Em-URGE-ing Voices

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Alabama Beyond Policing Campaign Summer 2020

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July 20, 2020

URGE is participating in a larger campaign being coordinated by ACLU Alabama, which is calling on local officials to make meaningful efforts to decrease arrests and jailing people, given the global pandemic we are all navigating. We specifically have noted that in Alabama & Texas, police are involved in enforcing stay at home orders and curfews. Our policy asks are: that they make changes to their policing practices that respect COVID-19 recommendations released by the CDC and that they aim to avoid arresting folks and putting them in jail as much as possible, given the public health risks of transmission in jails and prisons. We are accompanying these policy asks with a political education campaign to start a conversation with our members and communities about the public health consequences of policing and how policing is a reproductive justice issue. Public education materials might include the use of yard signs, stickers, and posters as well as social media, webinars, and community conversations. 

URGE’s Role

URGE Alabama & Texas are stepping up into the work of police and prison abolition as our recent Young People’s Reproductive Justice Policy Agenda revealed our people want us to ensure the safety of young women, young people of color, immigrant youth, and LGBTQIA+ youth by addressing issues of persistent criminalization. The disproportionate policing of our people interferes with their personal bodily autonomy and the right to parent children in safe and sustainable communities, core tenants of Reproductive Justice. 


“Mayors have been making rules locally that have punitive consequences (ie masking rules, curfews). One of the things that is increasing jail crowding is the criminalization of people who are not following these new local COVID-19 related rules.”

  • What local rules have mayors been making? What are the punitive consequences to these rules? 
  • On March 13, 2020 Mobile Mayor Stimpson released an executive order requiring masks in public spaces within the City of Mobile which imposes a penalty for violators of a fine. 
  • On March 27, 2020 Montgomery Mayor Reed released an executive order setting a nightly curfew of 10PM to 5AM that was in effect until Jun 20, 2020 which imposed a penalty for violators of a fine or up to 180 days in jail.
  • On June 17, 2020 Montgomery Mayor Reed released an executive order requiring masks or face-coverings in public spaces within the City of Montgomery which imposed a penalty for violators of a fine. On July 7, 2020 the Montgomery City Council adopted the Mayor’s ordinance, adding a penalty for violators of a misdemeanor charge and fine. 
  • In these dire economic times for many, the imposition of a fine will exacerbate the economic crises and further endanger the ability for families in marginalized communities to survive.
  • The goal of these tactics should be to promote public health by preventing the infliction of harm, and given the grave risks of COVID-19 exposure in jails, the use of custodial arrests to punish violation of public health restrictions is not appropriate and should almost never be the outcome of enforcement efforts.
  • These examples are not exhaustive and are just a sample of what’s happening. The details aren’t so much the point, as the fact that police interactions and jailing is happening and is bad for public health.

“Police in Alabama have been putting too many people in jail during COVID-19.”

  • As of April 22, 2020, according to reports by AL.com, Mobile police issued 17 citations of $100 each for curfew violations so far, the most among the largest cities in Alabama that have adopted local ordinances aimed at keeping people at home.

“We have seen from data that bringing people in and out of jails will only increase jail crowding and endanger the lives of people incarcerated, their families, the jail staff, and the broader communities.”

  • What does the data say exactly? 
  • Disparate police enforcement has led to an over-representation of Black people in our jails where they struggle with the impossibility of social distancing.
  • As of April 9, 2020, the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office confirmed six incarcerated people and nine corrections officers have received a positive test for COVID-19.
  • As of June 29, 2020 41 of the 65 total COVID-19 cases among inmates remained active, while 82 of the 163 cases among staff were still active. Coronavirus cases have been confirmed in 27 of the state’s 32 facilities.
  • As of June 30, 2020, six Alabama inmates have died from COVID-19. 
  • Public health experts and groups have all clearly stated that preventing the harm inflicted by COVID-19 can become immensely more difficult for people involved in the criminal legal system.
  • In this moment, it remains paramount that we follow the guidance of public health experts and turn not to punitive responses and sanctions but rather to providing resources, community guidance, and policies that maintain the public health and safety of all people.

“Policing during a global pandemic is a direct threat to all of our health.”

  • Isn’t not wearing masks, not following social distancing guidelines, and other “criminal” activity also a direct threat to all of our health? 
    • Criminalizing activity does not stop the spread of COVID
    • Giving out masks and making information widely accessible are both better alternatives than criminalizing behavior 
    • Rich people can pay any fines, this causes poor people to be jailed disproportionately (& half of all Americans are out of a job right now) & masks aren’t free
    • Masks are not widely accessible for free 
    • The US government has changed its mask protocol since the start of the pandemic Lack of high profile public officials/leaders wearing masks leads to people not wearing masks. NOT leading by example 
    • Cops have the choice not to wear masks themselves.
  • Punitive enforcement also often overlaps with other law enforcement practices that endanger public health, including continuing to make arrests for low-level offenses and detaining people based on suspected immigration status.
  • We have real concerns that enforcement of COVID-19 related restrictions will target people of color and low-income people for the most aggressive enforcement – not because of race-based differences in the underlying conduct, but because of racially disparate police enforcement patterns.
  • It endangers the most vulnerable in our community when officers assume a crackdown will lead to compliance.

“We want local officials to make meaningful efforts to decrease arrests and jailing people. Mayors in Alabama need to issue or amend orders to remove punitive measures to COVID-19.”

  • What exactly are we asking Mayors for?
  • Instead of punitive solutions, officers should explain the rules, issue a warning rather than an immediate sanction, and engage in creative, compassionate problem-solving when people are not abiding by the restrictions.
  • The goal of police enforcement should be to facilitate long-term compliance rather than to punish non-compliance. No officer should engage in behavior that violates social distancing guidelines without wearing gloves and a mask. 
  • Enforcement of COVID-19-related restrictions should be carried out in a non-militarized manner.
  • The use of custodial arrest to enforce these restrictions is not an appropriate public health measure and should never be the outcome of these enforcement efforts.
  • It’s important for officers to try to address any underlying issues in conjunction with public health authorities, with the understanding that noncompliance reveals those for whom complying exacerbates a pre-existing lack of personal safety. 
  • In Charlotte, North Carolina, the police department is intending to “manage the order through voluntary compliance, education, dialogue and cooperation” with enforcement actions being used as a “last resort.”

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