“I’m Done With Rallies”: Tuscaloosa City Council Weighs Aggressive Policing as Violent Crime Spikes
The Tuscaloosa City Council discussed tough policing measures to combat violent crime in the area Tuesday during an obviously frustrated meeting of the city's Public Safety Committee.
One thing was immediately clear -- city leaders are not satisfied with the status quo, in which repeat offenders known to law enforcement commit indiscriminate, violent crimes and face few immediate consequences while community leaders are left in the aftermath to organize rallies, marches and candlelight vigils.
"I'm done with rallies because the same people who rally come up here and protest and give us hell and stick us the bird and say 'Hey, y'all aren't serving the community but then say hey, come support us, support a rally,'" said District 7 Councilman Cassius Lanier. "Nobody who you're trying to rally for is there. The shooters ain't at your rallies. The parents of the young kids are not at your rallies."
The problem of gun violence is obviously a deeply complex one, complicated by family issues, cultural problems, mental illnesses, easy access to weapons and a justice system bogged down with more felonies to investigate and prosecute than it can reasonably handle.
Last week, a 3-year-old was shot in the pool of an apartment complex, caught in the crossfire of a group of juveniles who started a gunfight with each other. Five suspects have been arrested in that case, and their ages range from 16 to 19.
Solutions proposed Tuesday varied. Tuscaloosa Police Chief Brent Blankley said the primary way the council can help curb violence in the community is to show up at crime scenes and actively encourage the constituents they represent to cooperate with police to get bad actors off the streets.
"If anybody wants to make a true difference in this city, show up at those scenes and say 'I'm not scared of these young punks that are shooting. Somebody tell me who it was and I'll go to the police,'" Blankley said.
District 2's Raevan Howard, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, called for stricter enforcement of the city's curfew laws, which forbid people under 18 from being out of their homes after 10 p.m. on most nights and after 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
Lanier, who said he was no stranger to crime and violence in his early life, called for more drastic measures.
"What if we start a gun task force and we start raiding the neighborhoods and raiding the areas where the heat map is exploding?" Lanier asked. "Of course, we'd be labeled as targeting, as stop-and-frisking, but we need to do everything we can at this point because you can't even pump gas at the gas station now."
Raiding problem areas for firearms is an extreme step, but Lanier said making a safer city will require drastic measures.
"We have to get really aggressive but the problem is when we try to police really aggressively, then we get kick-back from the community until another baby dies, and then we get complaints," Lanier said. "We've got to have a reality check. Do we want a safe community? When you have a safe community, it calls for aggressive policing, it calls for community involvement. If you see something, say something. We've got to get rid of the 'no-snitch' code."
Councilman John Faile, a retired police officer, encouraged parents to get proactive instead of worrying about the privacy of their children.
"If anybody's listening and they're a parent and they want to do something, I'm going to encourage them to go in their child's room, go through their drawers. If you see something in there whether it's drugs or a gun or a knife or whatever, call the police," Faile said. "Call the police and let them deal with it. Go in your child's room -- they don't have any expectation of privacy whatsoever. Be a parent."
Even after a shooting suspect is arrested, it can take three to five years for the case against them to move through the court system -- years that suspects generally spend back on the street on bond, except in cases of capital murder.
Tuscaloosa County District Attorney Hays Webb attended the committee meeting and said each of the eight prosecutors working felonies in his office has more than 500 cases on their desks. Bringing a case to trial or reaching a plea deal takes time, and as the small staff works tirelessly to bring closure to old cases, new felonies are committed every day.
The DA's office is funded by the state with supplemental funding from the Tuscaloosa County Commission, and Webb and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox said without significant financial support from Montgomery to hire more staff, the felony backlog problem is not going away any time soon.
Webb also called for a return to the nuclear family, strong marriages and strong parenting, adding that young children are looking up to teenagers as role models on how to be a man.
"My whole purpose for this meeting today is we have to do something," District 2 Councilwoman Raevan Howard said, who represents West Tuscaloosa, where violence has been particularly prevalent this year. "This is coming down to the final hour, the last call."
The hourlong meeting brought several ideas to the table, but did not lead to any official recommendation or measure for the full council to consider or vote on Tuesday.
Watch a stream of the entire committee meeting below, and stay connected to the Tuscaloosa Thread for updates on public safety measures as they develop.