2 years ago

Thoughts from a UA student: There are no ‘safe zones’ in real life

University of Alabama President's Mansion (Photo: Dave Smith)
University of Alabama President’s Mansion (Photo: Dave Smith)

College is a time of great growth; at least it is supposed to be. It’s an environment where people from all across the globe come together to share in a collective learning experience. But the learning does not just stem from professors. Students learn just as much, if not more, from each other than they do from the PhDs.

In my three years at the University of Alabama, I have met many brilliant people. The Capstone of Higher Education is rich in intellectual talent. As both a political science and history major, I have also come across brilliant students with whom I disagree. In fact, I’d say I disagree with most students in class discussions a majority of the time. And that’s okay.

I’ve heard some pretty unsettling things both in and out of the classroom. In fact, some of those things offended me very much. And that’s okay, too. Because that’s real life–the real life that college is supposed to prepare you for.

Recently, the topic some college students have been most offended about is race. Inspired by the protests taking place at the University of Missouri and other campuses around the country, a group of students at UA has organized to create a more “racially equitable environment”. Among their extensive list of demands is a call for “safe zones for students of color in the Ferguson Center.”

Unfortunately, there are a few people in society, including a handful at UA, who haven’t quite caught up to the post-Civil Rights Movement mindset. From my experience, these people are in the minority, not part of the administration, and looked down upon by most of the student body. But in regards to the select few, we as college students must not get carried away with limiting speech just because we find offensive, granted that it does not provoke a physical threat.

The institutionalized racism of Jim Crow and the cultural racism that some still ascribe to today are two totally different beasts that must be handled differently.

The easy answer to any societal problem is to have the government intervene to fix it. The government has the power of coercion; the ability to make anyone in its borders obey whether they want to or not. But government cannot change the minds of those who judge people by the color of their skin and not by the content of their character. What it can do, however, is protect the natural rights of those who are minorities from undue infringement on their personal liberties.

So called “safe zones” that one particular group on campus is calling for now are clearly unconstitutional. Excluding individuals of a certain race from an area inside a publicly-owned facility directly contradicts the 14th Amendment’s famous equal protection clause.

Whether we like it or not, America has an extensive history of protecting speech that is extremely unpopular. The Supreme Court has sided numerous times with hateful groups in order to protect the virtue of free speech. Texas v. Johnson upheld the expressive right to burn the American Flag. Snyder v. Phelps held that the Westboro Baptist Church could not be held liable for tort distress by protesting military funerals on a public sidewalk despite the speech being “outrageously offensive.” And in R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, the court struck down an ordinance banning speech that “arouses anger, alarm or resentment in others on the basis of race, color, creed, religion or gender,” because it prohibits otherwise permitted speech solely on the basis of the subjects the speech addresses.

The First Amendment prevents government from punishing speech because it disapproves of the ideas being expressed. We cannot extend the freedom of expression only to those with whom we agree. That is a very, very dangerous determination to make.

The entire debate is misguided because participants are given a false choice between being for liberty or for racial equality. It’s entirely possible to be anti-racism and pro-free speech. Saying you have to choose one or the other is a false dichotomy.

Safe zones are also counterproductive to any type of constructive dialogue on any critical issue. Yes, racism is a problem: always has been, always will be. And yes, we need to be reasonably proactive and not just tolerate unacceptable behavior as “part of the human condition.” But we need to raise our standards without betraying our values. Taking away free speech is always an attractive argument to stymie those with whom we disagree. But it is worth remembering that the argument we make to take away someone else’s rights today, can be turned right back around on us tomorrow.

Colleges can try to hide problems, but there are no safe zones in real life. People will always disagree. They may even say something morally reprehensible. The walls of a safe zone can keep out offense for some time, but one day those problems will come knocking on the door.

The Civil Rights movement was not only successful because it had the moral high ground, but because it used incredibly successful tactics. Dr. King and others did not hide in safe zones: they went to the heart of the problem and confronted hate with love. They went to Selma, to Montgomery, to Jackson, and Memphis until the whole world saw what they were fighting for and took action.

One can’t help but see the irony of the modern offshoot of the civil rights movement — which fought so hard for integration — now asking for a special place based on race. Let’s have an open dialogue, one where people of all races and viewpoints exercise our right to expression to the fullest.

I will stand with my fellow college students against genuine racism, but only so far as the my commitment to individual liberty will allow me. Unification, dialogue, and freedom are always better than separation, echo-chambers, and repression.

To those select few who are stuck in the 1960s: they can keep their racism, I’ll keep my enlightened worldview. To those who want to restrict right of individuals to speak freely and openly: they can keep their safe zones, I’ll keep the Constitution.


2 hours ago

Alabama Senate delays vote on church ‘Stand your Ground’ law

The Alabama Senate has delayed a vote on a proposed revision of the state’s self-defense law to clarify that deadly force can be used to defend someone in a church.

Senators delayed a Thursday vote after at least one senator threatened a filibuster.

Sen. Bobby Singleton said that the legislation is encouraging people to get “trigger happy.”


Alabama already has a self-defense law that someone can use deadly force if they reasonably believe a person is about to kill them or another person. The bill adds that people can use deadly force if they believe a person is about to use physical force against a church member or employee.

Supporters pointed to deadly church shootings and said members need the legal protection to respond to a threat.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

2 hours ago

Debbie Long is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

This summer, Debbie Long will call it a career at Protective Life Corp.

What a career it has been.

Long, who also is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact, served as executive vice president, chief legal officer and corporate secretary of the insurance company before taking on a part-time advisory role this year. She is one of Alabama’s highest-paid female executives.


Long also has been a big contributor to her community.

Long told Business Alabama in 2012 that she always wanted to be a lawyer, although first she had idealistic visions of saving the world. After graduating in 1980 from the University of Alabama Law School and then clerking for a federal appeals court Judge Frank Johnson, she went to work for a law firm and practiced corporate law.

“Although I hadn’t initially wanted to practice business law, I found I loved it,” she told the publication.

Long left the firm along with several other lawyers to help form the powerhouse Birmingham firm of Maynard, Cooper and Gale.

In 1992, Long joined the board of Protective Life as general counsel of the insurance company.

Long told Business Alabama that her advice to would-be business leaders would be to stay open to opportunities that might come along at unexpected times.

“It’s very doubtful that someone’s going to come to you early in your career and say, ‘I want to be your mentor,’” she said. “It’s far more likely you will meet people along the way who will give you great advice if you are open to receiving it. Someone at a cocktail party might say something that could change your life.”

Long has been active in the larger business community. She has served as chairwoman of the Business Council of Alabama’s Judicial and Legal Reform Committee and also has worked on the Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee, the Federal Affairs Committee and on the board of ProgressPAC — the lobby’s political action committee.

Last year, the BCA honored her with the Robert W. “Bubba” Lee Political Courage Award, given each year to someone who is willing to take the right position regardless of cost.

“She has shown through her support that she cares about the Alabama business community and she values the role we play and the jobs we create,” BCA Chairman Perry Hand said at the time. “She has been a distinguished member of the Alabama and Birmingham business communities for nearly three decades.”

Her charitable endeavors include Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Greater Birmingham, the YWCA of Birmingham, Oasis Women’s Counseling Center, the Birmingham Museum of Art and Partners in Neighborhood Growth Inc.

In addition, she serves on the Alabama Women’s Commission and the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, as well as The Fellows program of the American Bar Foundation.

“It is her commitment to excellence that has made her such a valuable asset to Alabama’s business community, and there are few individuals more dedicated to our corporate community, the rule of law, and the political arena than Debbie Long,” Hand said last year.

Join Long and special guests from across the state for a Birmingham awards event March 29 honoring the 20 Yellowhammer Women of Impact whose powerful contributions advance Alabama. Details and registration may be found here.

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”

2 hours ago

Alabama Rural Broadband Act on governor’s desk

A bill that would provide grants to aid rural broadband expansion is on Gov. Kay Ivey’s desk.

The legislation was delivered to the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon after the Senate adopted changes to the Alabama Rural Broadband Act previously made in the House.

Originally conceived as a bill that would offer tax incentives to companies to provide high-speed internet services to some of the state’s more remote areas, the bill was changed to offer grants instead. Projects that would provide speeds of 25 megabits per second down and 3 megabits per second up would be eligible for $1.4 million per project, while projects providing minimum speeds of 10/1 could get $750,000 each.


The bill is expected to provide $10 million annually, with the program being administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs. Private providers and cooperatives would be eligible for the money, but government entities would not.

The sponsor, Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville), wanted to give providers tax credits for providing broadband rather than cash. The bill still has safeguards in place – the money won’t be received upfront and a legislative committee would monitor the program for effectiveness.

Scofield couldn’t be reached for comment this week.

Ivey is expected to sign the bill after speaking about the need for such programs in her January State of the State speech. The legislation sailed through the Alabama Legislature, receiving unanimous yes votes in the House on Tuesday and in the Senate concurrence vote on Wednesday.

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia), said grants are better for taxpayers.

“It’s more transparent and gives us more accountability,” he said.

In reality, both funding mechanisms have been dismissed by critics. The MacIver Institute said in a 2014 report that incentives can actually hurt economic growth, while Obama’s stimulus grant program was one of the more stark examples of grant largesse.

Alabama lawmakers hope their broadband plan goes hand-in-hand with a proposal from President Trump to spend an immediate $200 billion and long-term $1.5 trillion on infrastructure improvements. Trump hopes to spur more public-private partnerships – so-called P3s – with his proposal to help state and local governments shoulder more of the load. But his plan has faced criticism on both sides – Democrats aren’t fans of the president’s goal to put more costs on the states, while many Republicans say the plan calls for too much spending and haven’t exactly deemed it a high priority this session.

Some on both sides have criticized the lack of any guaranteed funds for broadband, although the plan cites high-speed internet as an infrastructure priority. There are concerns that federal broadband grants could accelerate the growth of government internet projects, which have largely been a sinkhole for taxpayer money.

3 hours ago

Alabama Committee approves ethics exemption for economic developers

An Alabama Senate committee has approved legislation, pushed by the state’s top industry recruiter, to exempt professional economic developers from the state ethics law.

The Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development Committee approved the House-passed bill Wednesday on a 10-2 vote. It now moves to the Senate floor.


The proposal would exempt professional economic developers from the rules that govern lobbyists. The rules include registering with the state, undergoing yearly training and reporting activity.

Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield has said professional site developers, who help businesses decide where to locate, will not work in Alabama if they must register as lobbyists.

Ethics Commission Executive Director Tom Albritton has expressed concern about exempting a group of people, whose primary job involves interacting with government officials, from the state ethics law.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

Human trafficking bill that would impose severe penalties for obstruction is step closer to becoming law

Anyone who obstructs a human trafficking investigation in Alabama could be met with the same penalties as the traffickers if the governor signs a bill that passed the House this week with near unanimous support.

The bill, which already passed the Senate, increases penalties in place for those who obstruct, interfere with, prevent, or otherwise get in the way of law enforcement’s investigation into the practice that includes child sex trafficking.

Under current law, such obstruction is only a Class C felony and could result in just one year in prison. The new legislation would increase the maximum offense to a Class A felony, with a minimum jail sentence of ten years.


Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) sponsored the bill and said he is proud that the Alabama Legislature made this a priority.

“This week we’ve taken another crucial step in ending this horrific practice,” Ward said in a statement. “By increasing penalties for those who would aid traffickers, we will hold them just as accountable as the traffickers themselves.”

Human trafficking victims are often children who are trafficked into sexual exploitation at an average age between 11-14 years old, according to the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force.

“Most people assume, ‘Well, that doesn’t happen in my backyard,’” Ward said in an interview with Yellowhammer News when the bill was first introduced. “…It’s everywhere in our state, but there’s low awareness as to how bad it really is.”

Just this week, a Decatur man pled guilty to child sex trafficking and other charges related to his plan to kidnap, rape and kill a mother and sell her 14-year-old daughter to a Memphis pimp, according to horrifying details reported by the Decatur Daily.

Brian David “Blaze” Boersma’s plan was thwarted because an informant, who Boersma recruited to help him with his plan, alerted the FBI.

“Oftentimes it’s like what we say with terrorism,” Ward said. “If you see something suspicious, tell somebody, because a lot of times, trafficking can take place right underneath our noses in our communities.”

The legislation to increase penalties for obstructing human trafficking investigations was delivered to Governor Kay Ivey for her signature Wednesday afternoon.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News.