Luis, who asked us not to use his last name, had just gotten off work one Friday night late last year. He and his family were making dinner outside at their trailer park in Pinson.
“We were heating up the food, a few tacos, when two African-American men arrived with assault weapons,” Luis says. “They threw us to the ground. I have it all on video. My wife was pregnant. They threw her on the ground. No one could do anything.”
It was payday at work and Luis had about $1,200 in cash on him. The men robbed him and fled. Luis was one of several residents who recently shared their stories at a forum at the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama. The event was organized in response to a recent surge in robberies targeting the Hispanic community in Birmingham.
Police officials from Birmingham and Jefferson County were also in attendance. They say there is a pattern to these crimes, which are often armed robberies that take place on the weekend in trailer parks. They say criminals may target Hispanic residents because they are more likely to have cash on hand and they are less likely to call the police. A law enforcement officer at the meeting asked residents not to be afraid. Read more.
Violence is the newest strategic focus for the Jefferson County Department of Health. During Tuesday’s annual State of Health in Jefferson County address, Dr. Mark Wilson said the department added the issue in response to increasing rates of homicide.
“It (violence) isn’t something that our health department has devoted resources to in the past,” Wilson said, “but it is clearly a public health problem.” Read more.
Officials still have not released the name of the police officer who shot and killed a 21-year-old black man Thanksgiving night at the Riverchase Galleria mall in Hoover. A report from the Alabama attorney general’s office Tuesday cleared the officer of any criminal wrongdoing when he shot Emantic “EJ” Bradford Jr. He thought Bradford was the gunman in an active shooter situation.
Hoover Mayor Frank Brocato said at a press conference Tuesday withholding the officer’s identity is about fairness.
“Just as any other private citizen that is investigated and found not to have committed a crime their name is not released,” Brocato says. “That’s the same procedure that we will follow with this officer.” Read more.
Danny Carr didn’t stammer as he provided closing thoughts to a gathering Thursday night in downtown Birmingham. The Jefferson County district attorney was making a point to reduce the deaths of young African-American men and boys.
“We need to continue to engage, engage, engage,” he began. “Be involved, involved, involved.”
More than 200 persons – the vast majority black men – assembled at The Parthenon, the meeting place of the Omicron Lambda graduate chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. The gathering was a frank conversation with members of law enforcement and persons involved in criminal justice. Read more.
Reactions to the attorney general’s decision not to press a case against the Hoover police officer who shot Emantic “E.J.” Bradford Jr. on Thanksgiving night continued Wednesday.
Hoover Mayor Frank Brocato said in press conference that the city will give its full support to the officer, who has not been officially named, if civil suits are filed in the case. City information officer Melanie Posey said the city had deemed the findings of the report thorough and complete. Read more.
In a new report released Tuesday, the Alabama Attorney General’s Office says the officer who shot and killed Emantic Bradford Jr. Thanksgiving night was justified. Read more.
Protesters at a Walmart in Hoover chanted “no justice no peace” one night last month as they approached the entrance. There have been several similar demonstrations in the wake of the fatal police shooting of a black man at the Galleria mall on Thanksgiving. At one of those demonstrations, police arrested protest leader Carlos Chaverst. They charged him with disorderly conduct and loitering for wearing a mask. It’s one of the more antiquated laws in Alabama. Over the last decade or so there have been numerous challenges to mask laws across, and many states have added the language “intent to intimidate.” But Alabama’s law includes no such language. Read more.
In a presentation to neighborhood officers, Birmingham Police Chief Patrick D. Smith laid out a new strategy for the department and urged residents to be proactive in addressing crime in their communities.
“We have to get real about it,” he said. “We cannot do things the way we always did.”
Thursday’s meeting, which took place after a swearing-in ceremony for newly elected neighborhood officers, was one of the first major presentations of Smith’s strategy since he took the job in June. Smith described his first six months on the job as playing “catch-up” with a department that had fallen “behind the curve” in its approach to fighting crime.
“When I took over, I did an analysis of the department,” he said. “Over time, from 2014 to 2018, crime has doubled … We have to do a lot to bring this police department back to where it needs to be.” Read more.
▪ Alabama has the highest rate of concealed gun permits in the country.
▪ Jefferson County has the lowest permit fee in the state.
▪ One in five adults has a permit to carry a gun.
Birmingham rang in the new year with a chorus of gunfire.
Birmingham Police Chief Patrick D. Smith told the City Council Wednesday that his department’s ShotSpotter technology had detected 960 gunshots — most attributed to celebratory firing into the air — throughout the city on New Year’s Eve, an increase from the 469 shots recorded Dec. 31, 2017.
That uptick is partially due to an expansion of the ShotSpotter program, which was increased by roughly 30 percent in 2018. “The numbers are going to higher because we’re detecting more,” Smith said.
But the increase also is indicative of the city’s gun culture, in which a large proportion of adults wield handguns, many with little knowledge or regard for gun safety.
“It’s stupid,” Mayor Randall Woodfin said Wednesday. “The people who committed these acts, it was very stupid of them to do, because any bullet that goes up must come down.”
Concern over the gunshots was in some ways an appropriate way for city officials to start 2019, which follows one of the city’s most violent years in recent memory. 2018, with 109 recorded homicides, narrowly avoided 2017’s 23-year high of 117 homicides. Read more.
Several major changes are headed to Birmingham in 2019, although some will be more apparent than others. They range from the bureaucratic – such as new members on the Birmingham City Council, ongoing personnel shake-ups at the Birmingham Public Library and calls for a comprehensive public safety plan – to the physical – including a major interstate closure and construction of a new open-air stadium at the BJCC.
Read about what the year ahead looks like for the Magic City.
More What to Watch in 2019
Economic development is likely to be a primary focus for Jefferson County and the County Commission during 2019. The county hit a mother lode, or at least the offshoot of one, during 2018 with Amazon and DC Blox announcing they are establishing operations in Bessemer and North Titusville, respectively. Look for Jefferson County to continue prospecting for more golden nuggets in 2019. Read more.
Environmental issues have made headlines throughout 2018, and 2019 promises to be no different.
Decisions will be made that affect the cleanliness of the state’s waters, air and land. Issues that will affect recycling, coal mining and solar, nuclear and hydropower generation also are looming on the horizon. Here are a few of the issues to watch in 2019.
A gasoline tax increase to fund road improvements is expected to be a major topic of the 2019 Alabama legislative session. Legislators also are expecting several hundred million more dollars to spend in the education budget and will be debating raises, a child literacy program and other education improvements. Other issues include funding improvements in prisons and a possible lottery proposal. Read more.