Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:


July 28

The Cullman Times on wearing masks correctly:

The governor’s mandate for Alabamians to don masks in public spaces in order to rein in community spread of COVID-19 was the right call to make. For students and teachers to get back in the classrooms, for workers to get back to work, for us to get back to some sense of normal, we’ve got to stop the spread of this virus.

That means social distancing, hand washing, sanitizing work spaces and classrooms and wearing masks - and wearing them the right way.

The science on the masks is clear; numerous studies have shown the effectiveness of cloth coverings in reducing the spread of the virus. The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation studied the mask studies from around the world and reanalyzed the data used in then, and concluded that if 95% of the population wore cloth masks, transmission of the disease would be reduced by at least 30%. The infected group then spreads it to 30% fewer people and so on, and so on, reducing the number of people infected each time. Eventually, you go from hundreds infected to handfuls of infection.

We’ve seen evidence of that here in Alabama. Montgomery instituted a mask order and saw the case rate cut in half in one month.

Masks help filter out respiratory droplets that carry the virus, but only if they’re worn correctly. We’ve all seen it: masks worn under chins, not covering the nose or just dangling from an ear strap. If the wearer is some distance from other people, these variations aren’t an issue. However, when in group settings, they do little to protect other people in the group.

The Alabama Department of Public Health has started an information campaign to show people the right way to wear a mask. It may sound silly, but then think of all the people you’ve seen who apparently haven’t figured out how to wear a belt, if their sagging pants are anything to go by.

Masks aren’t a magic wand; we still have to exercise common sense when it comes to gatherings and washing hands. But they are one tool in our tool box that will help get us back to our everyday activities.

Cullman Regional has noted that the spread of the virus is coming from the community; it is not tied to one specific location. As a community, we all need to do our part to stop it.

Everyone wants children to be able to go back to school safely at the start of the school year. The schools are putting plans in place in an effort to make that happen. But as University of Alabama System Chancellor Fess St. John noted in his comments to President Trump recently, keeping schools open “is going to be the hardest part.”

It is not the sole responsibility of the administrators, the teachers, school staff and parents to make that happen. We all have a responsibility as members of this community to create a safe environment outside the schools.

Medical experts have provided us with the game plan for doing this. Wash your hands. Stay home if you’re sick. When you are in a public space, particularly an indoor space where you can’t social distance, wear a mask and pull it up over your nose and mouth.

If for no other reason, do it for the kids.



July 28

The Times Daily on the state of Alabama prisons:

He may be the only one who wants one, but Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall seems eager for a showdown with the U.S. Department of Justice over the state of Alabama’s prisons.

No one disputes the state’s prisons are in deplorable shape. The only question is what to do about it, and it’s a question that has stymied governors and state lawmakers for years, largely because lots of money and not a few local jobs are at stake.

Gov. Kay Ivey’s plan is to have private contractors build new prison facilities that the state would then lease. Her administration is moving forward with that plan while the state Legislature — where some members worry about costs and ultimate control of the facilities — is out of session.

But the Justice Department gave added urgency to the situation last week when it issued a report telling us what we already know: that Alabama’s prisons for men are so bad they amount to unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment.

In particular, the Justice Department said, prison staff routinely subjects inmates to excessive force.

“Our investigation found reasonable cause to believe that there is a pattern or practice of using excessive force against prisoners in Alabama’s prisons for men,” U.S. Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the department’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement.

In one harrowing example, a prison guard beat a handcuffed prisoner in a medical unit while shouting, “I am the reaper of death, now say my name!” while the prisoner begged the officer to kill him.

Other correctional officers have pleaded guilty, or been convicted of using excessive force against prisoners, including one incident when at least four officers beat a prisoner to death, the department noted in its report.

State officials have largely blamed the state’s unsafe prison conditions on too many inmates and too few guards, which leads to too little supervision of inmates and overworked, overstressed jailers.

But the incidents cited by the Justice Department go beyond that. There are clearly some jailers on duty in Alabama’s prisons who are not fit for the job.

Still, alleviating overcrowding and understaffing would help, as the Justice Department’s report says: “The severe and pervasive overcrowding increases tensions and escalates episodes of violence between prisoners, which lead to uses of force. At the same time, the understaffing tends to generate a need for more frequent uses of force than would otherwise occur if officers operated at full strength.”

Gov. Ivey’s response was conciliatory, but buried within it was an insistence that Alabama be left to deal with its prison issues itself.

“We all desire an effective, Alabama solution to this Alabama problem, and my administration will put in the hard work and long hours necessary to achieve that result,” she said.

“Alabama solution” is code for saying the state does not want the federal government to take over the state’s prisons, but unless the state makes progress soon, it may not have a say in the matter.

Marshall accused the Justice Department of ambushing the state and of playing politics by setting a deadline for an agreement that would fall “fifty-three days before a presidential election,” apparently forgetting the Justice Department currently is run by fellow Republicans.

“Along with the release of its newest findings today, DOJ officials also communicated to my office that the state has 49 days to agree upon the terms of a consent decree,” Marshall said in a statement. “Presumably, if we do not, the federal government will file suit.”

Rather than posturing, Marshall and other state officials need to take the state of the state’s prisons seriously. If it comes to a legal battle with the feds, the state will lose.



July 24

The Times-News on increasing participation in local elections:

Qualifying for local elections ended this week, and on Aug. 25 Chambers County residents will go to the polls to elect new officials in 24 seats between LaFayette, Lane and Valley.

Unfortunately, most of these races are uncontested, meaning voters won’t have a chance to have a say in who gets elected.

In LaFayette, all districts on the city council are on the ballot. Four of those races are uncontested. One of the rare exceptions to all of the uncontested races is the LaFayette’s mayor’s race, which will be hotly contested with Brandon Brooks, Anna Troxell and Kenneth Vines facing off against incumbent Barry Moody.

In Lane, Mayor Kyle McCoy will face competition from Stanley Roberts. Unfortunately, three of the five Lane City Council seats have no opposition.

The selection is even lighter in Valley where five of the seven seats are unopposed. The unopposed candidates for the council and mayor positions have already been declared winners.

The Chambers County School Board won’t change at all, as none of the current board members will face opposition. Fair or not, the school system as a whole is one of the most discussed topics in Chambers County, and there are no choices on the ballot box.

All of these uncontested races are a bad thing for our community. Don’t get us wrong, as we don’t mean that as any sweeping judgment on the job incumbents are doing.

But the truth is, we see posts floating around social media and, in our comments, questioning various issues throughout the county frequently.

That doesn’t necessarily anything is being done wrong, but it does show that people have questions about why decisions are made the way they are. We think it would serve the community beer to hear more voices, with possible new ideas to move our community forward.

Contested elections give the public choices and force candidates to counter ideas that their opponents push forward. They prevent apathy, where a candidate can just sit still, do nothing and continue getting re-elected.

We understand that public service requires a tremendous time commitment and that largely plays a role in the lack of participation. This lack of participation also lends its hands to the lack of voter turnout which is a problem everywhere.

You could make a good argument that the lack of candidates speaks to the way most in our community feel about the progress made in Chambers County over the last four years. Maybe the majority of people are happy with the way things are. If that’s the case, then great.

We applaud all of the candidates in this upcoming election, incumbents included, who took the courageous step to run for public office again.

We just wish there were more of them.