Huntsville residents continue calls for police reform in light of ruling in Breonna Taylor case

Those who spoke on Thursday highlighted the early June protests and the aftermath as reasons why there needs to be reform.

Posted: Sep 25, 2020 1:59 AM
Updated: Sep 25, 2020 8:39 AM

During Thursday's Huntsville City Council meeting, more than a dozen people used their time during public comment to call for reforms for the Huntsville Police Department.

The arguments came a day after none of the officers involved in the shooting death of Breonna Taylor were charged in connection to her killing.

Those who spoke on Thursday highlighted the early June protests and the aftermath as reasons why there needs to be reform.

"We are not anti-police. We're seeking constructive communications. That's all we're saying and that starts from the top acknowledging that reform is needed, a public acknowledgement," said Huntsville resident Lee Ellenburg.

During the section of the meeting for public comment, several people said their issue was not necessarily with individual officers, but rather with leadership.

"Better leadership can give the department a fresh start and a blank slate to implement reforms and help all citizens feel protected. It is not hard, it will just take some courage," said Vera Vergara, one of the residents who attended the meeting.

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While many of the speakers during the public comment portion of the meeting used their time to call for reforms and equitable treatment for people of all races, a trio of men used their time to defend the current location of the Confederate monument in from the of the Madison County Courthouse.

They argued that because there were some Black Confederate soldiers, the monument to the Confederacy has nothing to do with race.

"They stood up and they responded to their community, so we owe them honor. And the veterans monument, the Confederate veterans monument honors those people," said Gilbert White III.

However, white supremacy was a key part of the Confederacy. In the so-called "Cornerstone Speech" given by Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens on March 21, 1861, in Savannah, Georgia, he explicitly defends slavery and the Confederate government in a racial context.

"...its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth," Stephens said.

Later during Thursday's meeting, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle addressed the public comments regarding "lost confidence" in Huntsville Police Chief Mark McMurray.

Battle said he supports McMurray and the work he has done since being put in that office. He said important reforms, like adding tazers to the force as well as implicit bias training were signs that McMurray is being progressive in moving the department forward.

"We as a community need to move forward and it's time to move forward. But we move forward in such a way that we move forward and we take the actions that have happened over the last 10, 12 years that have been a positive change for our police force and we continue to add to them," Battle said.

Council Member Frances Akridge also committed to continuing to the dialogue about policing in Huntsville. She said a town hall would be held on Wednesday, September 30, to discuss the community's partnership with law enforcement.

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