Posts tagged Alabama

Rep. Mike Hubbard Vs. Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press

I sent a letter to the editor of the Opelika-Auburn News the other day, after reading this little piece about recent efforts by Mike Hubbard[1] to intimidate his critics with legal threats. As far as I know the letter hasn’t appeared in the paper, and my guess is that it’s not likely to, since the opinion page is currently flooded with letters for and against an upcoming city property tax referendum.[2] So, I reprint it here. Of course, if the accusations being made against Hubbard are false, then I think it’s a bad thing for people to tell lies or spread misinformation. But his efforts to enforce his preferred version of events, by means of legal force, is a loathsome attempt at censorship. It is no less preposterous, and even more contemptible, than if he went around challenging his critics to duels.[3]

To the Editor:

I was disappointed to read that Rep. Mike Hubbard has decided to respond to his critics with intimidation and legal threats (“Hubbard enlists attorney to investigate libelous claims,” Sep. 11). Apparently, he is angry about bloggers who made “negative comments” about him on the Internet, so now “he has hired an attorney to stop” the authors, by tracking them down and threatening a libel lawsuit.

Hubbard says that he has done this because “certain individuals” are trying to damage his good name. But a good reputation is not the private property of Rep. Mike Hubbard. His reputation just is the sum total of other people’s opinions about him; and other people’s opinions of Mike Hubbard belong to the people who have them – not to Mr. Hubbard. If people change their mind about Hubbard after reading about him on blogs, then the comments they read may be true or false, justified or unfounded, honest or malicious. But whatever the negative comments are, they are not “destroying” anything that Hubbard has a right to exclusively control.

You might say, “But the comments were libelous; he has legal rights.” That’s what the law says, but the law is wrong: libel actions are shameful and chilling assaults on the freedom of speech and the press.

If the comments are true, Hubbard has no right to complain about them. If the comments are false, Hubbard – a well-connected politician, and a well-positioned local media owner – has plenty of outlets for responding to the accusations, and more than enough opportunities to peacefully persuade us he’s in the right. Either way, sending a lawyer to intimidate and silence critics is an abuse of power, and the act of a bully – and a desperate one at that. Hubbard ought to be ashamed of himself.

Charles W. Johnson
Auburn, Ala.

  1. [1] A local media mogul, GOP honcho, currently Speaker of the Alabama state House of Representatives, and the man who preposterously claims to represent me in Alabama’s state government.
  2. [2] I’m agin’ it, because I’m against all tax laws, but I won’t be voting agin’ it next week, because I am not registered to vote.
  3. [3] Challenging them to duels would be less contemptible because he would at least be taking the risks of his violent outbursts on his own person, rather than throwing his wealth and power around in a court-room against bloggers much less able to defend themselves. It would also actually be much less dangerous and tyrannical — since his chosen victims would always be free to refuse him.

Auburn police department contact sports

Officers will have 100 contacts per month, minimum … 40 of those may be warnings for traffic, the other 60 will be divided between: traffic citations, non-traffic citations, field interviews and custodial arrests …. Do not be the one that does not get 100.

— Sgt. Trey Neal, Auburn Police Division, Auburn Alabama.
Recorded by officer Justin Hanners, qtd. by Tracy Oppenheimer, Cop Fired for Speaking Out Against Ticket and Arrest Quotas
Reason TV (July 24, 2013).

Oh, hey, look, my hometown’s in the national news again. This time it’s for the contact quotas handed down from the police division’s chain of command. The requirements for ticketing and arrest quotas required more contacts[1] every year than there are people in the city of Auburn. The story has hit the news because Justin Hanners, a former police officer in Auburn, says that he was fired by the police department in retaliation against his objections to the quota policy, and to the over-use of police force and arrests that it was producing. After making some contact with local CopBlockers in Auburn, Hanners got his story to Reason TV.

From the story in the Opelika-Auburn News:

Back in 2010, when Chief Dawson came in, immediately afterward, they started telling us that we had to have two tickets a day and two warnings a day on average and if we didn’t have it, we wouldn’t get promoted, we would get bad evaluations and if we continued to not do it, we would get written up and ultimately fired, Hanners said in a phone interview with the Opelika-Auburn News.

Hanners said he initially wrote a complaint about what he thought of the alleged quotas, but was soon suspended for other reasons and put on bike duty.

They went back seven months on my computer where I told a joke to another officer and suspended me for four days and made me forfeit two days of annual leave, Hanners said, who added the other officer was not punished.

Hanners said while on bike duty, which he claimed involved patrolling the interior of Auburn University, he was still force[d] to comply with the alleged quotas.

By directives, I’m not even supposed to be writing tickets, but my supervisor told me in my bike duty that I had to have just as many tickets as officers in cars, Hanners said.

— Drew Taylor, Former officer claims Auburn police division quotas
Opelika-Auburn News (July 25, 2013)

Since the story came out in the press, spokes-flacks from the city government have issued rote denials and slimy Oh-we-can’t-comment-but… insinuations about Hanners’ personnel file from the City Manager’s office. Assistant City Manager James Buston admits that the sergeant said everything that was on that tape but that it wasn’t official policy. (But, you know, if it were official policy, it’d be O.K., because it’s kind of challenging them to do what they are supposed to do…). The Office of Charles Duggan, City Manager of Auburn, says The message that there is a quota was wrongfully conveyed through supervisory channels to at least one patrol shift — which of course is a long-assed way of saying that there was a quota while denying responsibility for setting it — but insists that there is an unfounded accusation being leveled by Mr. Hanners. Because, when ex-chief Dawson told the city government that this story was going to hit the press, the city government hired another government investigator to look over their records and tell them that all was O.K. Tracy Oppenheimer at Reason responds to the denials here. Public Safety Director Bill James, for example, put the following in writing:

To make 100 contacts, which include among others, traffic stops, issuing warrants, field interviews and arrests, requires about two contacts per shift hour. Making two contacts per hour is not unreasonable and still seems to leave a lot of time to perform other duties that are detailed in your job description. Your supervisors as well as I have an expectation that each employee needs to be productive during their time on shift.

— Auburn Public Safety Director Bill James, Re: Grievance
Correspondence with Officer Justin Hanners (November 20, 2012)
Quoted by Tracy Oppenheimer, Auburn Cop Fired for Resisting Quotas Gets Online Support; City Officials Deny Deny Deny

Buston also claims that Reason did not offer the city government an opportunity to respond before they put the video together. Oppenheimer’s story shows that this is false, and that Capt. Tom Stofer of the Auburn Police Division specifically said that the Division refused to comment. As for the insinuations about Hanners’ personnel file, besides the note about the retaliatory shift to bike duty, here’s some more elaboration on what happened to him.

“Well, the day my grievance was over, I get called into the Chief’s office, and was told that some evidence I presented was from an internal affairs investigation and the gag order had been placed and I wasn’t supposed to have it. So then the Chief, who is the suspect in my grievance, now starts an internal affairs investigation into me and my partner to see if we somehow compromised his own investigation into his own wrongdoing where he had found he had done nothing wrong. So in this investigation, they found that we had violated a gag order and that I had violated the city’s reporting policy by reporting these people. And they ultimately fired me for it and suspended my partner who gave me a statement that said everything I was saying was true.”

— Justin Hanners, qtd. by Tracy Oppenheimer, Auburn Cop Fired for Resisting Quotas Gets Online Support; City Officials Deny Deny Deny

Here as elsewhere, cops protect their power. Support your neighborhood CopWatch.

  1. [1] When you hear about police departments setting requirements for making contact with individuals on Auburn streets and sidewalks just think of contact in the sense that ice hockey or American football are contact sports.

Save the Gnu’s Room, Save the World

My favorite bookstore in the world, The Gnu’s Room, is on the ropes. Commercial rents near campus are high in Auburn, and until this month it looked like the bookstore would have to close in July. But there is a real chance to save the store now, and to help it not only continue as a used bookstore and event space, but also to expand into a new arts space (in the emerging Arts District in downtown Opelika). A donor has come forward with a new, low-rent location, so Gnu’s Room is trying to raise some money between now and June 15 which would allow them to cover the fixed costs of the move, and so to keep the bookstore in operation. Here’s more from the Kickstarter campaign page:

The Gnu’s Room: a non-profit bookstore and community art space has been the cornerstone of our independent arts community in Auburn, AL.

Due to the difficulties of high urban rent and waning financial support, The Gnu’s Room is struggling to make ends meet and fulfill its mission of promoting literacy and the arts in Southeast Alabama. Our community is heavily marginalized in the predominant culture of today… and those who love books, independent films, and local music have got to come together and show their support!

We are trying to raise the seed money to move The Gnu’s Room into a huge, low-cost warehouse space in the new Arts District of Opelika (supported by the Alabama Arts Council, The Railyard independent venue, and the future Cotton Seed Studios)

But we need help to make this move possible!

Pledges of varying amounts can earn you rewards like free books, tickets to our benefit concert, local artwork, and genuine ivory scrimshaw bookmarks…. Plus the added reward of keeping our artistic community strong and well…

Don’t let our favorite meeting place for all things artistic, inspirational, and happily weird disappear! The Gnu’s Room plays a vital role in serving the area with rare volumes of nearly-forgotten wisdom and creating more arts through their publishing house, Solomon & George Publishers. We want to use the freedom of the Opelika Arts District space to expand community services to include e-publication archiving of these rare works, i.e. the Gnu Library, in-house printing services, art galleries, and a scrap exchange program for resident artists. . . . The biggest challenge facing our organization is pursuing often non-existent arts funding in our state and region. We hope to overcome that difficulty by providing useful services in a retail format. For example: We re-sell donated books in our bookstore. The Scrap Exchange will sort and recycle materials to bring low cost arts-and-crafts, packaging, and garden supplies to our proactive community members. . . . The new location will create not just more opportunities for our mission, but continue our ability to provide a common meeting place for the forum of artistic and creative solutions.

— Kickstarter: Save the Gnu’s Room!

The campaign has until June 15, 2013 to reach their fundraising goal. As of press time, there’s about $2,500 left to go in order to meet it. I just backed the project myself; if you can, please consider backing it with me, and help us save this precious community space, one of the long-time strongest supporters and most open forums for the arts, culture and philosophy in the Auburn-Opelika community.[1]

Also.

  1. [1] The Gnu’s Room has been very supportive of local authors, and among other things they have been very kind and helpful to us for Markets Not Capitalism, which they generously hosted the world’s first book-talk / reading for, back in November 2011, and which they continue to sell on their shelves.

Shameless Self-promotion Sunday

Happy Sunday, everyone. Time to get Shameless.

Around here, I am trying to get my office into some semblance of tidiness, doing some background reading for a paper on the emergence of the fast-food industry, and making the final arrangements to get myself up to Birmingham for Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice’s May 1st march for immigration freedom. (Wednesday, May 1, 4pm–7pm, starting in Linn Park, Birmingham, Ala. See you there?) ¿Y tú? How’re things where you are? Got anything big coming up? Anything you’ve been working on lately? What have you been up to this week? Write anything? Leave a link and a short description for your post in the comments. Or fire away about anything else you might want to talk about.

Sectional Education

You know, I live in Alabama and I spent about a decade of my life in Alabama state schools. I hate that the current state code includes a provision requiring high-school sex-ed classes to include stigmatizing, bigoted and false anti-gay content. And I’m glad to see that there’s a bill pending in the state legislature that would just delete that entire section and all the minimum content requirements along with it.[1] I’ve lived in Alabama for much of my life and I’ve often tried to take a hand in changing local culture and building more positive alternatives in my community. But when I see a liberal freethought blog linking to a story about this, and (1) the very first comment, and (2) over half of the comments that follow it, are from comfortable progressives cracking jokes about incest or marrying cousins or having sex with farm animals,[2] I— well, actually I just don’t get the feeling that y’all are really on our side, somehow. Or that you are quite as un-bigoted as you might have thought that you were.

  1. [1] Of course there is no right way for government to do sex education, or any kind of education, or to run schools at all; so the best thing to do is simply to get rid of all government control over education, period. In the meantime, when state laws specifically require schools to insert content into lessons which is harmful and false, I’ll be happy to see those specific requirements get axed.
  2. [2] See, it’s funny because poor people living in rural areas have often been socially marginalized and ridiculed with broad stereotypes about their supposed deviant sex practices. Ho, ho.