Alabama Multi-Cultural Fisher and Seafood Worker-Owned Coop Organizer Calls on Other White Alabamians to Speak Out Against Police Brutality Against African Americans

29 Sep

Outraged residents and civil rights leaders march June 7 in Alexander City, AL to protest a police shooting of unarmed African American – Part I June 19, 2014 · Reprint of Greene County Democrat June 19, 2014 (http://greenecountydemocrat.com/?tag=zack-carter)

T. C Cooley addressing the crowd

Tallapoosa County Commissioner T. C. Cooley addresses the June 7 Emerson Clayton rally. SCLC National President Charles Steele is on the front line, pictured third from left. (Photo by Rebecca Marion, NAACP)

Emerson Clayton Jr.

News Analysis and Personal

Reflection by Zack Carter

About 200 people, singing traditional Civil Rights songs loudly and with fervent passion, marched a mile in the hot noon sun, up a long hill, and finally arriving at the steps of the courthouse at this small east Alabama town. The place where a few days earlier a grand jury found a white policeman “not-at-fault” for shooting unarmed Emerson Clayton, Jr., to death. This was as he was backing out of a parking lot and away from an an angry Huddle House employee with whom he had a verbal argument. Mr. Clayton was 21 year old, African-American father of a two year old daughter, Germani Clayton.

As the marchers gathered at the starting point, folks spoke in disbelief about the recently posted video from the camera worn by the policeman who shot Mr. Crayton on March 8.

The policeman claimed that Mr. Clayton was ‘trying to run him over’. In this video one can see Mr. Crayton, backing out of a dark Huddle House parking lot as the angry cook who pursued him from the restaurant is aggressively pointing and hollering at him inches from his driver’s side window of the car.

Ten seconds later Emerson Clayton, Jr. is shot dead from several bullets fired from the policeman into the same driver’s side window. (http://www.alexcityoutlook.com/2014/05/28/breaking-grand-jury-finds-officer-not-at-fault-in-huddle-house-shooting-death/)

Bravely joining state and national Civil Rights leaders, on the front line were Emerson Crayton Jr.’s mother, Barbara Crayton, and Kolea Burns, the mother of his surviving two year old daughter Germani Clayton. The march began from the building that housed the only school African Americans could attend until the Civil Rights Movement ended segregation.

At the start of the march, the group was briefed by a U. S. Department of Justice official – of what to do in case of a counter demonstration. It had been rumored that the Ku Klux Klan was going to hold one.

After the march, people rallied for an hour and a half outside the County Courthouse in Alexander City. They listened intently to the speakers for words that could possibly bring some understanding and justice. Indeed such words arrived, and from some of the most gifted, wise, and courageous orators Alabama has to offer.

Speakers at the rally included: Benard Simelton, from Huntsville Alabama and President of the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP; Sam Alexander, President of the Tallapoosa County Chapter of the NAACP; national SCLC President Charles Steele of Tuscaloosa Alabama; several local clergy, Tallapoosa County Commissioner T.C. Cooley, Attorney Eric Hutchins of Alexander City and co-counsel for the federal wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of Mr. Clayton’s family; Emerson Clayton Jr.’s brother and others.

President Simelton delivered a strong tell-all wrap up speech, beginning with a traditional Civil Rights Movement chant: “Fired, up, Fired Up! I want to thank the Tallapoosa County Branch under the leadership of Mr. Sam Alexander for all the work that you all have done to bring about Justice in this situation.”

“I also want to thank the clergy and members of the community who have rallied together, prayed together, cried together to try and understand why this terrible thing happened to Mr. Crayton. The NAACP and the community believe that this did not have to turn out this way. ”

President Simelton immediately called out those responsible for the injustice that took Mr. Clayton’s life and the sham investigations that followed: “The Alexander City Police Department, the Alabama Bureau of Investigation, the Tallapoosa County District Attorney office all should be ashamed of themselves by the way in which they have investigated this case. The Alexander City Police Department took the life of an innocent young African American man who was only trying to leave the premises of the Huddle House Restaurant when an overzealous police officer by the name of Tommy Manesse used unnecessary force and killed young Emerson.”

“The District Attorney E. Paul Jones has threatened to prosecute those witnesses whose testimony did not match what he wanted them to say. I say to you Mr. Jones, you may be the district attorney but you are not above the law, at least not above Federal Law. The NAACP and those who are here today, do not appreciate you threatening law abiding citizens”. “I would ask Mr. Jones to clean his glasses and go and review the tape again and explain how Mr. Clayton threatened to cause harm to the police officer….”

“As I watched the tape, I ask Mr. E. Paul Jones and Mr. Manesse and the police chief if officers are required in Alexander City to identify themselves as police officers. The only thing I saw was the Huddle House employee standing outside of Juniors’ car and the police officer, I assume it was the police officer because I did not see him nor did I hear the officer identify himself as a police officer; banging on the window of junior’s car.”

One of the most riveting talks at the June 7 rally came from the young Alabama NAACP legal redress lawyer Eric Hutchin– who courageously told the crowd about secretly recorded evidence he had obtained: an audio tape of a conversation in which an alleged Alexander City policeman bragged that he and another policeman planned to kill a certain African American “…and then Alex City would have one less nigger”.

When SCLC National President Charles Steele took the podium immediately giving a strong salute to Attorney Hutchin’s brave report, and then rolled out a thunderous anti-racist message against the growing epidemic of police killings of unarmed Black men and women, the police who had been watching and apparently photographing became visibly unnerved!

Charles R. Shaw, the white mayor of Alexander City, also spoke at the Rally for Justice for Emerson Crayton, Jr. Mayor Shaw did not speak out against the shooting of Emerson Crayton, Jr., but to his credit, he stood before the crowd and welcomed everyone, saying that: ‘I hope you will all come back and we can meet again under better circumstances.’

However “better circumstances” can only come about once the following basic and reasonable democratic demands articulated by President Simelton in his speech are agreed to by the mayor and Alexander City: “We are asking three things of the Alexander City Officials; 1. Implement a Citizen Review Committee/Council; 2. Begin to have community meetings with citizens and the police and Sheriff Department; and 3. Retrain the officers on the use of deadly force and provide sensitivity training.”

For this reasonable 3 point program to have a fighting chance it will likely have to be backed up by more and larger protests, protests in which people of all colors participate, including white folks.

It was encouraging to see many Hispanic people at the rally for Emerson Crayton, Jr. –, they were representing Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice. But I was very disappointed to see that, other than Mayor Shaw, I was the only white person present.

To build such broad protests for Emerson Crayton, Jr. white people need to first understand the extent of the historic problem of police brutality, especially against African Americans, and that this problem continues today, as forcefully underscored by National SCLC President Charles Steele and others in their talks at the June 7 rally.

About the author: Zack Carter has served as the organizer for Alabama Multi-Cultural Fisher and Seafood Worker-Owned Cooperative since its founding in 2011 to the present; worked as a community organizer for 8 years; a union organizer and representative for 13 years, including 10 years while working as a machinist at Alabama Dry Dock; and taught history at the high school and college level.

Tagged with: AL to protest a police shooting of unarmed African American • Attorney Eric Hutchins of Alexander City • Benard Simelton • Civil Rights Movement • Emerson Clayton • from Huntsville Alabama and President of the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP; Sam Alexander • Germani Clayton • Huddle House employee • Ku Klux klan • Outraged residents and civil rights leaders march June 7 in Alexander City • President of the Tallapoosa County Chapter of the NAACP; national SCLC President Charles Steele of Tuscaloosa Alabama; several local clergy • Tallapoosa County Commissioner T.C. Cooley • Zack Carter

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