Opinion | Something strange has happened in Decatur

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Have you been paying attention to what’s going on in Decatur? If not, you should. Because it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Maybe never.

On September 29th, Steve Perkins, a black man, was shot in his front yard by Decatur police officers during a standoff at the first vehicle raid. Soon, however, videos began to emerge from the security cameras of Perkins’ neighbors, and they showed a startling and disturbing scene leading up to the shooting.

Decatur police were basically holed up around Perkins’ home as a tow truck driver pulled up and began preparing to take Perkins’ car, which was parked in the driveway in front of the house. As Perkins exited the home and yelled at the driver, police officers jumped out of hiding and one of them opened fire after a warning.

In the hours after the shooting, a DPD statement said Perkins had a gun and pointed it at officers after being warned and told to drop the weapon. But these security videos that captured the sound told a very different story.

Perkins was given no chance to drop his weapon and in less than three seconds, an officer shot him from his hiding place near the house.

Anger ensued. And rightly so.

Protesters began gathering daily at Decatur City Hall. They started marching. Nationally known lawyers showed up to hold press conferences and meetings. There were arrests and several heated clashes between police, city officials and protesters.

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Sadly, it’s a scene that’s played out many times across the country. Sometimes violence and destruction occurred. Often there is anger and pain. There is almost always a divided local community – sharply divided between those who support the police officers involved and those who support the protest.

And that’s where things differ in Decatur.

After these many events and the disappointing reactions they bring, I thought it impossible to be surprised. I thought things were, especially in the South, where there are Confederate statues and streets still named after Lee and Davis. I really thought there was no way a black person could be harassed or killed by the police and still have a significant portion of the population support the police and find fault with the black person.

Decatur restored my faith in people.

It’s mine. Check out the various Steve Perkins groups on Facebook. Read reports about what happened at meetings and city council meetings. See protest statements and interviews.

Yes there are a handful of people who support the police and oppose the protesters. But they are tiny.

A large number of people – from all races – expressed their anger at the police action they saw in the videos. They showed up to council meetings and work sessions and all kinds of town meetings to let officials know they were watching and waiting for a solution. They are expecting accountability.

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Drive around Decatur and you’ll find #IAMSTEVEPERKINS and #JusticeforSteve signs in yards across the city — in affluent neighborhoods, middle-class neighborhoods. Businesses throughout the city have signs. Many businesses donated food and supplies to the marchers who – after two months – marched and marched every day.

Hell, a former Decatur police officer and former Decatur police chief spoke publicly about the incident and raised questions about police tactics that night.

The pressure on city officials to do the right thing with that kind of community cohesion is not easy to ignore. Because while no one can say for sure how city officials will ultimately act in this situation — if it weren’t for security videos and community outrage — we certainly know how they did in the beginning.

They lied.

And Decatur’s police chief issued a statement correcting his first press conference after the shooting. Perkins was never ordered to drop the weapon and never “refused” to drop the weapon, the statement read.

That wouldn’t happen without the majority of residents in Decatur coming together.

Not even the local investigation by city officials, because the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s investigation was, as usual, dragging on endlessly. Now, Mayor Tab Bowling said, residents will get reports from that investigation, which appears to have found violations of department policies by at least four officers.

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Bowling said the hearings for the four officers will be held Dec. 4, after which he will release the results of the investigation and determine the punishments for the officers involved.

There was discussion about re-examining police policies, starting more training and focusing on the department’s efforts to better engage with the community. And Decatur will be a better place for it.

Many Decatur citizens will tell you straight up that this has nothing to do with race. That they’re not marching because a black man was killed by the police. They are angry that the cops behaved badly and killed a man – it doesn’t matter that the man was a black man.

And that’s good. In fact, this is more than good. Because the whole Black Lives Matter movement—that’s all it takes. For black people, wrongful death is equal for all.

Decatur is a great example of what it’s like.



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