howard Echols, was the first black pastor. Lowery’s father, a grocery store owner, often protested racism in the community.
After college, Lowery edited a newspaper and taught school in Birmingham, but the idea of becoming a minister “just kept gnawing and gnawing at me,” he said. After marrying Evelyn Gibson, a Methodist preacher’s daughter, he began his first pastorate in Birmingham in 1948.
In a 1998 interview, Lowery said he was optimistic that true racial equality would one day be achieved.
“I believe in the final triumph of righteousness,” he said. “The Bible says weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”
A member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, Lowery is survived by his three daughters, Yvonne Kennedy, Karen Lowery and Cheryl Lowery. He died at home in Atlanta from natural causes unrelated to the coronavirus outbreak, the family.
Errin Haines, a former staffer of The Associated Press, was the principal writer of this obituary.
The Greene County Board of Education held an emergency meeting, Thursday, March 19, 2020, to consider resolutions joining the state and federal government in declaring an emergency due to the COVID-19 Coronavirus epidemic. The resolutions authorized the school superintendent to take all actions, including the provision of food for schools children and instructional materials consistent with the declared emergency and the needs of the Greene County Board of Education during this emergency from March 19, 2020 until further notice.
The resolutions adopted by the board also declare that schools are closed in compliance with Governor Kay Ivey’s order until further notice and the March 24, 2020 scheduled meeting of the board is also cancelled.
In his update to the board, Superintendent Dr. Corey Jones stated that during Spring break week of March 16, all school facilities were given a thorough cleaning and sanitizing stations were set up in classroom and hallways for the future return of students and personnel.
According to Dr. Jones, the school system will provide two meals per day for all students in the duration of the school shutdown. He indicated that USDA has authorized the school system to operate the food distribution comparable to the Summer Feeding Program which allows meals to be served to youth ages 1-18.
In compliance with Superintendent Jones guidance, each school has instituted plans for delivering food and instructional materials to students. In the food program, students are provided two meals each day with distributions scheduled for Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Parents may drive to the schools for meals and some meals will be delivered to various designated venues in the community. The detailed delivery schedule is listed in this newspaper as well as on the school’s web site and other relevant social media.
For Greene County High School students, the majority of teachers sent enrichment activities via email or Google Classroom. A few teachers prepared instructional packets which were delivered on Monday.
Eutaw Primary School delivered instructional packets on Monday and Tuesday. Robert Brown Middle School had packets available for parents to pick up on Wednesday. Instructional packets can be delivered in any situation where parents are not able to come to the school.
Dr. Jones informed the board that the system will continue its financial obligations. Payroll and bills will be paid in a timely manner. Personnel not on direct deposit plans will have paychecks sent through postal mail. “Traditional business of the school system will be handled as efficiently as possible,” Jones stated. He clarified that usual bid laws can be suspended regarding emergency purchases.
Superintendent Jones indicated that no determination can be made at this time as to meeting schedules for particular school activities such as prom and graduation. “We just don’t know how long this medical emergency will last. I urged our community to take every precaution to keep safe and avoid contracting the virus.”
By Hamil R. Harris
Bishop T. D. Jakes stands before about 30 people in his Potter’s House sanctuary that seats 8,200 in Dallas.
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – Rev. Grainger Browning, pastor of the Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Fort Washington, Md., is used to preaching to two packed sanctuaries every Sunday. But on Sunday, March 22, Browning and a skeletal staff preached to a mostly empty sanctuary while his members watched on the Internet.
“I feel like a spiritual first responder,” Browning said. “It’s called Live from the Church. We try to duplicate church as much as we can. We have members of the praise team and a skeletal staff.”
Browning’s situation is one example of a new reality for churches around the nation. Even the 8,200-seat sanctuary of Bishop T. D. Jakes’ Potter’s House in Dallas has been virtually empty. As the Coronavirus spread around the nation and world and as state governments and health experts increasingly issue stay at home orders and suggest social distancing, life as usual has become non-existent.
Members of the Class of 2020 are still hoping for their proms, commencement exercises and celebrations that are normal milestones for generations past.
In sports, there are no NBA basketball games, NCAA tournaments or baseball Spring training. And in terms of mass gatherings, going to the movies, eating out, and even worshipping God in church pews has been forbidden for a season. Even weddings and funerals have been curtailed.
As a result of the Corvid 19 virus, this lethal strain of the Corona flu, America is a stranger to herself with frightened and helpless citizens “sheltering in place” behind locked doors in a society where toilet paper has become priceless as indicated by the empty shelves in grocery stores.
“People are losing it. My brother drives a bread truck and he said that his colleague was robbed, said Sean Brown, 39, a financial manager in Severn, Md. “They took his entire bread truck.”
As of this writing, March 22, America had nearly 30,000 people diagnosed with COVID 19, which means America is now number three in the world in terms of a disease that has now killed more than 13,000 around the globe. This is despite glaring headlines and weekly White House briefings that produced more arguments than solutions.
“If ever there is a time to practice humanity — it is now,” said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in a tweet on Sunday. “The time to show kindness, to show compassion. New Yorkers are tough — but we are also the most courageous community that you have ever seen.”
On Sunday, Sean Brown, the financial manager, a husband and father of two, watched a taped worship service from the University Park Church of Christ. Despite the change, he still has hope through his faith. “It is important to remember who is in control. God is still in control.”
COVID 19 has ushered in an era of “social distancing.” And yet it is easy to find examples of hope in cities and towns and communities across America in terms of faith, family and every aspect of life.
On Twitter, there was a video of a group of Cuban doctors of color in White lab coats and masks arriving in Italy and being greeted by people waiting in the international airport. As restaurants closed, many soup kitchens that regularly feed the homeless, such as Miriam’s Kitchen in Northwest Washington, DC, kept their doors open. But among the most notable changes are the churches which quickly adjusted their empty sanctuaries to computer screens and conference calls.
Rev. Dr. Leslie Copeland Tune, Chief Operating Officer for the National Council of Churches, said despite the Corona Virus “Most churches are using creatives to remain connected. They are using zoom, video conferencing, prayer calls. My home church in New York is having prayer callers at 6 am.”
With Easter two weeks away, Browning said that he will have Lenten services every morning between six and seven AM that will be rebroadcast “people can start their day,” but Browning added, “I really missing the people it is like being away from your wife.”
“My concern is for the people. There is concern about people dying but I don’t think I hear a heart for the people who survive. They literally don’t know how they are going to eat.”
Browning of Ebenezer in Maryland said he is really concerned about conducting funerals when there is a restriction. “Right now, can’t have more than ten people. I can’t imagine having a love one dying and there are only 10 people there.”
Even medical doctors are taken aback by the new realities. “We had our church by telephone conference,” said Tracey Burney, a retired urologist who attends Bethany CME Church in Clearwater, Florida. “Being a physician, we are always ready for the worst. But I have never seen anything like this in my wildest dreams.”
The Greene County Commission held an emergency meeting last night at the William M. Branch Courthouse to discuss the impact of the coronavirus pandemic in Greene County. The Commission was concerned to bring its response to the virus in compliance with Federal and state directives to manage the crisis.
The Commission heard reports from county agencies and related county services on their responses to the pandemic.
At the end of the meeting, the County Commission approved a resolution giving Allen Turner, Chairperson of the Commission, discretionary authority to close or reduce the services and hours of service of County facilities and staff for the period from March 19 to April 19, 2020.
Brenda Burke, County Administrator, announced that the Greene County Courthouse would be closed this week on Thursday and Friday (March 19 and 20, 2020) for deep cleaning. She also said all court activities, license tag renewals; driver’s license tests would be suspended until April 16, 2020, with no late fees or penalties.
She indicated that the Greene County Courthouse would reopen next week for critical business but urged residents to postpone routine business until the emergency subsidizes and conduct business by phone or email in the interim period.
“We may have to open only for limited hours and stop people at the front door to be sure that they need to come through the building,” said Commissioner Turner.
They indicated that the offices in the Courthouse would be open and have staff to respond to problems and concerns. Prior to this morning’s announcement that the Republican Primary Runoff is postponed from March 31 to July 14, Turner said the Circuit Clerk would check the mail daily for absentee ballots and other correspondence relative to the election.
Superintendent Corey Jones of the Greene County Board of Education said the schools were out this week for Spring Break and that the Governor had closed the schools through April 6. “There is a strong possibility that the schools may be closed for the rest of the semester,” said Jones.
The Superintendent indicated that the teachers were preparing lessons and educational materials for the students to work on while they were at home. He also said that the Board of Education had received a waiver from the Federal government to continue to provide school breakfasts and lunches to the students. “We are working on a plan to provide nutritious food for our children, starting next week. This will include delivery of meals to selected sites around the county where it will be easier to distribute the food or have families to pick up the food from community centers, fire stations and other locations,” said Jones.
Dr. Marcia Pugh, Administrator of the Greene County Health System said the county’s critical health facilities would remain open. “We are restricting entrance to the facility to the front door, where we have a temperature check and a short survey of health symptoms to make sure that people who may have the coronavirus are not allowed access to our other patients and nursing home residents. We are not allowing visitors into the Nursing Home as a protection for the residents, however we have cell phones available for virtual ‘face-time’ visits, said Dr. Pugh.
Dr. Pugh also indicated that if you have ‘flu-like symptoms’ call ahead to make an appointment at the Greene County Physicians Clinic. “We can refer you for testing to the drive through testing at DCH in Tuscaloosa or Bryan-Whitfield Hospital in Demopolis, to help you,” she said.
Mayor Raymond Steele said the City Hall would be open to provide essential services to the city residents. “We closed the Carver School Gym and programs, use of the National Guard Armory but City Hall will be open and our staff will be ready to main the water, sewer and other essential services,” said Steele.
Iris Sermon with Greene County 911 urged people not to panic and work on maintaining social distance of at least 6 feet from other people to prevent spreading the virus. She also gave a toll free phone number: 1-888-264-2256, to get information on testing and testing sites.
Anita Lewis, Director of the Greene County Housing Authority, said she was keeping her office open to serve the residents of Branch Heights and King Village. “My greatest concern is for the welfare of the 344 children who live in these housing developments, making sure they are safe, getting nutritious food and engaging in meaningful learning activities, without congregating in large groups to fuel spreading the virus.
Lorenzo French, Chair of the Board of the City of Eutaw Housing Authority asked for help in securing hand sanitizer, wipes and other necessary supplies for residents.
Attending this meeting it was clear that although there are currently no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Greene County and 39 confirmed cases statewide that this is a growing problem that Greene County residents must be aware of and make plans to combat.
The Greene County Sheriff’s Department reported a total distribution of $349,814.79 for the month of February 2020 from three licensed bingo gaming operations in the county, including Frontier, River’s Edge and Palace. The Charities of Greenetrack, Inc. reported distributions to the various community entities separately from the sheriff.
The recipients of the February distributions from bingo gaming designated by Sheriff Benison in his Bingo Rules and Regulations include the Greene County Commission, the Greene County Sheriff’s Department, the cities of Eutaw, Forkland, Union, Boligee, the Greene County Board of Education and the Greene County Hospital (Health System).
This distribution report includes the following Bingo Sub- Charities: Association of Volunteer Fire Departments, Greene County Golf Course, Poole Memorial Library, Children’s Policy Council, Greene County Housing Authority and Department of Human Resources.
Frontier (Dream, Inc.) gave a total of $68,997 to the following: Greene County Commission, $18,342; Greene County Sheriff’s Department, $20,250; City of Eutaw, $5,500; and the Towns of Forkland, Union and Boligee each, $2,325; Greene County Board of Education, $6,300, Greene County Health System, $7,500. Frontier’s total distribution included $4,080 to six sub charities at $680 each.
River’s Edge (Next Level Leaders and Tishabee Community Center Tutorial Program) gave a total of $118,904.85 to the following: Greene County Commission $31,609.38; Greene County Sheriff’s Department, $34,897.50; City of Eutaw, $9,564.50; and the Towns of Forkland, Union and Boligee each, $4,006.75; Greene County Board of Education, $10,857, and the Greene County Health System, $12,925. River’s Edge total distribution included $7,301.22 to six sub charities at $1,171.87 each.
Palace (TS Police Support League) gave a total of $161,912.94 to the following: Greene County Commission, 43,042.56; Greene County Sheriff’s Department, $47,520; City of Eutaw, $13,024; and the Towns of Forkland, Union and Boligee each, $5,456; Greene County Board of Education, $14,784 and the Greene County Health System, $17,600. Palace’s total distribution included $9,574.38 to six sub charities at $1,595.73 each.
March 16, 2020 (Atlanta, GA) – ProGeorgia, a group of community-based, civic engagement organizations, called on Georgia election officials to protect voters’ rights in the wake of Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger’s announcement that the presidential primary election would be moved from March 24th to May 19th.
The groups said: “The Secretary of State’s decision to move the presidential preference primary to May 19th, which was informed by important public health concerns emanating from the spread of COVID-19, has significant ramifications for Georgia voters. Moving an election midstream, when hundreds of thousands of Georgians have already cast ballots during early voting, is not an easy endeavor in the best of circumstances.
In these challenging times, Georgia election officials are going to have to make difficult decisions and change their processes in order to properly implement this unprecedented change. The devil is in the details, and we are concerned that many voters’ rights will be at risk if Georgia election officials fail to address critical issues in implementing such a significant change in the middle of an election period.
“Postponing the election does not diminish the State’s obligation to ensure that voters have adequate accessible and available means to vote. There are concrete steps that Georgia election officials can take immediately to protect the right to vote in the consolidated May 19th primary election. We recommend that the State increase the time to request and return vote by mail ballots, work with local election officials to educate voters and poll workers, offer more flexible methods for return and collection of ballots based on the potential for postal service delays and reduced staffing, and extend voter registration opportunities to ensure all eligible voters can participate.
“To ensure a successful and inclusive election, we call on Georgia election officials to employ an open and transparent process that allows all voices to be heard and protects voters’ rights during the May 19th primary. We are deeply committed to seeing Georgia through a safe and complete primary election process and welcome the opportunity to work with state and local election officials to ensure that all Georgians have a full and fair chance to exercise their right to vote.”
The following ProGeorgia members have joined ProGeorgia in calling on the Secretary of State to protect voters’ rights: ACLU of Georgia, All Voting is Local – Georgia, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Atlanta, Common Cause GA, Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO), Georgia Coalition for People’s Agenda, Georgia NAACP, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the League of Women Voters Georgia, Inc, and State Voices.
By Sam Levine, Guardian UK
In 2018, with the midterm elections approaching, Alfonzo Tucker, Jr., was particularly eager to vote. The mayor of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Tucker’s hometown, was running for governor, and the year before he had canvassed for Doug Jones, a Democrat running in a closely watched US Senate race.
But Tucker wasn’t able to cast a ballot – state officials refused to even let him register. It wasn’t until weeks later that he learned why he had been deprived of the right to vote. He owed the state $4.
The US is founded on the promise of democracy and fair representation, but it is also the country where minorities are frequently disenfranchised for political gain. Among the most vulnerable are millions of Americans, disproportionately African Americans, like Tucker, who have been entangled in America’s racially biased criminal justice system, and losing civil liberties like voting as a result.
The barriers facing Americans like Tucker, advocates say, are modern adaptations of poll taxes and other devices which were designed to keep people from the voting booths during the Jim Crow era – when white politicians used the law to curb the civil rights of African Americans. Alabama is one of 30 states that requires people with felony convictions to pay back the financial obligations associated with their sentence before they can vote again.
Tucker’s case is particularly glaring. He lives less than a hundred miles north-west of Selma, the birthplace of the voting rights movement in America. This week, civil rights leaders are commemorating the 55th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches led by Martin Luther King Jr and civil rights activists as they protested against laws preventing Afr ican Americans from voting. Many were brutally beaten in Selma during the protests.
The specific policy that had ensnared Tucker dates back to the turn of the 20th century when Alabama leaders, openly seeking to preserve white supremacy, stripped anyone convicted of a crime of “moral turpitude”, among other offenses, of the right to vote.
“What is it that we want to do? Why, it is within the limits imposed by the federal constitution, to establish white supremacy in this state,” John Knox, the chair of the convention, said at the time. “If we would have white supremacy, we must establish it by law – not by force or fraud,” he added.
Tucker said the legacy of that discrimination affects the lives of people like him today.
Sitting in his living room, surrounded by pictures of family, Tucker said things are much different now for him than they were in the early 1990s, when he was much more “aggressive”. In the late 1980s, he got into a fight at a club with a University of Alabama football player and wound up being convicted of third-degree assault, a misdemeanor. A few years later, he fought with a police officer and was convicted of second-degree assault, a felony. He wound up going to prison for two years and serving several more on probation.
After he got out of prison, Tucker rebuilt his life, working at steel factories and in maintenance, and chipping away at the approximately $1,600 that the court had ordered him to pay. He had two more children, which made him want to stay out of trouble. He joined the Nation of Islam.
Before his conviction, Tucker had never voted. But in prison, Tucker had read about Medgar Evers, who fought for equal citizenship and was assassinated in Mississippi in 1963. When he got out, he started regularly voting in elections. He and his wife Narkita would bring his young children into the voting booth with them, wanting to teach them about the importance of a single vote, and the long struggle African Americans had faced to gain access to the ballot.
But in 2013, Tucker got a letter from his state officials saying he could no longer vote.
He was angry and upset, but didn’t act immediately – the letter didn’t tell him anything about how to get his voting rights back. Then came another letter, a few years later, this time addressed to his son, Alfonzo Tucker III, who had just turned 18, and claiming that he too was ineligible to vote. The younger Tucker, however, didn’t have a criminal record. It was a mistake, possibly because he shared his father’s name.
Tucker got his son registered to vote, but the episode lit a fire in him. As the 2018 midterm elections approached, he went to an event where activists were helping people with felony convictions learn about their voting rights, and called up the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles to talk about his case. Two weeks later, the board sent him a letter saying he still owed $135.10 in connection with his conviction.
Tucker, who relies in part on disability income, borrowed money from his sister to pay off the debt. But just when he thought it was settled, a courthouse clerk told him he owed money for another decades-old criminal offense – an additional $5,535.47 which she said he had to pay back to gain back his vote.
Faced with the staggering amount, Tucker contacted Blair Bowie, an attorney at Campaign Legal Center, a Washington DC voting rights group. It took Bowie 15 minutes to realize Alabama officials made a huge mistake.
Under Alabama law, people with felonies only have to pay off the money originally assessed as part of their criminal conviction to regain their voting rights. By 2018, Tucker had paid back most of what he owed. But, unbeknown to him, the state had added an additional debt of $131.10, a fee that was irrelevant to whether he could vote because it was not part of his original conviction. And the $5,535.47 debt was from a misdemeanor offense, Bowie saw, which does not cause someone to lose their voting rights in Alabama.
All that Tucker actually owed in order to vote was $4.
“What is voter suppression if not officials wrongly telling you that you can’t vote?” Bowie said. “That’s been a classic way of disenfranchising people, particularly in Alabama.” After he paid the $135.10, Tucker drove two hours to Montgomery, the state capitol, with a friend to hand-deliver the receipt to a staffer at the Board of Pardons and Paroles.
But weeks later he had not heard anything back. The elections came and went, and Tucker couldn’t vote. The parole board declined to comment on Tucker’s case.
Bowie eventually referred Tucker to John Paul Taylor, an organizer with the Southern Poverty Law Center, who followed up with the board and got Tucker registered to vote in 2019. Bowie and Taylor said Tucker shouldn’t have had to rely on experts to get his voting rights back.
“Here’s a very clear example of a person who has jumped through every single hoop that you’ve given them and they’re still being denied because of something that they really don’t even know about,” Taylor said.
Meanwhile, Tucker and Bill Foster, the friend he went to Montgomery with, helped start a group in Tuscaloosa to assist people with felonies get their voting rights back. Tucker’s story helps people understand that they can in fact vote once they complete their sentence, said Larry Tucker, his cousin. And Alfonzo said he’s met other people who have wrongly been told they owe the state money.
So far, Tucker estimates that they’ve been able to help about 10 people – people like Terrance Gray, 49, who learned he was eligible to vote last year. Gray believed he had been ineligible to vote since he was released from prison in 1996.
“He told me that it will make a difference if more people go and vote,” Gray said of Tucker. “He’s always been on me about that.”
Tucker plans to cast his first ballot since the ordeal this year (he says he likes Bernie Sanders). He thinks the state should give him back the extra $131.10 that he paid.
Persons in Greene County who need help in restoring their voting rights should contact the Alabama New South Coalition at the Democrat newspaper office, 205-372-3373.