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News contrast of the week: Robert Bentley & Elliot Williams

I have a short attention span these days, but how can you blame me? Information flies past as fast as bullets: 43 dead from an earthquake in Japan, more extremists recruited from Tunisia than any other country, a shooting a mile away at O’Grady’s Tavern, heroin addict on the nod causes car accident on East Johnson, “What the Perfect Female Body Looks Like Around the World,” Trump wins the New York primary, George Clooney speaks out against money in politics, there’s still a drought in California, and “These 31 World War II Facts Will Blow Your Mind.”  

In a constant stream of media, it’s necessary to forget things in order to make mental space for others. Or to become so overwhelmed–and disheartened–that our brains let go of bits and pieces of “news” to save our sanity.

That’s why I wanted to draw attention to two articles I read this week that pointed out particularly egregious injustices that I don’t think should be forgotten. Both happened in the deep South. Each happened to individuals on opposite ends of the spectrum of race and power.

A collage of Governor Robert Bentley and Elliot Williams.
Photos courtesy of & The Daily Beast

The first piece is about Alabama governor, Robert Bentley, who had his forgotten wallet flown to him while vacationing at his beach house. The incident cost taxpayers an estimated $4,000 because it involved using a state law enforcement helicopter. Bentley claimed that he didn’t specifically ask for a helicopter–just that law enforcement immediately bring him his wallet, so he could go out and get something to eat. As the governor, he’s owed that. Obviously.

Keep in mind that Alabama is a state where the average resident makes 20% less income than the U.S. national average and 19.3% of the state’s residents live in poverty. Plus, Governor Bentley may very well have driven the 5 hours from his Tuscaloosa home to his beach house without his wallet because he’d gotten in a fight with his wife. Over the affair he was having with his adviser. An offense, much like the wallet incident, that the governor is refusing to step down over.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is what the Daily Beast recently reported on. Another southern town, another gross injustice. Imagine this: you’re an Army vet, possibly with previous mental health issues that were never diagnosed and probably with PTSD, whose wife leaves you. You begin to unravel and move in with your parents. The stress of everything crushes you, and you find yourself having a nervous breakdown in a hotel lobby where you’ve been staying since you split up with your wife. Things might seem bad, but they’re about to get worse.

After attending church with your family, you sit on the hotel’s front lawn, not hurting anyone, but pulling out clumps of grass and talking to yourself. You haven’t slept in days. Your father–because he isn’t sure what else to do–calls the police. You jab yourself in the chest, begging the officers to put you out of your misery. The next thing you know, you’ve been pepper sprayed in the face, arrested, and an EMT is cleaning out your eyes. In spite of the horrific injuries you’ll soon sustain, this is the last medical care you’ll receive. No, you weren’t transferred to a North Korean prison camp or Abu Ghraib or Auschwitz. You were booked into the Tulsa County Jail for “interfering with a police officer.” There, you’d die a slow death from a spinal cord injury and dehydration.

You’d be treated like an animal in a country where animals are seen as incapable of feeling: you’d be thrown–since you’re paralyzed and can’t stand up–onto a shower floor for over an hour because you soiled yourself. You’d have meal after meal–none of which you were able to eat–thrown onto the floor of your cell. After telling a nurse that you couldn’t move your neck, you’d be told you were “fine” and to “quit faking your injuries.” Within a week, you’d be dead. This is Elliot Williams’s story.

This disparity between these two men’s lives is shocking. It brings to mind a song we used to sing every Friday in elementary school, right hands covering our hearts:

Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev’ry gain divine!

–“America, the Beautiful”



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