Category: BirminghamWatch

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.

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

Retired Birmingham Police Chief Johnnie Johnson Jr. is a fan of the 1960s TV show “High Chaparral.” He recalls an episode in which someone was paying people to kill Indians.

“One day, they said, ‘We’re gonna have to kill Cannon,’” Johnson said, referring to the white lead character who starred in the show. “The guy said, ‘No, no. No way, bruh. Shooting an Indian is one thing but killing a man is something else.’”

In that sense, Birmingham was the High Chaparral for police in their dealings with Blacks at the time. Johnson, one of the first Black officers in the Birmingham Police Department and the first Black chief of the department when he was appointed in 1991, said police treated Blacks differently from how they treated whites.

Recent protests and clashes grew from the attitudes and events during those days in the 1960s and even earlier. Across the country, there have been incidents of Blacks being killed at the hands of law enforcement officers. George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are just two examples of Blacks who have lost their lives in this manner this year.

As multiracial protestors have taken to the streets, police in some places have taken aggressive action to squelch calls for indictments and defunding of law enforcement.

For Birmingham, the most pronounced time of friction between the Black community and police was decades ago.  Read more.

Who Says You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks?

Transforming Police Dogs — It’s All About the Training

As part of The Legacy of Race project, BirminghamWatch is looking at policing in the Birmingham area. In coming days, we’ll be presenting stories about the continuing need to rebuild trust and threat from racist attitudes, 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.

Rebuilding Local News? Start With Local Control

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.

History of Us Course Introduces Students to Their Ancestors and the Role of Race in America’s History

“Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.” – Carter G. Woodson

Eighteen-year-old Delphia McGraw of Tuscaloosa says she loves history. But, growing up, she received little instruction on the history of people who looked like her.

“I went to a private school during my middle school years, and I didn’t have any Black history taught to me,” McGraw said. She said she knew she wanted in when her teacher at Tuscaloosa’s Central High School told her about an elective course at Central the following year.

Its teacher was University of Alabama professor John Giggie, Ph.D. He directs UA’s Summersell Center for the Study of the South. He taught a year-long Black history course called History of Us with UA graduate student Margaret Lawson.

History of Us is touted as the first Black history course of its kind taught in the Tuscaloosa public school system. The course asks students to be historians by researching major themes in Black history and framing those themes locally, to Tuscaloosa County. Students are asked to examine how their own voices, their families and their communities fit in the progress of history, Giggie said.

“We chose the name History of Us because we wanted students to think about several things,” he said. “First of all, there’s always been a tendency in educational circles to separate African-American from American history, and we wanted to show them that, actually, we have to integrate those vigorously to show the ways in which each of them informs the other.”

“But more importantly, (we) wanted to demonstrate that the most important themes in Black history are also the most important themes in American history. And, the History of Us is also meant to be personal. It’s about all of us in history trying to find our place, our narratives, our stories.” Read more.

When a News Website Is Not Really a News Website

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.

The School-to-Prison Pipeline: When is a suspension not just a suspension? When it’s part of a nationwide pattern leading to racial disparities and prison.

Let’s say two boys in an Alabama school get in trouble for doing the same thing. One is named DeAndre. The other is named Jake.

DeAndre, who is black, is more than three times as likely as Jake, who is white, to end up suspended or expelled or in the custody of the police.

That’s what statistics have shown over time, leading to DeAndre – or any black student – being far more likely to be tracked onto what education experts have described as the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

“The school-to-prison pipeline deprives students of color of their futures by pushing them out of school and its pathway to college and careers and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems,” the National Education Association says in a report. Read more.

Despite Progress, American Schools Are the Same as They Ever Were — Separate and Unequal

“You’re living in poverty. Your schools are no good.”
Candidate Donald Trump, 2016

In a campaign speech in August 2016, the future president of the United States outlined his stark perception of the economic status of African Americans and particularly the state of Black schools. It was a statement many saw as oversimplified and glib — he bookended it with “What do you have to lose?” — and reflective of a view that “your schools” meant anything but “our schools.”

The ugly fact is that the schools that serve mostly children of color have never been on a completely level playing field with schools that serve mostly white children. Separat­e and unequal schools have always been the American reality, even when the law mandates otherwise.

“We just have to be honest with ourselves. We don’t have a uniform public education system in this country. I don’t think we ever had a uniform public education system in this country. We have very good schools and we have very bad schools. We have a lot in between those two poles,” said Dr. Derryn Moten, acting chair of the Department of History and Political Science at Alabama State University.

As a rule, the most persistent metric by which those educational inequalities can be measured remains skin color. Read more.

More from The Legacy of Race.

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.

The First Presidential Debate: What They’re Saying

Trump Plunges Debate Into Chaos as He Repeatedly Talks Over Biden (The Guardian)
Fact-Checking the First 2020 Presidential Debate (New York Times)
First Trump-Biden Debate Full of Fiery Exchanges, Insults as They Spar on SCOTUS, COVID and More (Fox News)
Trump Incessantly Interrupts and Insults Biden as They Spar in Acrimonious First Debate (Washington Post)
Trump Mayhem Takes Over First Debate (Politico)
Biden, Trump Clash at Vicious, Ugly Debate (The Hill)
Fact-Checking the First Presidential Debate (CNN)
The Presidential Forecast (FiveThirtyEight)