Saturday, July 28, 2018

Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches #1624 - Minoring in the major and majoring in the minor

  My cell phone rang. The caller said: “Senator Sanders, the cops have surrounded your wife near Selma Avenue and Broad Street. It was about nine cops. When I drove by she hollered, ‘Call my husband.’ So I am calling you.”

  I dropped everything and dashed to Selma Avenue and Broad Street. This was the evening of Monday, July 16, 2018, the day before the Democratic Primary Runoff Election for Probate Judge of Dallas County.

  A number of police officers and others were present, but Faya was not there. They had taken her to the Selma City Jail. I found my 11-year-old granddaughter by herself crying. One woman told me how Faya had repeatedly asked the officers to let her call someone to come get her granddaughter. The officers refused each time. I was furious that the police caused an 11-year-old child to be left on the streets by herself. 

  I think Faya’s car was still running. I tried to get the car to take it to my office. The police officers stopped me. They insisted on having the car towed and claimed it was evidence. I objected, but they had it towed anyway. It was towed to the towing company’s lot. I had to pay $150 for one of my daughters to pick up the car a half hour later. This towing was clearly not about evidence.

  I found a young woman to take care of my grandchild. Then I dashed to the Selma Police Station. Some women followed me there. I sensed their protective presence. When I walked into the booking area of the police department, I saw a big Switzer campaign sign. Women and children were already present. They had followed Faya to the police station to provide protection. I repeatedly asked to see Faya. I explained that I was her attorney as well as her husband. She had a right to see me. I was still denied permission to see her. They set a $2,000 cash bond for her. Twice I was asked by police officers if I was going to bail out Faya. I responded: “I don’t know. You will not allow me to meet with her.”

  After some time, Faya appeared briefly in an open area. The jail bars were between us. The police officials and citizens were all standing right there. She told me to go to Tabernacle Baptist Church to find the church leaders who witnessed that the campaign sign was on public property. Selma has an ordinance prohibiting campaign signs on public property and rights of way. One of the church deacons had thanked her for removing the sign.

  I left immediately for Tabernacle Baptist Church. Tabernacle was the first church to allow a mass meeting to be held on its premises during the 1960s Voting Rights Movement when the danger was great. No one was at the church, so I returned to the Selma Police Station. Faya had been transferred to the Dallas County Jail about seven or so miles away. I left for the Dallas County Jail. 

  I knew that Faya had strongly objected to city workers leaving the campaign signs of White candidates on public rights of way while snatching up campaign signs of Black candidates. I knew that she had gone to Selma City Hall to protest these unfair practices. She insisted that all signs on public rights of way should be taken up or none taken up. She also said that if they did not treat candidates’ signs the same way, she would take the other campaign signs off the public rights of way as Selma laws require. I heard her say on her radio program, Faya’s Fire, that the Switzer signs that had been taken from public rights of way could be picked up at the radio station.

  At the Dallas County Jail, I was able to talk with Faya attorney-to-client as well as husband-to-wife. She refused to be bailed out of jail. She felt very strongly about the following: being falsely arrested; being physically abused with handcuffs too tight behind her back; being forced to leave her 11-year-old granddaughter alone on the sidewalk; having her car towed for no good reason; having to pay $150 to get her car; and having a $2,000 cash bail bond. She would just stay in jail. I supported her decision.             

  I decided to post these developments on Facebook. Over time I added eight updates. I shared the facts as best I could. I urged my Facebook friends to share my posts and strongly urge citizens in Dallas County to vote. Eventually my posts were shared by more than a thousand individuals. I returned to the Dallas County Jail that night to see Faya and again the next morning.

  I filled in for Faya as best I could. I went to court for her and hosted her radio program the next morning. It was on the internet as well as the radio. I don’t know all I said on the program. I do know that I shared how I have been involved in political races for at least 45 years. During that time, tens of thousands of signs of hundreds of political candidates have been removed. That includes thousands of my signs. Not a single person that I know has ever been arrested because of removal of political signs. Here we are in Selma – the birthplace of the 1965 Voting Rights Act – and a 73-year-old mother, grandmother, wife, and attorney is falsely charged with shoplifting political signs that were on public rights of way. I also shared how she had received death threats and the Selma Police had not done anything about it. This is so outrageous.

  On Tuesday evening, I was informed of the inflammatory headlines in the Selma Times Journal newspaper. I immediately called a press conference for 10:30 a.m. Wednesday in Montgomery. The press conference had good media attendance and a very strong presence of Faya’s supporters. The press conference was also live streamed.

  That night I learned that African American voters had come out in numbers virtually equal to those in primary. This is almost unheard of. It is so hard to get voters, especially African American voters, to return for a runoff. As a result, for the first time in the 200-year history of Dallas County, an African American will be Probate Judge in Selma, Dallas County, Alabama.
  The requirement of a $2,000 cash bond was waived by Selma officials on Wednesday after the election was over. Faya signed herself out of jail Wednesday afternoon. However, the false charges of shoplifting campaign signs and attempting to elude police officers are still pending. These are serious charges. I will have much more to say about these injustices. We will deal with these as they come.

  I have been amazed at the powerful responses to Faya’s arrest and jailing. I have received too many communications to begin to name. They have come from Selma and Dallas County and Alabama. They have come from all across the country. So many were outraged and offered to come to Selma and/or to help as needed. I am thankful for how the many Dallas County voters responded. Faya is sorry she could not vote after working so hard to get others to vote.

Epilogue – It’s amazing how some of our law enforcement can forcefully pursue the minor, such as campaign signs, while turning a blind eye to the major, such as death threats. It’s majoring in the minor and minoring in the major at its worse.

  About the author: Hank Sanders represents Senate District 23 in the Alabama Legislature.

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