Amid a lengthy review process of the protest in early June, the Huntsville Police Citizens Advisory Council (HPCAC) held its first public listening session.
On Wednesday, more than 20 people came out to offer their thoughts about how Huntsville Police handled the protests following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in late May.
All but one person offered various rebukes of the department's actions, both during the protests and after when Huntsville Police Chief Mark McMurray offered an after-action report.
“They used the 'outside agitator' thing to discredit the fact that we have justifiably angry citizens here. Justifiably angry,” said Catherine Hereford, a community activist.
After the Huntsville City Council passed a resolution in early July calling for the HPCAC to conduct a thorough review of the events between May 30 and June 5, the council retained the services of Birmingham-based law firm Lightfoot, Franklin & White, LLC.
Attorneys Liz Huntley and Jack Sharman attended Wednesday's meeting and said their role in the HPCAC's review is to help them navigate a complicated process and to assist in being transparent to the public.
"Framing a process that was both transparent, that was shrouded in integrity and that found a way to capture all of the information that would be available to them as they conduct this very serious investigation,” Huntley said.
She said some of those steps include the public listening sessions along with collecting written comments, photos and video from the protests as well as evidence from law enforcement. Those items will be published to the council’s website for public viewing.
“The goal of this council is to put it all out there. There’s nothing to hide, it’s a very transparent process and, to the extent that things are allowed to be put on the website, including requests that are made and people not complying and not giving information that’s requested,” Huntley said.
“So we want the public to know what the counsel knows and what they’ve experienced in terms of gathering this information.”
During Wednesday’s listening session, residents like Russell Stanners argued that Huntsville Police were out of bounds when they used tear gas and rubber bullets. He pleaded with HPCAC to be thorough and to fairly assess what happened during the protests.
“I need you to do something about that. Are we 'law and order' or are we 'protect and serve'? One serves power, the other serves the people,” Stanners said.
Bob Baccus, who said he was a long-time friend of Chief McMurray, was the only person who spoke on Wednesday in support of Huntsville Police.
He said he wasn’t at the protests in early June and told WAAY 31 he was not certain if the use of gas and rubber bullets was appropriate.
But he argued that their use would not have been necessary had the protesters dispersed when told by officers.
“You be prepared for the worst and expect the best, expect people to disperse and go home. And if they'd dispersed and gone home, we wouldn't have had the meeting tonight,” Baccus said.
The HPCAC is scheduled to hold another listening session on August 28 from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. The ten-member council is also working on a meeting in September when they can listen to presentations from local community groups.
A date for that has not been set.
Huntley said there isn’t a deadline for when this process will conclude, but imagines it will likely be months instead of weeks, because the council is undertaking this work on top of their other jobs.
“This fact-finding phase is very comprehensive, very involved, requires a tremendous amount of work that shouldn’t be on the backs of these volunteer citizens that have lives and jobs and careers. And we’re here to help facilitate and assist, to help them gather those facts in a very deliberate, intentional, organized, transparent way, so that they can have a thorough review,” Huntley said.
She added that letters of request for data and information are being sent not only to the Huntsville Police Department, but to other agencies involved in the protests, like the Madison County Sheriff’s Office, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and any federal agencies that may have been involved.