Police Killing Of Black Man And Arrests Of Protesters Outrages Alabama City

Photos: GoFundMe\YouTube Screenshots

The Alabama police killing of Stephen Clay Perkins (shown below with family) on September 29th, 2023, is angering many residents in Decatur.

In the spring of 1978, police in Decatur, Alabama, arrested 26-year-old Tommy Lee Hines and charged him with raping two white women and robbing one. Before he could be brought to trial, he was charged with the rape of a third white woman.

It didn’t matter that Hines was at least four inches shorter than a description of the perpetrator, had the mental capacity of a 6-year-old and could neither read nor write the confession that he allegedly signed. He was set to go to trial that October in Cullman, some 40 miles south of Decatur.

When the trial date approached, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference staged a march from Decatur to Cullman to protest his arrest. Alabama state troopers and members of the Ku Klux Klan met the protesters at the Cullman city limits, where some people were arrested for marching without a permit.

The next year, following Hines’ conviction, marchers in Decatur were attacked by about 100 Klansmen wielding clubs, baseball bats and ax handles, leaving two Klansmen and a Black woman marcher shot in the head and face, and several others injured. That incident led to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s first civil rights lawsuit against the Klan.

Almost a half-century later, descendants of those who marched for Hines are now organizing their own marches, demonstrations and rallies to protest the police shooting death of Stephen Clay Perkins in Decatur. And, like their predecessors, they are being arrested for exercising their First Amendment rights.

“Over the course of the times we’ve had rallies and demonstrations to protest there’s been nine arrests,” said Aneesah Saafiyah, one of the organizers with the racial justice group Standing In Power (SIP). Her father, Danny Saafiyah Sr., had been one of the lead organizers during the Hines protests and march. “Our protests haven’t been violent. None have been. No one has been attacking the police or anything like that. It’s just the intimidation tactics that the police use.”

Perkins, 39, was shot to death in the early hours of Sept. 29 in front of his home. Initially, police said Perkins refused orders from officers to put down a weapon when a tow truck operator tried to repossess Perkins’ pickup truck. But security camera footage from neighboring homes tells a different story.

In the video footage, after Perkins walks out of his house and yells for the tow operator to put his truck down, two police officers are seen running from the side of Perkins’ house. “Police! Get on the ground!” an officer yells immediately before opening fire.

At least 18 shots can be heard in the video. Perkins was hit seven times. He was declared dead at a local hospital. Since that fateful 11-second encounter, his family, friends and community have sought answers.

“Communities want to believe that police officers are here to serve and protect everyone,” said Tafeni English-Relf, the SPLC’s Alabama state director. “They also want to trust law enforcement’s policies and procedures, not be undermined by them. The lack of humanity displayed towards Steve Perkins in front of his home has severely eroded that trust.”

The SPLC’s Alabama state office has been working alongside the members of SIP and community leaders to demand justice for Perkins. The SIP has called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate.


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