Author: Virginia Martin

COVID Hospitalizations Hit Record High as Case Numbers Rise

The number of COVID-19 patients in Alabama hospitals has shot to a record level with the resurgence of the disease across the state, prompting a UAB doctor to warn people against playing “Russian roulette” with their response to the pandemic.

There were 1,717 patients in 104 hospitals across the state Monday, the Alabama Department of Public Health reported. That eclipsed the previous high of 1,613 patients on Aug. 6. Read more.

BirminghamWatch Recommends

What Nick Saban Said About How Steve Sarkisian Coached in Alabama Football’s Iron Bowl Win (Tuscaloosa News)
Mass Vaccinations Against COVID-19 Will Be ‘Mind-Blowing’ Challenge for Alabama, Other Poor, Rural States (Washington Post)
Fauci: US May See ‘Surge Upon Surge’ of Virus in Weeks Ahead (Associated Press)
Who Is BamaTracker? How an Alabama Software Engineer Built a Must-Read COVID-19 Tool (Montgomery Advertiser)
The Last Known Slave Ship Has Spent 160 Years Under the Mobile River. Can It Be Preserved? (Montgomery Advertiser)

Police Brutality Brought Early Alabama Reckoning. Nation Faces Similar Questions Now.

The Alabama of the 1960s enters the history books represented by police officers such as Birmingham Public Safety Commissioner Bull Connor, a segregationist who directed violence toward blacks in 1963, and Dallas County Sheriff Jim Clark, overseer of beatings of marchers during Bloody Sunday in1965 Selma.

In 2020, the broader nation finds itself reckoning with protests rooted in mistrust of police officers, and controversy seems relatively quieter close to home. Nationwide, some departments and officers are cracking down on demonstrators. The president has wanted to mobilize the U.S. Army to meet marchers. Evidence has surfacing that some American police officers are connected to white supremacist organizations.

There were some protests and arrests locally. For example, fewer than 30 people were arrested May 31 after a series of disturbances in downtown Birmingham with no fatalities. That’s smaller than the scale of protests in other parts of the country, and no present-day equivalents of Connor or Clark lead official resistance. The way things differ in the Birmingham area today partly stands as a legacy of racial conflicts in Alabama’s past.

“I think what you’ve seen is there was a concerted effort across multiple chiefs of police in Birmingham and multiple mayors across time in Birmingham,” said Dr. Jeff Walker, chairman of the criminal justice department at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“The police chiefs, the mayors, the citizens, the culture, everything — it was like, ‘We have to overcome this. We can’t keep doing this.’ And they worked very, very, very hard to change the culture of the police in Birmingham, particularly in (the city of) Birmingham and in Jefferson County, … to be more … understanding of people and to try to treat everybody with a level of dignity and a level of police professionalism that you’re not seeing in other places,” Walker said. Read more.

With sidebar: Police Can Be Targets of Extremists

This is the second piece in a package on policing in the Birmingham area. In coming days, we’ll be presenting stories about new policing practices aimed at reducing the risk of bias on the job, the local debate over “defunding” the police and high incarceration rates among Blacks.
Previously in the The Legacy of Race: Policing

Dogs, Firehoses Were a Precursor to Today’s Violent Protests

COVID-19 Sets Records on the Eve of Thanksgiving

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in Alabama have reached critical levels again, straining health care facilities and throwing Thanksgiving holiday plans into disarray.

In the weekly BirminghamWatch analysis of data supplied by the Alabama Department of Public Health, the moving averages of both new cases and of COVID-related deaths have hit new all-time highs in the past two days, and the number of hospital beds filled with coronavirus patients is quickly approaching the levels seen during the peak this summer. Read more.

Religious Groups Working Around Pandemic to Celebrate Holidays and Tend to Flock This Year

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.

Council Postpones Vote on Holiday Pay, Says Woodfin Expects Them to Make Budget Decisions “Blindly”

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.

Transforming Police Dogs — It’s All About the Training

Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

Certainly not Johnnie Johnson Jr., who as a West Precinct captain in the Birmingham Police Department in 1987 turned police dogs that were known for attacking civil right protestors into pups you could pet.

“We had them retrained and the trainers retrained,” Johnson recalled. “The dogs were taught that, as long as there was no aggressiveness on the part of the suspect, a dog would sit by. The dog would only attack if the suspect was aggressive or running.” Read more.