Protecting Our Democracy

Protecting Our Democracy and Fact Checking the Fact Checker

Crime has been a key focus in the mayoral debates, but the media coverage of this issue shows a bizarrely biased disparity in the scrutiny given to each of the major mayoral candidates.

On August 7, one of the TV stations held the first mayoral debate between incumbent Sandy Stimpson and former two-term mayor Sam Jones. Immediately afterwards, one of the debate hosts charged that several of Sam Jones’ remarks were untruthful. Having failed to challenge any of Stimpson’s statements, the reporter implied Stimpson was a paragon of honesty. In the second TV debate held a week later, Stimpson aggressively pushed the line that Jones was deliberately lying about their records.

In the first debate, Jones said that crime is higher and may be at an all-time high for the city. The moderator admitted that the murder rate increased from 2015 to 2016 but said overall crime is trending downward. Going back to the March 29th 2016 edition of the Lagniappe, reporter Jason Johnson concluded that homicides, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and vehicle theft were up in 2016 from 2015 levels with an 8.9% increase in total crime, a 10.7% rise in violent crime, and a dramatic 70.8% jump in the rate of homicides. National crime statistics show patterns similar to those in Mobile, and importantly, in the here and now, as reported, serious crime has clearly increased dramatically.

In the shadow of these damning crime statistics, Stimpson promoted the then-Mobile Police Chief to be the City of Mobile’s Public Safety Director. The facts clearly are that the latest crime statistics fly in the face of Stimpson’s bold pledge to make Mobile “the safest city in America” by 2020. But the bizarre focus on singularly fact-checking Jones isn’t the only instance of misleading reporting Just Mobile has witnessed this election season:

  • In a questionable violation of campaign laws and park regulations, a Stimpson campaign event closed down a public park, removed those present leafletting with concerns about the campaign event, and had the event patrolled with a shocking number of police officers, sheriff’s deputies, and constables;
  • The Mobile City Council has shifted major resources into rainy day funds, police, capital expenditures, and inappropriate corporate subsidies while affording an ever-shorter shrift to city employees and retirees, ignoring gentrification, aggressively cutting the city’s public transportation budget, and irresponsibly curtailing support for moral imperatives like appropriately addressing our community’s homeless and housing insecure, our blind neighbors, our neighbors living with HIV/AIDS, and other communities with pressing social concerns.
  • Just Mobile’s actions have received scant media attention despite representing a broad-based, cross-issue coalition of organizations and interests;
  • In fact, not a single outlet reported on any part of Just Mobile’s candidate engagement process despite only one incumbent with the integrity to respond to Just Mobile’s exhaustive issue-based questionnaire and not a single incumbent participating in our We Hear You! town hall that saw dozens and dozens of Mobile residents raising concerns about the direction in which the city is headed;

We think it is worthy of at least some column inches that local media examine contributions to Stimpson’s campaign, as they seemingly reveal him as a clear favorite candidate of local and regional wealth. Just Mobile thinks it’s worthwhile that local media analyze the fact that at the beginning of July, he had a beginning campaign balance of $459,000 which included scores of donations to the tune of $1,000 or more as well as what appears to be well over $100,000 from the South Alabamians for Good Government PAC.

Since the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, those who exercise political speech through corporation campaign donations have gained far more sway than the individual Americans who vote at the ballot box. In Citizens United, the Court ruled that corporations have constitutionally protected free speech rights and could contribute unlimited sums for or against political candidates while their influence is hidden by rules allowing that sources of contributions be obscured.

If Mobile is to advance toward a political economy reflective of the lives and interests of its residents, we need the transparency that a watchdog press should provide in order to report on the plight of the marginalized, small businesses, workers, and our environment. The essential differences among the many candidates should be diligently illuminated, and the professed concerns central to their campaigns challenged across the board. An informed electorate should be the final arbiters in our democratic process; not the advertisers to which too many of our local mass media outlets seem to be beholden more so than to the public interest.

Just Mobile is a democratic project of the Alabama Coalition for Social and Economic Justice (ACSEJ), a group of multiracial, multicultural and LGBTQ-inclusive voices committed to transforming our community through positive collaborative, democratic, non-violent, grassroots, issue-based civic engagement in Alabama.

Economic Justice

Rev. Ellen Sims is the pastor of Open Table United Church of Christ; she delivered these remarks at the Just Mobile issues forum on Saturday, August 12th.

Two members of my church struggle every day to pay rent for their low income apartment, feed and clothe their 2-year-old, and get to their jobs. Terry and Kerry—not their real names—are in their early 20s. They graduated from Mobile high schools and have had additional job training. They are full of aspiration. Terry has worked the night shift at a low wage job at a hospital for several years, while Kerry most recently worked during the day at a fast food restaurant. Because they can’t afford child care, they have to schedule complementary work shifts. They have absolutely no support from their families. In fact, at one point DHR placed Kerry’s much younger sisters in their home briefly because of an unsafe situation at Kerry’s mother’s house. Terry and Kerry use the air conditioning at home sparingly, keep lights turned off, plan their family budget meticulously. They receive food stamps, which helps, but not enough.

“Well why isn’t your church helping?” you might be thinking. We try. One church member gave the couple a used car since there’s no public transportation near them or their jobs. We’ve brought them groceries when SNAP ran out. We’ve paid a couple of electric bills and hosted their baby shower. But they don’t want handouts, and our small church is addressing many needs. If Mobilians want to prevent the cycle of poverty, we need to go upstream to the source of the problems. The problem is rooted in an economic system that advantages those already well off. Our taxes, for instance, are regressive. Our social services are underfunded. Our public transportation is inadequate, so low wage earners must buy, insure, repair, and fuel a car—to get to work. Meaning they buy a car to get to work to pay for the car.

Kerry and Terry keep looking for better paying jobs, which becomes a job itself. Kerry, I believe, was making only $7.59/hour serving fast food long after the manager promised a raise. This same manager kept changing the start time for Kerry’s work shift by several hours, sometimes with less than a day’s notice, and since Kerry has to be home with their child while Terry works, she couldn’t always work the rescheduled shifts. So Kerry was recently fired. She now works at a bar on nights when Terry does not work. The strain has been so great that they plan to divorce. When they can afford it. Even though, as products of disrupted homes, Kerry and Terry promised themselves that would never happen to them and their child.

I married this couple, baptized their baby. And my heart breaks to watch them valiantly strive for the slightest gain toward economic stability. Thank God they are in good health. But that may not last.

You know what they need: affordable childcare, public transportation, health care, a just wage, progressive taxes to fund social safety nets–so they can work, continue their education, raise their child in a safe environment, and contribute to our community. 

Religious and community organizations are struggling these days to meet overwhelming needs. Only government has the potential to raise sufficient resources and put in place the structures and institutions that can fill unmet needs and create a well-functioning society,

The Bible speaks less about giving to charity and more about systemic solutions—like the way the early church shared all things in common and created systems to care for widows and orphans, like the gleaning system that required wealthy farmers to leave crops along the edges of their fields for the poor, like the jubilee system that canceled debts every seven years, like the way Jesus always privileged the children, the sick, the poor.

We need to think systemically and act justly. For Kerry and Terry’s sake. For yours. Please use your vote and your voice to support candidates and legislation that will enact economic justice for all.

Standing Up for Public Transit

On Tuesday evening, Just Mobile held a rally demanding better public transportation in Mobile at the Wave Transit bus stop in front of Government Plaza.


We’re disappointed with the City of Mobile’s decision to cut $700,000 from the Wave Transit budget, eliminating routes to Prichard, Chickasaw, and Tillman’s Corner.

We’re also disappointed with decisions to relocate several bus stops, making them inconvenient and inaccessible to transit riders.

The stop at Bel Air Mall was recently relocated from near the mall to a far corner of the parking lot. This stop is a transfer point for several routes because of the mall’s central location. The inaccessibility of the new location is a burden on elderly and disabled riders.

Additionally the stops at Mobile Infirmary and Springhill Memorial Hospital were recently relocated making them more inconvenient for riders seeking medical care. The stop at Mobile Infirmary was moved from the door of the hospital to a spot in the parking lot with no shelter or benches. And the stop at Springhill Memorial Hospital was relocated across Dauphin Street to the parking lot of Atlanta Bread–also with no shelter or benches. The failure to provide accessible and convenient bus stops at Mobile Infirmary and Springhill Memorial Hospital places a particularly heavy burden on transit riders because many riders traveling to hospitals are elderly or ill.

Both the cuts to the transit budget and the relocation of stops exemplify a lack of concern for the needs of transit riders.

These changes disproportionately impact the poor, the elderly, and the disabled. But they are not just immoral; they are also shortsighted.

Public transportation is a vital city service, providing members of our community with an affordable, convenient, and safe means of transportation. Many people in Mobile depend upon public transportation to get to work, to shop, to visit friends and family, and to seek medical care.

At our rally, Tamika Williams, President of the Mobile Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind, spoke of the impact these cuts have had on the visually impaired. “We’ve had people who cannot get to work. We’ve had members who have had to relocate to get to work. Transportation is the biggest issue we have to deal with in the blind community.”

The recent cuts in service and changes in accessibility at several bus stops are changes for the worse, but we don’t seek merely to undo the most recent damage. We want to see greater investment in public transportation which will pay dividends in quality of life and economic vitality. The City of Mobile cannot reach its potential without a transportation system with more routes running for longer hours and at greater frequency.

We’re disappointed that these cuts were made in the first place but are even more disappointed at our elected officials’ lack of urgency in addressing the transportation needs of the citizens of Mobile.

Make no mistake: bus service is on the ballot on August 22nd. Candidates asking for your vote must explain what they will do to improve public transportation in Mobile.