Commentary on Alabama Law and Society

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Location: Birmingham, Alabama

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Rosa Parks Act

This morning, WBHM had a good story on the proposed act. If you are unfamiliar with it, it is HB 592, and it provides a means for folks who were arrested for violating segregation laws to obtain a pardon. This is the essential part:

A person who has been convicted of violating a state law or municipal ordinance whose purpose was to maintain or enforce racial separation or discrimination of individuals, upon application to the State Board of Pardons and Paroles shall be granted a pardon of the conviction.

Sounds good, but as explained in the WBHM story, there are several problems with it.

First, why did this take so long? How many people have missed out on jobs or other benefits because they had a criminal record for breaking segregation laws?

Second, the bill is more than a little presumptuous. If I was someone to whom this bill applies, I would tell the state to kiss my butt. The state of Alabama is the one who needs to ask for a pardon.

Third, one of the principles of the non-violent civil rights activists was to calmly accept the penalty for breaking these unjust laws. In so doing, they were living witnesses to the absurdity of the laws. As the WBHM story explains, that these folks are still on the books as 'criminals' is a continual reminder of our sins. It helps to ensure these types of things won't happen again, and that we will work to correct them.

There is no way to fix the first problem, all we can do is beg forgiveness.

As for the second problem, the bill should change the language. Make the last sentence say "shall be recognized by this state as having been right, and the state shall provide an official personalized apology and provide all the benefits associated with an official pardon."

For the third problem, maybe set up some type of public record containing the names of all the unjustly arrested people and the punishments they endured. It could explain how wickedly the state acted, and promise to honor these folks by never doing so again.