Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

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June 24

The Times-News on local protests against racial injustice:

In late May, the nation was collectively shell-shocked when a video surfaced of George Floyd dying while in police custody as Officer Dave Chauvin pressed a knee into his neck.

Since that incident, several law enforcement leaders have denounced the manner in which the officers in Minneapolis subdued Floyd. Those same sentiments were heard right here in our community as West Point Police Chief Donald Bri, Valley Police Chief Tommy Weldon, Lane Police Chief Johnny Wood, Chambers County Sheriff Sid Lockhart and LaGrange Police Chief Lou Dekmar issued similar statements denouncing that type of policing and assuring our communities that is not how they operate.

As if tensions were not already heightened, on June 12, closer to home in Atlanta, Rayshard Brooks was shot and killed while fleeing Atlanta police.

In response to both of these incidents and others, protests have popped up all around the country. The first local protest that we’re aware took place on June 21 when people gathered along Highway 29.

The protest we saw in Lane was tiny compared to other cities across the state and country, but larger in heart and compassion.

People from all walks of life, all races and religions stood side by side — peacefully in the exercise of their first amendment rights. Cars passed by blowing their horns in support of the group protesting and not once did anyone say or do anything that would jeopardize what organizer Rev. Stanley Roberts was trying to accomplish.

Our only wish was that more of the community would have come out to show support and truly display ’Strength Woven In.”

Online: https://www.valleytimes-news.com

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June 24

The Times Daily on recent data collected on property seized by law enforcement in Alabama:

Alabama lawmakers this month received their first report as required under a 2019 law mandating that law enforcement agencies in the state account for property they seize from people accused of criminal wrongdoing.

The report shows agencies seized at least $4.8 million in cash and property in the last fiscal year ending Sept. 30. Of that, at least $2.4 million was gained through civil asset forfeiture rulings by the courts.

Civil asset forfeiture remains a controversial practice, especially as reform of law enforcement practices in general receive more scrutiny. Under civil forfeiture, the government may take someone’s property as soon as they are accused of a crime, without that person having been convicted or, in some cases, even charged.

Even when charges are dropped or the accused is found not guilty, those accused often find it difficult to get their property back. Some never do.

Although written into law and upheld by the courts, civil asset forfeiture is an affront to the notion that a person is innocent until proven guilty. This is a principle embedded not only in U.S. law, but in the centuries of English common law from which it sprang.

Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, has been one of the few lawmakers to realize this and make it an issue. He has tried, unsuccessfully, to end civil asset forfeiture in Alabama.

According to the Institute for Justice, three states have abolished civil forfeiture entirely and now rely on criminal law for property forfeitures. Orr’s original bill would have made Alabama the fourth state to do this.

Additionally, 15 states require a criminal conviction before a person can lose property in a civil proceeding undertaken by the government.

Orr’s fallback bill, which is now law, was one requiring law enforcement agencies to keep track of their civil forfeitures. In addition to the number of civil proceedings and the amount seized, that law requires law enforcement to show how much of the forfeited property was taken from people who were not charged or convicted of crimes.

That data, however, is lacking from the report lawmakers received this month.

“I intend to formally request additional information as is delineated in the law,” Orr said last week. “I understand the report can be in summary form; however, it is necessary for policymakers to acquire as much detailed data as possible upon which they can make sound decisions.

“I understand also that we are just starting this process and the data were less than a full year, but I have high expectations for future years.”

We, too, have high expectations. Even one person deprived of their property without having been found guilty of a crime, is an injustice. But if we can’t end it, we should at least know exactly how bad the problem is.

Online: https://www.timesdaily.com

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June 20

The Cullman Times on efforts to bridge the rural internet gap:

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed how disconnected rural America is from modern technology. The internet connections taken mostly for granted in larger cities are unavailable to families in less populated areas. When everyone was sent home to work or continue school because of the coronavirus, it became clear that not everyone is able to work from home or get online to do schoolwork.

But progress is being made.

On June 18, the Cullman Electric Cooperative announced the launch of its new internet service, Sprout Fiber.

The first phase of this new venture is already underway and will have the potential to connect 12,000 cooperative members to true high speed internet. The first phase connects Cullman Electric’s sub-stations, which also provides cost-saving and efficiencies for it’s primary mission of providing electricity to members, but also creates a wide-spread fiber backbone throughout Cullman County. If the cooperative meets its benchmarks and financial milestones in the first phase, it will then move on to phase two, adding another 500 miles of fiber.

The only down side, in our view, is that it can’t happen fast enough, despite a pretty speedy timeline of 12-18 months. Judging by local reaction to the announcement, rural residents are ready to flip the switch to better internet service tomorrow.

We commend the Cullman Electric Cooperative for branching out into this new venture. It’s clearly needed and we hope the members support it by signing up for services.

We also commend our local, state and federal elected officials for making this happen and for pushing to extend internet services to rural America.

Rep. Randall Shedd, in particular, deserves recognition for his role in getting legislation passed that allows Cullman Electric and other cooperatives to provide internet service. As a former mayor and county commission chair, Shedd is keenly aware of the digital divide and the disadvantage it creates in rural areas. He pushed back against heavy opposition from entrenched telecommunication companies and got the bill passed. On June 18, Rep. Scott Stadthagen noted that Shedd, “fought for rural Alabama for three and half hours from the well (of the House).”

In recent months, Shedd and Sen. Garlan Gudger have also gone to bat on behalf of a state grant for Cyber Broadband. Cyber Broadband, which has received two grants for internet projects at Smith Lake, has also applied for a grant for a project in the Baileyton area. Shedd and Gudger recently said they have been meeting with the Governor’s Office and ADECA to get that approved.

Congressman Robert Aderholt, too, has been pushing the interests of rural broadband at the federal level. The lack of high speed internet access in rural areas leaves entire swaths of America behind, and it’s good to see our elected officials trying to bridge the gap.

There is more work to be done. The FCC needs to take a hard look at the download and upload speeds they classify as “broadband.” Currently, speeds of 25Mbps/3Mbps are considered “broadband.” But the definition has not kept up with the technology demands. If the future of work and school is more people doing these things from home, they need real speeds to connect in real time. We’ve got to change the definition and ask telecommunication companies to provide true high speed service.

There’s a very large divide in internet access based on which dot on the map you live in, but we’re definitely headed in the right direction to connect all the dots.

Online: https://www.cullmantimes.com