Jerry Drummonds’ only mistake in his Monday trip to the Jefferson County Department of Health was his fashion choice.
The long-sleeved blue checkered shirt he wore just didn’t match the COVID-19 vaccine he was getting.
“I had to take off my shirt because we couldn’t roll it up high enough to get to the meaty part of my shoulder,” the 83-year-old said. “And I don’t have that much meat.”
The Vestavia Hills resident was among hundreds of persons – mostly seniors – who came to a pair of health department venues to get vaccinated for the virus. The vaccine also was administered at Gardendale High School.
Monday was the first day of Stage 1b for vaccine distribution, which allows anyone 75 and older to get the shot. Stage 1a also still is in progress. It allows frontline workers, first responders and persons living in congregate settings, including homeless shelters and group homes, to be vaccinated.
The Jefferson County Department of Health is administering vaccines at its location on Southside and at other varying locations for people who are 75 and older, as well as those who fell into Stage 1a. Read on for information about how to get a vaccine.
UPDATED — The FBI says that “armed protests” could erupt at state capitols in all 50 states, and some officials are making significant preparations to face a possible onslaught of Trump supporters grieved by the impending Biden inauguration.
In Alabama, well, officials seem less worried.
“I don’t foresee anybody trying to really storm the Alabama state capitol, and why they would do it, I don’t know,” said Patrick Harris, secretary of the Alabama Senate. “I mean, we’re the home of everybody that’s supporting all these people,” he said, referring to Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks, whose role in stirring up the insurrection remains under scrutiny. “And we voted for Trump, we certified our votes for Trump.”
The prevailing idea seems to be that rightwing protestors, neo-Confederates, Proud Boys or others are not expected to kick up trouble in Montgomery over the presidential election. Even a spokesperson for the Southern Poverty Law Center and its Hatewatch unit, which closely monitors the activities of such groups, said, “We don’t have any specific notes to share about Alabama at this time.”
At least for Sunday, they appeared to be right. The Montgomery Advertiser reported that there were more police than onlookers at the Capitol building. About two dozen Montgomery police officers and state troopers were on the Capitol grounds Sunday. Several others sat in parked cars at the road barricades, and the police chief paced the block with two officers in an ATV. Read more.
Whether you call it a coup attempt, an insurrection or a protest that went horribly wrong, the Jan. 6 invasion by supporters of President Trump into the U.S. Capitol involved Alabamians in several ways.
A Falkville Trump supporter has been arrested on charges involving weapons and Molotov cocktails filled with a homemade napalm-like explosive. An Athens man died of a heart attack outside the Capitol as police were trying to repel the mob.
Fingers are pointing at U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, a Republican from Alabama, because of his speech at a Trump rally before the riot in which he urged the crowd on toward dramatic action.
Freshman Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s name has come up in reports about the day as Trump and Rudy Giuliani tried to call Tuberville’s office to urge him to delay action while senators were debating the certification of the electoral college votes.
And the state’s attorney general is calling for the investigation of a group he leads after learning it actively promoted attendance at the rally. Read more.
As a kid growing up in Leeds, NBA great Charles Barkley recalls seeing Bernard Lockhart running through the community. At the time, Lockhart was a star point guard on the Leeds High School basketball team with dreams of going pro.
“You know how hot it is in the middle of summer, but Bernard was running and training all of the time,” Barkley said. “We just wanted to play ball, but Bernard showed us it takes hard work if you want to be great. He had this amazing work ethic.”
Friends and family said Lockhart applied that same ethic in tackling almost every project, especially Magic City Smooth Jazz and its flagship project, Jazz in the Park.
Sometimes, he would get up in the middle of the night to scribble his ideas and sketch plans for the nonprofit arts and entertainment series, said his wife, Jackie Lockhart.
But then in November, the 59-year-old Lockhart was confronted with a challenge he could not overcome — even with his strong determination to survive. Read more.
UAB Hospital is taking extraordinary steps to continue caring for all of its patients as it deals with an onslaught of COVID-19 cases.
Recovery rooms, normally used for just a few hours after a patient has had a procedure, now are being used for care overnight and sometimes for two nights. For patients who normally would stay a night for observation after a procedure, UAB is using rooms in hotels near the hospital.
An emergency room waiting area has been set aside to hold 10 stretchers with COVID-positive patients needing emergency treatment.
“You have to be very creative and look for safe, appropriate space to take care of patients that, under normal times, you wouldn’t make that choice,” Hospital CEO Anthony Patterson said in a press conference Wednesday. “What happens when you completely run out of space? We haven’t hit that point yet, and I think that’s the one thing that we are all fearful of in terms of increasing numbers of patients coming to the hospital. … Hopefully that will not happen.” Read more.
Dr. Don Williamson, president and CEO of the Alabama Hospital Association, spoke Monday while he was scrolling through a spreadsheet with the latest data from member hospitals. When he got to the section showing how many intensive care unit beds were still available for use, Williamson’s reaction was telling.
“Yesterday we had 118 available ICU beds,” he said. “Today, we have — oh my God! — we have only 5% of available ICU beds, 89. That’s the second-lowest ever.”
That number is a red flag that tells Williamson and other public health officials across the state that the COVID-19 pandemic is reaching a crisis point, and the situation is likely to get worse during the next couple of weeks. Hospitals still are dealing with the influx of patients who contracted the coronavirus over the end of the Thanksgiving period or in early December. The anticipated rush from Christmas and New Year’s is yet to come, and that could place tremendous pressure on a health care system that is already perilously close to a breaking point.
“My greatest problem is to get my head around the reality that what I’m seeing now has nothing to do with Christmas,” Williamson said. “You can predict that roughly 10 to 12 days after somebody gets infected, about 12% of that group is going to be hospitalized. We’re not at 12 days yet back to Christmas. … We won’t deal with that surge until next week.” Read more.
While 2020 has been a difficult year for adults, it’s also been a strange and tough time for kids. Hear from young people across Alabama about what they are looking forward to once the coronavirus pandemic ends at WBHM.
Better Basics Is Working to Erase Education Gaps Resulting from Racial, Ethnic and Socioeconomic Lines
In this digital age, reading, comprehending text, performing basic math and problem-solving are just some of the skills students have to master to be college and career ready.
But a 2019 report by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) on student scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) shows that black, Hispanic and American Indian youngsters are falling behind in some of those critical skills.
Take reading, for example. NCES reported that among American fourth graders, the average 2019 reading scores were 237 for Asian and Pacific Islander students and 230 for whites. But the scores averaged 204 for blacks and American Indian students, and 209 for Hispanics.
And studies show that if a child cannot read at a proficient level by the end of third grade, he or she is more likely to struggle and even drop out of school before earning a high school diploma.
While the NCES report paints a dim picture of the academic achievement gap in America, an Alabama nonprofit called Better Basics Inc. is working to shrink the gap for underserved students in the Birmingham metro area and beyond.
The second of the two vaccines federally approved for prevention of COVID-19 is now in the hands of health care professionals in Alabama, with more on the way.
The Alabama Department of Public Health announced that the vaccine manufactured by biotech company Moderna arrived in some hospitals in the state on Monday, with others scheduled to get deliveries in the following couple of days. The vaccine was approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration on Friday, and shipments began immediately. Alabama will get 84,300 doses in the first batch.
The Moderna product is the second to ship to American hospitals, after shipments of the Pfizer vaccine began last week. Unlike the Pfizer product, which must be stored and transported at temperatures around –70 degrees Celsius (–94 degrees Fahrenheit) in special equipment, the Moderna vaccine requires storage at –20 degrees Celsius (–4 Fahrenheit).
Lashawn Colvin recently opened her very own comic book store in Montgomery, becoming the first known Black woman in the South to do so.
State Officials Cryptic About Plans for New Prison in Rural Bibb County, Including How Water and Sewer Would be Provided
Alabama plans a 3,100-inmate prison in the Brierfield community of Bibb County, but officialdom holds all the cards and the governor isn’t showing her hand.
Even Bibb County administrator Derek Reeves responds to questions about the proposed prison by saying: “I don’t know anything about that. We are not involved with the prison.”
Gov. Kay Ivy has disclosed three general locations for prisons that the state will lease from their private developers. Brierfield, the last general area revealed, has received the coolest reception from the residents of Brierfield Estates, who are leading the opposition.
Big questions loom involving how infrastructure would be provided in the rural area, such as treated water, sewage disposal and access roads.
The precise site of the new prison has not been officially announced. But signs point to it being built at the intersection of A. Arker Road and Brickyard Pass about a mile west of Alabama 139, in the Ashby area.
Such a large prison calls for about 500 acres, and the parcel at that location, which has been cleared to bare earth, fits the description released by the governor’s office. A road potentially suitable for heavy construction vehicles also has been cut into the site. Equipment and activity now at the site are of the type suitable for well drilling or environmental testing.
A source with knowledge of the prison development confirmed that the site is, indeed, the intended location for the prison and that contractors are drilling a well there. Read more.
Liz Paredes may be a full-grown adult, but she practically squealed when seeing Santa Claus earlier this month. It was a welcome moment of joy during the coronavirus pandemic she could share with her 12-year-old daughter who has autism.
“I’m really glad that we were able to do that because I want to keep that spirit alive for her and because of the pandemic we just haven’t ventured out,” Paredes said.
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the setting for that visit was unlike any other year. Santa stood among inflatable Christmas trees in the parking lot of a Walmart in Pelham. Kids sat on a bench a few feet in front of him while parents snapped pictures. Paredes happened to spot the event while shopping.
Coronavirus cases continue to surge in Alabama prisons, with corrections officials announcing a number of inmate deaths in recent weeks.
Between Aug. 27 and Dec. 16, the Alabama Department of Corrections reported 29 inmates had died while positive for COVID 19, bringing the total number of inmate deaths associated with the virus to 50. Read about them.
A lawsuit filed last week by the U.S. Department of Justice could lead to federal supervision of Alabama’s prison system. It’s the culmination of an investigation that began in 2016 and resulted in two scathing reports, published April 2019 and July 2020, that detailed rampant abuse of inmates.
Before filing the lawsuit, the DOJ spent more than a year negotiating with state officials and trying to get Alabama to improve its prison system.
University of Alabama law professor Jenny Carroll said the federal government got tired of waiting. “I think the fact they did go ahead and file suggests that the solutions the state came up with and were bringing to the table and were offering just weren’t enough,” said Carroll. “They weren’t enough in light of what DOJ was finding.” Read more.
Predictable Prejudice: Predictive Policing Software Promises Unbiased Crime-Fighting, but Can It Deliver?
When a Homewood Police Department officer starts his shift, the laptop in his police cruiser is fed data from a program called PredPol. The data fills a city map with boxes where PredPol forecasts that property crimes are most likely to occur, and the officer is expected to give those areas extra attention during his shift.
Predictive policing software programs such as PredPol have grown in popularity among law enforcement agencies over the past decade, including adoption by the Homewood Police Department and Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office in 2016 and Birmingham Police Department in 2019.
These programs promise high-tech, efficient policing and reduced crime rates based on cold, hard data and algorithms. Amid renewed national attention on racism and bias in police departments, the seeming color-blindness of decisions made based on computer code sounds all the more alluring.
But many opponents of predictive policing say the technology isn’t as objective as it appears and is simply perpetuating discrimination in a new way. Read more.
Birmingham Won’t Defund Police, but Public Safety Plan Includes Training, Social Workers and Civilian Oversight of Complaints
The city of Birmingham said “no” to defunding the police but “yes” to social workers partnering with police, “yes” to improving police training and giving citizens a role in overseeing complaints, and “yes” to better services with which officers and members of the public can interact.
Those are some of the conclusions in the 100-plus-page report Reform and Reimagine Birmingham Public Safety, issued Thursday after a months-long look at how to improve interactions between the city police force and the rest of the community.
Mayor Randall Woodfin and City Council Public Safety Chairman Hunter Williams rolled out the report during a press conference in which they promised more transparency and accountability, enhanced efforts to connect with businesses and the public, and an ongoing commitment to change for stronger relations with constituents. Some of the reforms will go into effect almost immediately. Others may take a year or more, Woodfin said.
The report came from the city’s Public Safety Task Force, which included a former U.S. attorney, a retired detective, an anti-police brutality advocate, a lawyer and the co-founder of Black Lives Matter Birmingham.
Woodfin said the city also will need the assistance of health care providers and citizens to make the reforms work over the long term. Read more.
If practice really does make perfect, can the right kind of officer training make police shootings and excessive force less common?
Some advocacy groups and politicians believe it can. Reforming training, particularly with the addition of de-escalation or implicit bias programs, is a popular proposal in the ongoing national conversations about police use of force.
Appropriate force is especially pertinent in Alabama right now. The ACLU has reported that there were 13 officer shootings in the state as of June 30, 2020, an increase of more than 60% from the 2015-2019 average of 8.2 shootings in the same months.
The national campaign 8 Can’t Wait’s eight police reform policies includes requirements for officers to de-escalate situations when possible and to try all alternative actions before using deadly force. President Donald Trump’s “Executive Order on Safe Policing for Safe Communities” in June included “scenario-driven de-escalation techniques” among its proposed federal programs for improving policing.
The Alabama Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission, which sets the standards for police training statewide, is also planning to add a new implicit bias course to its police academy curriculum, according to Law Enforcement Academy-Tuscaloosa Director Randy Vaughn.
On paper, de-escalation, implicit bias and similar training programs reduce violent encounters between civilians and police by giving officers tools to change internal prejudices and resolve situations peacefully.
But there is little uniformity among police departments on what this training includes and how it is implemented. Groups such as the ACLU of Alabama also say that, at the end of the day, a training seminar is not likely to change mindsets enough to make a real difference in the use of force.
“Those (types of training) are not what is going to fundamentally shift the culture of policing and interacting in our communities,” ACLU of Alabama policy analyst Dillon Nettles said. Read more.
This is the third piece in a package on policing in the Birmingham area. In coming days, we’ll be presenting stories about the local debate over “defunding” the police and high incarceration rates among Blacks. Previously in the The Legacy of Race: Policing
As local families enter the holiday season, some are turning to food banks for the first time. The resulting higher demand has left some Birmingham-area food banks scrambling to keep food on the table for their clients.
Many face an uphill battle. Fewer donations, higher food prices and logistical issues are just some of the problems food banks have encountered since the start of the pandemic. Months later, those difficulties remain even as more people require food assistance.
Despite the food banks’ best efforts, sometimes it’s not enough.
“For the first time, this month we ran out of food before we could finish giving it to everyone who came by,” Ray Flynn, director of The Ministry Center at Green Springs, said last week. The center currently serves about 200 families a month. “The demand is getting greater, and the problem is getting larger,” he said. Read more.
Sen. Doug Jones raised and spent almost four times as much as Republican Tommy Tuberville in his unsuccessful campaign to hold onto his seat in the U.S. Senate, according to reports filed Thursday with the Federal Elections Commission. Read more.
Few things are as they normally are this year. The pandemic has changed schedules and turned normally large events into socially distanced gatherings.
But Tuesday night brought back an iconic image of the season in north Jefferson County and, in the minds of many, a return to a sense of normal.
The Jefferson County Commission and the Hallmark Cooperative brought back the iconic Christmas tree that had been on the lake of the Hallmark farm for years. About three dozen people were masked up and bundled up to be present for the first time the lights of the restored tree were turned on.
The tree is no longer on the lake, as it was for many years. Instead, its reflected white lights glisten on the nearby water. Read more.
Religious communities are exploring new ways of observing religious holidays, as well as for presenting their regular weekly services, this year as the coronavirus pandemic resurges across the nation.
Religious groups in Birmingham and across Alabama turned to Facebook, YouTube, Zoom and their own websites earlier this year when COVID-19 spread across the state. The recent rise in the number of cases of the disease has prolonged the use of those alternate methods of worship and has led to innovative ways of celebrating religious holidays. Read more.
Football players at all levels are used to battles against their on-field opponents, who are easy to see though difficult to defend against.
But the toughest opponent many teams have ever faced can’t be seen without a microscope. Yet it has the ability to make players very sick — and cripple entire programs.
The COVID-19 virus has wreaked havoc on players and on high schools, colleges and professional teams, as well as the organizations that govern the sport. It’s also hurt countless others with ties to the game, from high school band boosters who sell food at home games to hotel and restaurant owners who cater to major college and pro fans on weekends.
If you were in Clanton on Monday, you might have noticed signs of a celebration dedicated to the city’s late mayor, Billy Joe Driver, who died July 9 of COVID-19. There might have been a few people raising a glass to him on what should have been his 85th birthday.
It would be entirely appropriate, although Driver was a teetotaler.
You see, much of the prosperity around you in this peach capital of Alabama came as a result of Driver’s laser-focused absorption with making Clanton a better place to live and work, and part of that came down to alcohol sales. Read more.
Birmingham Public Library Executive Director Floyd Council was back at work Friday after one month of being suspended without pay.
Council was suspended by the BPL board of trustees last month for undisclosed reasons. As with most details regarding Council’s employment, the board refused to provide details about the decision to the public. The board did not discuss Council during its regular meeting Nov. 10.
Multiple BPL employees confirmed Council’s return to the library Friday, though under condition of anonymity. Read more.
Redevelopment on Ensley’s Ramsay-McCormack Building is finally underway, Mayor Randall Woodfin announced Thursday. The 10-story structure will be deconstructed and replaced with a five-story building constructed using salvaged materials from the original.
Woodfin’s announcement came the same day a city-run façade improvement pilot program was announced to target nine “priority redevelopment areas” in the city, including the Ensley Commercial Business District. Read more.
Reading Birmingham: Author Connor Towne O’Neill Explores Race Through the Legacy of Nathan Bedford Forrest
“Down Along With That Devil’s Bones: A Reckoning With Monuments, Memory, and the Legacy of White Supremacy,” by Connor Towne O’Neill (Algonquin Books)
Earlier this year when the city of Birmingham removed the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument from Linn Park, the action was part of a broad nationwide discussion on the place of Confederate symbols in our culture and who decides how and where those symbols are displayed.
Connor Towne O’Neill, who teaches in the English Department at Auburn University and produces the National Public Radio podcast White Lie, has achieved every nonfiction author’s dream. He began researching a book five years ago that is now being published and could not be more relevant to this moment.
Race in America is too big a topic to take in a single bite. O’Neill chose to examine a more narrow but telling slice. “Down Along With That Devil’s Bones” is a travelogue of race and racial tensions that explores the topic through the life and legacy of one of the Confederacy’s most popular figures, Nathan Bedford Forrest. Read more.
FORKLAND — If the Wizard of Oz had known Pearlean Slay, he would have called her a “good deed doer.”
In the movie, that line was targeted for the Tin Man, who had come to the wizard in search of a heart.
To hear her friends and loved ones tell it, Pearl Slay’s heart was as big as the Emerald City.
That heart stopped beating on May 29, two months shy of Slay’s 71st birthday, after a month-long battle with the coronavirus, and she entered a lineup of grim categories covering the nearly 2,300 Alabamians who have died after testing positive for COVID-19.
The eye of Hurricane Sally crept onto land near Gulf Shores bringing heavy rains and a strong storm surge for hours on end. Both are threats to the fragile environment along the coast. The storm surge began eroding sand dunes even before the hurricane arrived, according to the Weather Channel, as well as swamping piers and low-lying areas. The hurricane was packing winds upward of 100 mph at its peak, and rain in some areas was estimated at 20 inches or more, according to the National Weather Service. BirminghamWatch about a year ago published several stories looking at the effects climate change and the more severe weather it’s causing are having along Alabama’s coastline.
By Hank Black
Along coastal Alabama lies Dauphin Island, a narrow, shifting strip of sand inhabited by a laid-back vacation town that is becoming more endangered with every passing storm and every incremental rise in the warming waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Dauphin is one of perhaps 2,200 barrier islands that make up 10% to 12% of the globe’s coastline. They help absorb the blows of nature and suffer greatly for it, either eroding dramatically from catastrophic hurricane forces or gradually, almost imperceptibly, from constant wave action.
These sandy, offshore bodies are potent poster children for our planet’s warming, part of a natural, 100,000-year cycle that, according to most scientists, has greatly accelerated since the birth of the Industrial Age. Read more.
Slaves in Alabama could thank their masters for providing them with one of the earliest versions of social security, according to a ninth grade textbook used for more than a decade in public schools.
The textbook — Charles Grayson Summersell’s “Alabama History for Schools” — dismissed realities of slavery, glorified the Confederacy and defended deeds of the Ku Klux Klan.
Summersell’s textbook was the ninth grade companion to Frank L. Owlsey’s “Know Alabama,” written for fourth graders. In addition to repeating much of the same Lost Cause ideology, the two esteemed authors shared similar career paths, which included serving as chair of the history department at the University of Alabama. They influenced tens of thousands of grammar-school children, high school and college students, and professors.
Both authors also drew from predecessors such as Alabama history textbook writers L.D. Miller, Albert B. Moore, L. Lamar Matthews and others for a now-disputed version of history repeated for about seven decades.
Teachers were still using Owsley’s and Summersell’s books after classrooms were widely integrated in the late 1960s, and they continued to use revised editions well into the 1970s. The later editions toned down the contention that slaves were mostly happy and contented. Read more.
More about textbooks with pro-slavery messages used to teach Alabama students.
Textbook ‘Know Alabama’ Justified Slavery, Praised Confederacy to Schoolchildren
The Birmingham City Council has approved a $940,030 construction bid for the city’s long-planned real-time crime center, though the identity of the bidder remains confidential.
The development of a real-time crime center was first announced by Birmingham Police Chief Patrick D. Smith in 2019 as a technological hub that would give police “a very clear picture of what’s going on throughout the city.” He said information could be transmitted directly to on-beat officers “so they know exactly what they’re looking for and who they’re looking for.”
The crime center will employ policing technology such as ShotSpotter and PredPol, as well as recently approved Motorola surveillance software that drew controversy last year for its facial recognition capabilities. Mayor Randall Woodfin has maintained that the BPD cannot use those capabilities without approval from the City Council.
Former Alabama U.S. Sen. Doug Jones and his wife, Louise, were on hand for today’s inauguration ceremony, and Jones called it “a magnificent display of unity, optimism and, most importantly, hope.” Read more.
Several hundred Alabama Army National Guard troops are helping provide security for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday, and one of them is a second lieutenant from Oneonta whose parents also had military careers.
Lt. John Rogers, 24, a transportation officer with a unit in the Birmingham-based 20th Special Forces Group, headed to Washington by bus on Sunday with some of his fellow Guard soldiers. Following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump, tension is running high in D.C.
Thousands of soldiers, including Alabama Guard troops from military police units, will be on hand to stop any re-occurrence of last week’s violence, in which five people died.
The Birmingham City Council hired its own lobbyist and legal consultant Tuesday, a move granting the council greater independence from the mayor’s office.
The council approved two $45,000 contracts during its virtual meeting — one with lobbying firm Miller Development Group and one with law firm Campbell Partners, LLC. The council cited the opacity of Mayor Randall Woodfin’s legislative agenda and the need for a “council-focused” legal consultant outside of the city’s law department, which reports to the mayor. The Mayor’s Office retains its own lobbyist.
“This council needs help, and we need our own help, because the city’s help is not ours,” said District 3 Councilor Valerie Abbott. “They don’t report to us, they don’t answer to us, they don’t do what we want.” Read more.
This year will be better than last year, Mayor Randall Woodfin assured residents during his annual State of the Community speech Monday afternoon.
After a tumultuous 2020, which saw the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest over systemic racism, Woodfin promised greater opportunity in 2021 and reiterated his commitment to neighborhood revitalization.
“We have indeed been tested, and I believe as a city we are stronger and closer because of it,” he said. Read more.
Jefferson County Commissioner Lashunda Scales today tossed her hat in the ring for mayor of Birmingham.
“I’m not into being in a fight with anyone because that doesn’t serve the City of Birmingham well,” Scales said near Kiwanis Trail at the base of Vulcan Park. “But I will tell you this: If you give me the opportunity to serve as your mayor, not just the first woman mayor, but to serve as your mayor, you will have a seat at the table. That is what I can guarantee.”
Scales is bidding to return to Birmingham City Hall, where she was a member of the City Council for nine years until she unseated George Bowman on the commission in 2018. Read more.
The continuing spread of COVID-19 throughout the state of Alabama has raised questions about how schools plan to go into this 2021 spring semester, which begins Tuesday.
Several schools have altered their plans from their fall semester operations, while some are continuing with the same conditions they had before the holiday.
Particularly given the new, more infectious strain of COVID-19 that has made its way into the United States, safety precautions and social distancing measures are a top priority. Read more and see list of school systems.
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin described the Jan. 6 Capitol insurgency as a time when people “identified themselves as white supremacists,” which he said the country must acknowledge.
“To move the country forward, we have to acknowledge the pain it caused, have accountability and move forward,” he said during a livestreamed interview with Karen Attiah, global opinions editor for the Washington Post.
Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed described the insurrectionists as people who felt they could get close enough to use deadly force. The terrorists exhibited “a level of privilege, entitlement and outright brazenness,” he added.
The two black mayors, whose cities represent the cradle and battlegrounds of the Civil Rights movement from the 1950s to the present day, were interviewed during a Facebook Live event by Karen Attiah, the global opinions editor of the Washington Post, on Friday, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. Read more.
The Pentagon has selected Huntsville’s Redstone Arsenal as the headquarters for the nation’s new U.S. Space Command.
“We will make you proud of your decision,’’ Huntsville mayor Tommy Battle said Wednesday in a statement. “We look forward to the partnership with the U.S. Space Command and pledge to make it a success from day one.’’
The Air Force said Huntsville is the “preferred and reasonable’’ site pending a required environmental impact study — considered a routine process —
that should be finished by 2023. Six cities were in contention for the selection. Read more.
Alabama Democrats are targeting U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, a five-term GOP incumbent once thought safe in his heavily Republican 5th Congressional District, for defeat in 2022.
“I plan to use whatever small influence I have to see that Mo is defeated,’’ said former Alabama Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb. “We don’t need an ideologue representing Alabama.’’
Brooks is at the center of Democratic outrage over fiery comments he made last Wednesday at a rowdy Washington rally of President Donald Trump’s supporters who cheered his false accusations that the November election had been rigged to elect Democrat Joe Biden.
Birmingham ended in 2020 with 122 killings – up by 13%. Of that total, 105 killings were ruled justifiable, mirroring a trend of increase in many American cities.
The city began 2021 with three killings in three days – one per day.
Rev. Paul Hollman of Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in Birmingham launched a billboard campaign last year to raise awareness after a member of his church was shot to death. This week he called for Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin to declare a state of emergency. Hollman spoke with WBHM’s Andrew Yeager.
An organizer of a virtual gathering of bankers, regulators, developers and entrepreneurs acknowledged that redlining has been a deterrent to development in some communities.
But Irvin M. Henderson said Thursday’s event, sponsored by Birmingham community development corporation Urban Impact, was aimed at erasing that practice and creating a more fertile environment to improve communities that had been redlined.
“We know that there are neighborhoods, and Ensley and the downtown historic district are two of them, where there has been redlining,” Henderson said. “What this meeting is about is to work with the regulators and the bankers.”
At a Wednesday morning rally near the White House, U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, told the pro-Trump crowd that “today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.” Brooks is the leader of a group of representatives challenging the Electoral College votes of three states President-elect Joe Biden won in the November election.
A few hours later, he was among hundreds of legislators hunkering down and then fleeing as Trump supporters broke through police lines and stormed into the Capitol building, leading to a lockdown that stalled certification of November’s vote. One woman was shot in the chest and died, and several law enforcement officers were injured in the melee, the District of Columbia mayor said in a press conference.
“DOORS LOCKED! CAPITOL COMPLEX BREACHED! CHAMBER DOORS LOCKED. SPEAKER LEAVES!” Brooks first tweeted while detailing his experience in the Capitol.
He later tweeted that the police evacuation of the House of Representatives was “hurried but otherwise orderly” and said he “heard loud shouting echoing down Capitol halls during evacuation.” Read more.
Mayor Randall Woodfin pleaded with Birmingham residents on Wednesday to help police in homicide investigations, saying police have “hit a wall that’s hard to crack” in many cases: uncooperative witnesses.
There have been 120 homicides in Birmingham this year, 15 of which have been ruled justifiable. Sixty-two of the remaining 105 homicides remain unsolved. That low clearance rate, Woodfin said, “is not because our detectives are not doing their job.”
“Trust me, they are,” he said during a news conference with Police Chief Patrick Smith. “But we don’t have more solved cases in part because there are some people who know who are behind these killings, but they won’t say anything.”
The top immunologist at UAB is still casting a wary eye on spikes in COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations, but she is also taking heart in the growing number of people being vaccinated for the virus.
Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, the director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at UAB Hospital, said in a press conference Tuesday that Alabama is setting some “unenviable” records when it comes to COVID data.
“We are now number six in the nation, per capita, for COVID cases on average over the last seven days,” Marrazzo said. “It’s not a good place for us to be in the top 10. We had fallen out of that list for a long time.”
Alabama is averaging about 3,300 new cases per day, but Marrazzo said that number is probably higher because of delays in reporting tests over the holidays.
Richard Shelby was sworn in to the United States House of Representatives in 1979, eight years before he took his current place in the Senate. He was 44 years old at the time, and also a Democrat.
A lot has changed for the Birmingham native since then. Having switched to the Republican Party in 1994 after the GOP’s historic sweep of Congress, Shelby has assumed a great deal of influence in the Senate, now serving as chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee. It’s a position that has helped him steer federal money to the state since he took the gavel two years ago, and it’s a chairmanship that Shelby — and many of his Republican friends back in Alabama — is keen to keep.
But time is not on his side. With two years remaining in his sixth and term, Shelby faces a huge decision: whether or not to run for re-election in 2022, when he would be 88 years old. It’s a decision Shelby has said he will announce sometime in January.
After 45 years of scrutiny, five years in receivership and two years in monitorship, Jefferson County has been released from its consent decree governing hiring and employment practices. Senior U.S. District Judge Lynwood Smith signed the order that brought the decree to an end.
“It is a validation of what we have done since we’ve arrived here in Jefferson County,” Commission President Jimmie Stephens said at a hastily called press conference Monday afternoon. “It validates the actions that we have shown you and shown the citizens of Jefferson County, that our hiring practices are progressive, they are color blind, they are gender blind and they represent the population of Jefferson County, whom we serve.” Read more.
This article was originally published by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigative news organization based in Washington, D.C.
Rosa Rodriguez spent eight years ironing and hanging bathrobes for guests at the Mirage, the Bellagio and other five-star hotels on the Las Vegas Strip. But as COVID-19 spread through the United States and kept tourists away, there were fewer and fewer robes for her to press.
In March, Rodriguez and about 800 of her co-workers were laid off from Brady Linen Services, a laundry service provider for hotels in Las Vegas, Mexico and the Bahamas. Rodriguez said her boss told her he would call her back when more work was available.
Brady Linen was approved for a loan of $4.6 million from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, according to data from the U.S. Small Business Administration. The government-backed loans were supposed to help small businesses that struggled during the pandemic pay employees’ salaries and benefits for up to six months, among other things. But Brady Linen did not use the money to rehire Rodriguez and all the other laid-off workers, which the program requires if companies want their loans forgiven.
It is just one among hundreds of companies that reported layoffs right before, or soon after, receiving a government loan through the Paycheck Protection Program, according to an analysis by Public Integrity. Read more.
Floyd Council, executive director of the Birmingham Public Library, announced his resignation Tuesday morning after three embattled years on the job.
“After much prayer and consideration, I wanted you all to be the first to know that I will be announcing my resignation this week from my position as Executive Director of the Birmingham Public Library with plans to start the new year with other blessings and use of my gifts and talents to the Glory of God,” Council wrote on his Facebook page Tuesday morning. “Health, wellness and peace all come from God, not jobs, big salaries, and people.”
Council did not give any motive for his resignation. He had spent parts of October and November suspended without pay by the BPL board of trustees for undisclosed reasons, but had returned to the job last month. The board had been scheduled to evaluate Council’s performance during a personnel committee meeting on Dec. 17.
Outgoing U.S. Sen. Doug Jones bid farewell to his colleagues during a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon, urging them to set aside partisan politics and restore the American people’s faith in government.
Jones was elected to the Senate in a surprise upset in 2017, becoming the first Alabama Democrat elected to the Senate in 25 years. He was beaten handily in last month’s election by former Auburn football head coach Tommy Tuberville.
During his speech Wednesday afternoon, Jones said he’d expected not to be re-elected. “I remember right after I was elected, I was talking to a friend of mine. … We talked about the possibility that we could work on a bill as important as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” Jones said. “I knew, though, such opportunities were not likely, especially in what I knew to be a three-year window and not knowing what the future would hold — although, I’ve got to be honest, I had a pretty doggone good idea when I got here. If there’s one thing my mama always taught me, it was to be realistic about things.”
Some reports Wednesday put Jones as President-elect Joe Biden’s top pick for attorney general, while others said he was in the top two contenders. Jones did not mention those reports during his speech Wednesday, but he did promise to continue “working toward those same goals too, even after I leave this place.” Read more.
Thursday was show and tell day at the Jefferson County Courthouse as the County Commission displayed life-saving devices it was able to provide to area fire departments with Cares Act funds. Read more.
Even as Alabama’s child population grows more diverse, children of color are experiencing disproportionately high rates of poverty, according to a report published Thursday using pre-pandemic data.
The report, titled Alabama Kids Count, indicates that children of color will make up the majority of the child population and the majority of the workforce by 2030. At the same time, Black and Hispanic children suffered average poverty rates of 41.9% and 42.6%, respectively, between 2014 and 2018. The rate for white children was 16.5%.
These findings are especially significant considering that Alabama’s child population is shrinking, said Stephen Warner, the executive director of Voices for Alabama’s Children, which has published the Alabama Kids Count report annually since 1994. Though Alabama’s overall population grew by 10% from 2000 to 2019, its child population shrank by 3%.
“Minority children are more likely to struggle in school. Minority children are more likely to live in poverty. And so as the workforce ages, we need these kids to be successful to be the next generation of workers,” Woerner said.
The Birmingham City Council has approved a plan to bring up to 132 furloughed city employees — mostly from the Birmingham Public Library and the city parks department — back to work.
The workers were furloughed in September due to budget cuts necessitated by COVID-19’s impact on city revenue.
The plan, described as a compromise between mayor and council, will be funded by $4.85 million borrowed from the city’s general fund reserve. That’s far less than the $7 million requested in Woodfin’s initial plan, which would also have restored two paid holidays for city employees and reversed some salary reductions to appointed staff. Read more.
Black Friday will be an unpaid holiday for Birmingham city employees after the City Council delayed a proposal by Mayor Randall Woodfin to pay employees out of city reserves.
In a last-minute addendum to Tuesday morning’s meeting agenda, Woodfin called for the city to take $807,333 out of the city’s general fund to restore the paid holiday, which had been nixed due to COVID-19-related budget cutbacks. Employees still will receive their regular paychecks next week but without payment for Nov. 27.
Councilors balked at Woodfin’s proposal because it was brought to them without warning and without details on the health of the reserve fund. One objected to the mayor’s asking the council to make major financial decisions while figuring out the budget numbers “on the back of a cocktail napkin.” Read more.
Since March, more than 22,000 Alabamians have been hospitalized with COVID-19, some requiring months of inpatient care.
Victor Perea, 38, has been fighting the virus for almost three months at UAB Hospital. His wife, Magaly Cordova, said the diagnosis came as a shock. Before this illness, she said, Perea didn’t have any pre-existing conditions. “He was healthy,” Cordova said. “He was a gym guy – you know, eating healthy, go to the gym every day – and really careful about this virus.”
Perea, who lives in Homewood, recently had gotten a new job installing IT systems. He found out he had COVID-19 in early September, after a co-worker tested positive for the virus.
He’s been in the hospital at UAB for three months, and remains in the Pulmonary Intensive Care Unit, and is slowly showing signs of improvement.
A coalition involving the National Newspaper Association, the Institute for Nonprofit News and a dozen more news organizations recently rolled out an ambitious plan to channel $3 billion to $5 billion dollars from the government, businesses and philanthropies into local journalism.
The plan for newsroom funding, called Rebuild Local News, comes as local news organizations in many communities are crumbling. Researchers at the University of North Carolina found that more than one-quarter of the nation’s newspapers had disappeared during the past 15 years.
As policymakers, news organizations, advocates and community members think about how to save news organizations that can (and should) be saved and how to replace those that can’t (or shouldn’t), it is vital to remember that simply “providing the news,” shouldn’t be a journalistic organization’s only responsibility. Local news organizations also must be committed to a community, promoting inclusive dialog to help them see and solve local problems. Read more.
When the National Report Card, an assessment of educational progress, came out for 2019, the results were not great for Alabama.
Alabama students in fourth and eighth grades lag behind the country in the overall reading and math scores. Worse, average reading scores for Alabama students actually went down from where they were the last time the assessment was done — just two years earlier.
And race and ethnic gaps remain evident in the scores, with white students scoring close to the national average in reading and math, followed by Hispanic and black students, in that order.
There is sadness and economic disappointment in Alabama associated with the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak, but some indicators are pointing to signs of revival, at least on the economic front.
Total nonfarm payroll in metro Birmingham-Hoover indicates about 27,000 fewer workers employed in 2020 than had jobs in 2019, with 520,800 workers having jobs this year, according to government statistics.
But overall, unemployment numbers have dropped for Alabama in recent months. According to Alabama Department of Labor statistics, the latest official unemployment rate for Alabama is 5.6%. That unemployment data has improved since August, when it was reported as 7.9%. As a comparison, U.S. unemployment data shows a current rate of 8.4%, down from 10.2% last month. Read more.
Apparently, I shouldn’t be wondering about the agenda of my city’s newly elected mayor or what improvements I can find at the renovated public library down the street. Apparently, I should be thinking instead about the awful “C” rating given to Democratic Colorado governor Jared Polis by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, D.C., for poor fiscal management.
Because that was the top story when I visited the news website of the South Birmingham Times on Thursday (and on Friday!)
The site is one of nearly 1,300 pretend local news sites launched by a company called Metric Media in the past several years. That’s about twice as many as the nation’s largest newspaper chain.
Alabama has 20 of them, according to The New York Times, with seemingly legitimate and neutral names such as the Tuscaloosa Leader, the Jefferson Reporter and the Decatur Times. Read more.
A phone app built by UAB and Birmingham-based MotionMobs that anonymously tracks COVID-19 exposure became available today to all Alabama residents.
“Alabama is the first state to launch the app,” said Dr. Karen Landers, district medical officer for the Alabama Department of Public Health. Read more.