Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:
The Decatur Daily on Decatur City Councilman Hunter Pepper:
We live in a culture increasingly at the mercy of tattletales. Anything we say online can come back to haunt us, justly or unjustly, if someone decides to make a big deal about it.
The phenomenon has been going on for several years. British journalist Jon Ronson even published a book about it in 2015, “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” about people whose lives have been upended by one ill-considered tweet.
All it takes is a tweet ripped out of context, sarcasm that doesn’t register or a joke that falls flat to lose a person their job, possibly their career.
Other times, the online remark really is offensive to disinterested observers but is the product of a young person who doesn’t fully appreciate their actions and comments. Call it a “youthful indiscretion.”
Few people’s childish mistakes rise to the level that they should, years later, be hounded from public life, especially if they have conducted themselves well as adults.
What, however, do we make of a public official whose youthful indiscretion is only a few years in the past — a public official who is still a youth?
Freshman Decatur City Councilman Hunter Pepper has given us a test case.
Pepper, now 19, issued a public apology March 6 after an online comment he made in 2018 as a 16-year-old resurfaced.
In response to a news story about a shooting and subsequent protests at the Riverchase Galleria shopping mall in Hoover, Pepper wrote: “See I have to go shopping there next week and we gone play a game called red rover red rover you fools gone get ran over!”
“I don’t think I should have made that comment,” he said during his apology. “I don’t remember being that aggressive as a juvenile.”
That most of the protesters Pepper joked about running over were Black added racial fuel to his incendiary comment.
Pepper said he is “extremely sorry” for the comment and “extremely disappointed in myself at that moment in time.” He has also denied any racial intent and said “I’m not a racist individual, and don’t like racism and am extremely sorry how that turned out.”
That wasn’t enough for longtime Councilman Billy Jackson, the council’s only Black member, who has called on Pepper to resign.
There are serious issues involved that go beyond what is truly in Pepper’s heart of hearts involving race. Some lawmakers elsewhere have, in the wake of last year’s protests and riots, proposed laws that would give immunity to drivers who run over protesters.
Within the past week, The Oklahoman reported, the Oklahoma House passed a bill “that grants civil and criminal immunity for drivers who unintentionally injure or kill protesters while ‘fleeing from a riot.’”
But perhaps the most pertinent issue goes back to Pepper’s apology: He said, “I don’t remember being that aggressive as a juvenile.” But we are talking about less than three years ago, which gets to the point that Pepper is, in many ways, still a juvenile. He cannot even purchase alcoholic beverages legally.
Apart from Jackson, there seems little demand for Pepper to resign. Other city officials have criticized Pepper’s original comment, but they are not joining Jackson in asking him to step down.
For better or worse, the residents of Decatur’s District 4 elected a teenager to represent them on the City Council. Many elected officials grow in office, but few are called upon to grow up in office. But that is now exactly what the people of Decatur expect of Councilman Pepper.
The Decatur Daily on the COVID-19 vaccine:
Alabama’s leading health organizations have joined together to recommend Alabamians get the COVID-19 vaccine. Getting the vaccine can help stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus that has affected the lives of almost every Alabamian.
“COVID-19 vaccines have been shown to be safe and effective for men and women regardless of age or racial and ethnic group,” said Dr. Scott Harris, state health officer. “We strongly recommend that adults protect themselves, their family, coworkers, friends, and community from severe illness and death by getting vaccinated when they are eligible.”
The Alabama Department of Public Health, the Alabama Hospital Association, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, the Alabama Pharmacy Association, the Alabama Medicaid Agency, and the Medical Association of the State of Alabama have jointly issued statements supporting the vaccines’ effectiveness and safety.
“The public’s uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine is unparalleled,” said Dr. John Meigs, president, Medical Association of the State of Alabama. “Around 39% of Americans say they probably or definitely would not get a coronavirus vaccine.
“A top concern appears to be how quickly the COVID-19 vaccines have been developed. The first vaccines were distributed to the public in less than one year. While there is an element of ‘wait and see’ to evaluate the full effectiveness of the vaccines, here is what we know so far: The available vaccines are up to 95% effective at preventing COVID-19, and the majority of side effects are very minor. We can start to renew the trust in our health care system now by shutting down divisive rhetoric and focusing on science.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaccine safety is a top priority. Millions of people in the United States have received COVID-19 vaccines safely and with few side effects.
“Through vaccination, we not only protect ourselves, but everyone around us,” said Dr. Don Williamson, president, Alabama Hospital Association. “These vaccines have undergone the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history and represent our best chance for the state and nation to return to a sense of normalcy.”
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama is providing 100% coverage for the administration of COVID-19 vaccines during the government’s phased-in vaccine distribution. Blue Cross members on individual, Medicare and almost all employer health plans will be able to receive an FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine without having to pay any out-of-pocket expenses.
“We want to make sure our members have access to the COVID-19 vaccines without cost being an obstacle,” said Tim Vines, president and CEO, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama.
By taking preventive measures for protection, Alabamians can help end the pandemic in our state and nationwide. Along with getting the vaccine, continue to wear face masks, practice social distancing and wash hands frequently.
For information on eligibility, vaccine safety, and to schedule a vaccination appointment, visit ALCovidVaccine.gov. For appointments, the public can also call 1-855-566-5333.
The Dothan Eagle on the state gambling bill:
Gambling is prohibited by the Alabama Constitution, except when it’s not. That’s been a source of consternation for years.
Among its 1,000 or so amendments approved by voters over the last 120 years are several that circumvent the constitution to allow gambling, notably pari-mutuel betting at four race tracks. In recent years, the state has failed to address the electronic bingo conundrum, in which slot machine-like devices play “bingo” at split-second speed, with a wink and a nudge to amendments passed by voters to allow traditional bingo.
All that might have been cleared up this legislative session had the Alabama Senate not failed to pass a gambling measure that would give voters an opportunity to approve casinos in limited measure, and establish a state lottery.
Now it’s back to the drawing board. Again.
The state legislature owes the people a referendum on this issue. Voters deserve to be heard on the matter of gambling. They’ve turned back a lottery referendum before, but things have changed a great deal in the 22 years since former Gov. Don Siegelman’s lottery initiative was voted down.
However, a gambling proposal ought to be fair, with a level playing field. This measure limited casinos to five locations: one at each of the state’s greyhound tracks – the Birmingham Race Course, Victoryland in Macon County, Greenetrack in Greene County, and the Mobile Greyhound Park; and a fifth to be operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. Added by amendment later is a bingo pavilion in Houston County that opened as an electronic bingo operation but was closed after a raid by former Gov. Bob Riley’s gambling task force, and now operates as a traditional bingo center.
A fair bill would not cherry-pick operations to enrich, but would make a gaming license available to any prospective operator who meets the criteria to acquire one.
Alabamians may well reject any gambling referendum put before them. But they deserve an opportunity to vote on the issue.