No permit was needed for Crayton vigilPublished 8:14pm Wednesday, March 19, 2014
By Virginia Coker
My job allows me to observe the activities occurring at City Hall in Alexander City – specifically the mayor’s office. The week of March 10 was a somber and trying week for the Mayor and his staff. A man was killed by an on-duty Alexander City Police Officer, and City Hall was overflowing with citizens inquiring about the event. The Mayor and his staff could only offer a limited explanation of the death, which was under investigation by the Alabama Bureau of Investigation. Unfortunately, the few facts given left many unanswered questions about the incident, which prompted some to speculate and draw false conclusions.
I noticed that city officials became concerned over the impatience of many citizens and their hope that these people would refrain from judging until the investigation was complete. I was able to clearly see Mayor Shaw and Chief Robinson consider the possibility of chaos, violence and vigilantism occur in their city – a city they both care for a great deal. This fact weighed heavily on both leaders.
By the middle of the week, a citizen informed the Chief of Police and the Mayor about a vigil to honor the life of Emerson Crayton Jr. and to pray for the Alexander City Police Department. No permit was given for this vigil from the Mayor’s office or police department, because this citizen did not need permission to organize the assembly. His actions were protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Due to rumblings around town, city officials were worried that problems could occur at the vigil.
Then they went to work attempting to make life better in Alexander City and protect the people. These men rearranged schedules so that enough law enforcement and first responders were available if needed. Numerous other tasks were undertaken as well. All of this work is routine when an event is planned. It ensures the safety of those attending the meeting and those who chose to stay home.
Our constitution protects the right of every citizen to freely congregate on any public ground that they choose.
More than a hundred people attended the vigil last Thursday night in front of the old courthouse in downtown Alexander City, which houses the police department, a spot chosen by the organizers to both honor a young man’s life and to pray for the local police department. Numerous people including several pastors offered heartfelt prayer for the Crayton family and city’s police officers and elected leaders. The site was beautiful with young and old holding lit candles in the darkness, heads bowed, eyes closed. It was quiet and they prayed.
After the vigil was over, the crowd went home to their families. Concerned people exercised their Constitutional right to assemble.
The sun came up on Alexander City Friday morning, and city leaders reported to work. I feel certain that they were pleased that they represent a town where the Constitution is respected and that they can be a part of protecting the rights and freedoms that this document guarantees.