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  • Writer's pictureDonald V. Watkins

Public Safety in Birmingham, Alabama Has Collapsed

By: Donald V. Watkins

Copyrighted and Published on May 16, 2024


An Editorial Opinion


Public safety in Birmingham, Alabama has collapsed.  Police protection for its citizens is virtually nonexistent.  The city is as dangerous as a war zone.  Violent crime has spiraled out of control.

 

On Tuesday, Michael Phillip Coleman, a 62-year-old man confined to a wheelchair, was gunned down in a Birmingham drive-by shooting.  The murder of this wheelchair-bound victim was an unthinkable act of violence. It ushers in a new and sickening dimension of violent crime in the city.

 

What is more, on Mother's Day, gun violence in the city wounded a 9-year-old girl in a "wild west-style" shootout near her home.  On the same day, an 11-year-old boy was wounded in a second and separate Mother’s Day incident.

IMAGE: Bullet casings line the street were a 9-year-old Birmingham, Alabama girl was shot on Mother's Day.

Drive-by shootings, running gun battles on city streets (and Interstate highways within the city limits), and mass killings have become regular occurrences in Birmingham. 

 

Birmingham city officials obviously have no effective plan to combat this surge in violent crime.  They have ignored proven policing strategies for curbing violent crime.  For whatever reasons, they have become soft on violent crime.


Instead, these officials have embraced Kumbaya sessions with street criminals. They have advocated in Washington, D.C., for the decriminalization of marijuana laws. And, they have experimented with a pilot program that teaches violence prevention to juveniles.  


None of these "Photo-Op" measures is working. They sound good on social media platforms, but they are a complete waste of time and money.


On Tuesday, the city council approved Mayor Randall Woodfin's plan for a 200-person Citizens Observer Patrol to monitor crime in dangerous neighborhoods. Under the plan, Birmingham residents would volunteer and be trained to patrol the city’s neighborhoods and report criminal activity to the police.

 

Today, the only Birmingham resident who enjoys adequate, around-the-clock police protection is Mayor Woodfin. Up to four officers are assigned to Woodfin's security detail to protect him from violent crime.

 

Ordinary Birmingham citizens, who are afraid to leave their homes, must fend for themselves.

 

 

In the 1970s, Birmingham was the largest city in the state. Today, Birmingham, with a population of 193,491, is the fourth-largest city in Alabama.  Huntsville, with 227,522 residents, is number one.  Mobile, with 204,600 residents, is second.  Montgomery, with 201,287 residents, is third.

 

When Woodfin became Birmingham’s mayor in 2017, the city’s population was 211,125 residents.  Birmingham's population decreased by 17,634 residents since Woodfin assumed his office.

 

Because of (a) the surge in violent crime, (b) an understaffed police department, (c) the routine delivery of subpar basic city services, and (d) the poor quality of 25 Birmingham public schools (including two designated magnet schools), businesses and middle-class residents (black and white) are fleeing the city in droves.

Focusing on Optics Rather Than Results


The people at City Hall are focused on optics rather than results. For the most part, they are merely play-acting in the roles of mayor and council members. They have not solved the growing public safety problem that threatens the city's very existence.


What is worse, City Hall has consistently failed to use available city funds and resources to fully staff the city's police department.

 

Jefferson County, Alabama District Attorney Danny Carr and U.S. Attorney Prim Escalona (Birmingham) have not provided any leadership in curbing this violent crime, either.  As a result, violent gang members, career criminals, and drug dealers have taken over the streets of Birmingham. 


Escalona is a Donald Trump holdover appointee who has served throughout Joe Biden’s entire term as president, thanks to a political deal GOP power-players in Alabama struck with Democratic Congresswoman Terri Sewell (in exchange for campaign .donationsfor Sewell). Furthermore, Escalona has zero experience in criminal law enforcement.

IMAGE: U.S. Attorney Prim Escalona, a Donald Trump holdover appointee.

Epilogue

 

At this juncture, about the only public safety strategy left for city officials to rollout may be this desperate move:  The city of Birmingham could hand out bullet-proof vests and SWAT-style police helmets to residents who want them (free of charge) so they can go to the grocery store, neighborhood gas stations, and to and from work and church with a measure of public safety protection that affords them the best chance to survive in Birmingham's increasingly violent war zones. 

 

Since Randall Woodfin has been mayor, the city has spent over $120 million in taxpayers’ money building a football stadium for the University of Alabama at Birmingham, bailing out the World Games 2022, propping up the now-defunct Birmingham-Southern College, and financing a downtown amphitheater, all for the benefit of the over-the-mountain crowd. 


The $100 million "rainy day" savings account Mayor Richard Arrington, Jr., left in 1999 for his successors for emergencies is almost gone. There may be enougn money left in this savings account to pay for protective vests and helmets for Birmingham citizens who want this kind of public safety protection and equipment.

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Donald V. Watkins
Donald V. Watkins
May 16

There has to be more to leadership than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic after it strikes the iceberg. Anybody can rearrange deck chairs. Only the truly brave, most devoted, highly knowledgeable, and hardest working public servants can protect innocent people from violent street criminals.

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Donald V. Watkins
Donald V. Watkins
May 16

Blacks in Alabama voted overwhelmingly for Joe Biden in 2020. He “thanked” us by leaving Donald Trump’s handpicked Department of Justice officials in the state in place. Even when we win at the polls, we get nothing in return for our loyalty and votes.

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