U.S. Attorney General’s office sends staff to gather information on voting rights infringement in Greene County
Following the recent raid on the four bingo gaming facilities in Greene County, which the citizens view as a violation of voting rights, various actions by local leaders have brought attention to Greene County from the U.S. Justice Department.
Congressperson Terri Sewell, representing the 7th Congressional District, sent a letter to the U. S. Attorney General Eric Holder calling for an investigation of potential voting rights infringement in Greene County. The March 31, 2014 bingo raid in Greene County, executed by the Alabama State Attorney General Luther Strange with the cooperation of Alabama Governor Robert Bentley and the Alabama Supreme Court, prompted this action.
Swell’s letter, along with other similar requests sent to Holder’s office, resulted in the U.S. Justice Department Community Relations Service assigning Mildred Duprey de Robles, a Conciliation Specialist, to meet with a small representative group in Eutaw, Tuesday, April 15, 2014.
Duprey de Robles contacted Eutaw Mayor Hattie Edwards and with a very short notice requested a meeting with the Mayor and a few community persons who could articulate the voting rights violations resulting from the recent actions of Attorney General Luther Strange.
The Conciliation Specialist, at the opening of the session, described her role as trying to identify the issues, real and/or perceived, and assist in resolving the same in a peaceful manner. “I am not an investigator,” stated Duprey de Robles. “I am not here to draw attention to the Community Relations Service of the Justice Department, but to call attention to the concerns and issues of the community and on what the citizens want done,” she stated.
She explained that she reached out to Mayor Hattie Edwards after reading a series of local news articles carrying the details of the bingo raids and the potential infringement of voting rights. “I requested an interview with Mayor Edwards along with a small group of citizens,” she said. Luther ‘Nat’ Winn stated that he had been selected to represent the bingo gaming facilities in the county and was asked by Mayor Edwards to attend the meeting.
A chronological overview of the state’s actions to shut down bingo gaming in Greene County, despite the constitutional amendment approved by the Alabama legislature and the voters of Greene County in 2003, was provided by Greenetrack’s attorneys Charlanna Spencer and John Bolton. Spencer noted that the voting rights infringements extended to the approved constitutional amendment and the voters selection of public officials including sheriff, district attorney, district judge and circuit judge. She explained that the state’s actions that resulted in the bingo raids also violated the rights/duties of these public officials selected by the people of Greene County.
Other citizens present expressed strong statements of voting rights infringements, citing the civil rights struggles of 50 years ago which resulted in Greene County, with an 80% Black population, finally exercising their right to vote and winning local political elections. “This is no longer about bingo; it is about the rights we fought so hard to win,” stated Louis Harper, Mayor of Boligee.
Following detailed comments from other citizens of voting rights infringements, Duprey de Robles asked what does the community want. She stated this is what she will take back with her. The response included the following: The citizens of Greene County want their voting rights protected and are calling for an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department of the process utilized by Alabama officials to ignore a constitutional amendment approved by the people in 2003; the warrant the State Attorney General secured through the Alabama Supreme Court denied us our day in court, therefore, we want our day in court with a jury trial of our peers in Greene County.
Duprey de Robles was given a collection of materials documenting the actions of the office of State Attorney General, the office of the Governor and State Supreme Court which led to the claims of voting rights infringement in Greene County. She indicated these will be forwarded to the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District, Joyce Vance as well as to the office of the U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder.
She indicated there may be an approximate two-week period before a response is forwarded.