Race Relations: What's Happening in Montgomery?

An incident involving an alleged beating of a suspect by former Montgomery Police Officer Jesse Dodd brought protests and calls for the resignations of Chief John Wilson and Mayor Bobby Bright. But, others claimed the protests were nothing more than politics.

Several of the loudest protestors are politicians, or people aspiring to run for office. WSFA's Beth Jett asked them if they were perpetuating racial hostility for political gain. Reverend John Alford, serving as elected president of the Montgomery Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, helped lead dramatic protests at city hall. He protested even when others thought there was nothing to protest.

Beth: "For those people who say your protest was politically motivated, what is your response?"

Alford: "I have no response, just simply to say that it was not politically motivated."

Beth: "Even though, afterwards, you did achieve national status?"

Alford: "Yes, I did, which I'm very humble and very grateful to have been voted unanimously to be a member of the national board of directors. It was quite an honor."

Senator Charles Steele nominated Alford to the board after protesting with him on behalf of Samuel Day. As president of the state SCLS, Steele says he's not motivated by politics, but by God and people. "My action is on a daily basis to serve the grassroots," he said. "There are people within Montgomery, throughout this nation as well as Tuscaloosa, where I live, who are afraid and can't speak out for themselves."

Meanwhile, attorney Julian McPhillips, an aspiring politician, took Samuel Day's case, filing a claim against the city alleging brutality. Since then, McPhillips says at least ten more people hired him for similar cases. About 75% of the complainants are black. Most of the others are white. "Most lawyers in town would tell you they are very tough cases," McPhillips said. "That's why I'm the only one taking them."

City Councilman Tracy Larkin is black and grew up in Montgomery, but isn't quick to blame police. "Some of the cases that have taken place here in the last several months with police brutality and police shootings, I think that certainly, some black politicians, some black organizations have attempted to exploit and use these issues for their own aggrandizement," he said.

As for the police, they say they'll continue to "serve and protect" the public, despite the criticism. And the criticism won't go away unless all segments of the population see eye to eye, from the public to city leaders to police. Remember, perception is not the same as reality.

For part one of Beth's report, click here.
For part two of Beth's report, click here.