Attorney: Civil rights fights continue

Published 12:28 am Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Approximately 30 people attended “Movie and a Message,” an event designed to raise awareness of the need for voter registration, and to share the work of the Southern Poverty law Center.

The move was “Marshall,” the story of an early, yet defining criminal defense case handled by Thurgood Marshall, the crusading lawyer who became the first African-American Supreme Court Justice. The movie highlights the trial of an African-American man accused of the rape of a white woman in Connecticut, and found innocent by an all-white jury.

The message was that in a post-Civil Right Era, there is still the need to fight for civil rights.

Southern Poverty Law Center attorney Jonathan Barry-Blocker talked about the organization’s efforts to help former felons get their voting rights restored, and shared how SPLC looks at issues in which they might intervene.

“That’s not just something your parents did or your grandparents did,” he said.

Barry-Blocker currently works as a staff attorney for SPLC in the Criminal Justice Reform practice group, and participates in the Alabama Voting Rights Project, a collaborative initiative to assist formerly incarcerated citizens with restoring and reclaiming their right to vote.

He explained that anyone, “not just lawyers,” can work on voting rights.

The SPLC does not take individual cases, he said, but looks for ways to help classes of people. For instance, the group is looking at ways to stop the flow of children into adult prisons, and researching the fees charged in juvenile cases. Baldwin County’s fees are especially high, he said.

Other issues it might consider, he said, include bonds being set at unreasonable amounts.

He said Alabama’s Constitution, ratified in 1901 at a time when the framers of the document wanted to keep power centralized, still presents problems for poor, rural Alabamians.

“It’s why your local governments can’t change many things without asking the legislature,” he said.

Barry-Blocker encouraged anyone with knowledge of issues that might need to be addressed to send information via a form available on the SPLC website,