The crux of the reporting was about unaccountable police in America, predators squeezing a tiny town (and anyone daring to drive through) into an extortion racket.
Brookside, Al [population 1,200] had very little crime reported to the state, yet used fines and fees to bring in half the town revenue.
Additional awards were collected by these journalists and their “Banking on Crime” series.
“The chief’s pretty upset about that post you put on Facebook,” he recalled the officer saying [about losing freedom of speech]. […] “We had cameras in dispatch and there were multiple times when … he would bring an inmate into his office and shut the door,” she said [about losing freedom of religion]. “I witnessed that he would evangelize to them. And the only way they’d be able to get out of jail is if they accepted Christ. They’d be given a Gideon’s Bible because the previous mayor was a Gideon, and they’d be released from jail.”
The blistering reports deftly exposed the Alabama town for all its awful corruption; the ways police operated as militant evangelical Christian profit centers where poverty and race were criminalized.
In other words, their war on alcohol, their war on drugs… it’s always just been a cover for white supremacist platforms.
“Following the Civil War, Southern States enacted Black Codes to subjugate newly freed slaves and maintain the prewar racial hierarchy,” she wrote in the Timbs v. Indiana decision. “Among these laws’ provisions were draconian fines for violating broad proscriptions on ‘vagrancy’ and other dubious offenses.”
Prewar racial heirarchy. Also known as America’s origin story of creating a caste system for profit.
Using the law to control and profit off poor people in general, and poor Black people in particular, continued through the 20th century. Especially in the South, where the convict-lease system incentivized incarceration to provide cheap labor and enrich private contractors. It survived through that whole century and stormed again into the 2000s, as private probation companies invaded states like Georgia and Alabama and many more.
When you realize America’s Revolutionary War was all about profits by a small group of white men (not about freedom or liberty), which historians now plainly state as matter of fact, then this Alabama town just shows how some Americans are just very, very slow to accept guilt and defeat in Civil War.
Of course this tiny police department, run by white supremacists, in the middle of nowhere, was buying expensive military vehicles as if at war.
They saw themselves as Taliban-esque Christian male warriors, touchless crusaders out to terrorize Blacks… like President Woodrow Wilson’s “America First” post-1915 Clansmen (e.g. Red Summer).