Important to Tuberville’s comments on race and crime: He represents Alabama

The Auburn University Tigers went 13-0 in 2004, one of the best seasons in school history. But they were knocked out of the championship game after finishing the season in third place, a decision that coach Tommy Tuberville loudly and often disapproved of. Even a decade later, after he had moved on to the University of Cincinnati, Tuberville expressed his frustration with the outcome of the season.

But Tuberville himself came out of the season well positioned. He was named coach of the year and secured a new seven-year contract that pays him $2 million a year in salary and endorsements. Leading one of Alabama’s top programs to national honors made Tuberville something of a legend in the state.

However, he did not repeat that success in the coming years at Auburn. Of course, college football, unlike the NFL, depends on a rotating pool of players coming through college. And that 2004 team had a number of exceptional players – four who were drafted into the NFL in that first round and three others who would eventually leave on to Game in the NFL’s Pro Bowl.

Relevant to the moment: All seven of those players, the ones who helped Tuberville cement his legacy, were black.

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Tuberville was elected to the Senate from Alabama in 2020, easily unseating Democratic incumbent Doug Jones. He served approval of Donald Trump and quickly established himself as deeply loyal to the president. Even before he got a seat in the Senate, he had announced his intention to contest the results of the 2020 presidential contest.

Then on Saturday, Tuberville was offered a speaking slot at Trump’s rally for Republican candidates in Nevada. And in that speech, he falsely claimed that Democrats actually support criminal activity.

“Some people say, yes, they’re soft on crime. No, they’re not soft on crime. They’re pro-crime. They want crime,” Tuberville faked claimed, to applause. “They want crime because they want to take over what you have. They want to check what you have. They want compensation because they believe that the people who commit the crime owe it.”

“Reparations,” of course, has a specific meaning in the context of American politics: the idea that giving black Americans money or other benefits can help undo the long-term effects of centuries of enslavement of black people. In other words, Tuberville clearly implies that “the people who commit the crime” are black, in addition to implying that the entire Democratic Party believes that violence and robbery are acceptable options for dealing with systemic racial divides.

Casting Democrats in the most toxic, negative light possible is, of course, standard fare especially for right-wing politicians. But Tuberville let slip the other idea: that crime is a function of black Americans. That’s a grotesque, racist suggestion from anyone. That’s certainly more true for a sitting U.S. senator. And even more so from someone whose celebrity depended on the unpaid labor of college athletes, many of whom were black.

But it is also important to come from a senator Alabama. This is one of the leading officials of the state, someone who has no longer track record in state politics, but someone who nevertheless represents the state in a literal sense on the national stage. And his position is that black people “do the crime.”

Alabama was in the news recently for a different reason. The state is challenging a district court’s ruling that the way it drew congressional boundaries in the wake of the 2020 census violated the Voting Rights Act. That challenge came before the Supreme Court in the case Merrill v. Milligan, where justices heard oral arguments last week. The state, which was allocated seven seats in the House, drew district lines that created a district where half the population was black—a tactic called “packing.” With so many black voters in one district, there are fewer in the other six, making those districts less likely to elect Democrats (given how heavily Democratic black voters are) and therefore making it less likely that another black representative can win the election. In a condition that is about a quarter black.

The Voting Rights Act exists because of systemic efforts, mostly in southern states like Alabama, to exclude black voters from participating in electoral politics in the decades before the civil rights movement. In a amicus brief filed by a group of Alabama-based historians, the lingering effects of both slavery and historical limits on political power are thoroughly documented. But state leaders and lawmakers would rather send six Republicans to Washington, and whose Voting Rights Act (obstructed in 2013 on the dubious grounds that it was no longer necessary) stands in the way, so be it.

Meanwhile, state prisoners in Alabama recently launched a work stoppage, protesting conditions in the facilities. Ministry of Justice filed suit against the state in December 2020, alleging that the state “violated and continues to violate the Constitution because its prisons are riddled with prisoner-on-prisoner and guard-on-prisoner violence.”

Speaking to the New Yorker, journalist Beth Shelburne explained that “the problems of overcrowding, understaffing, violence and corruption are fundamental to our carceral system and exist in every jail and prison across the United States, but in Alabama they are all on steroids.”

This disproportionately affects black people because they are overrepresented in the state prison population (as they are in most states). Shelburne attributes this to overrepresentation of “people who have been most affected by … lack of social services, poor education, and widespread poverty,” and who tend to be those “politicians don’t care about”—which often means, in Alabama, blacks people . (See the aforementioned amicus brief.)

Enter the state’s junior senator. Speaking at a rally hosted by the former president, he suggested that crime is not only committed by black people, but that Democrats are encouraging the idea that black people can “take over what you’ve got” — which doesn’t just hit the mark in grotesque racial and political terms. but also as a specific threat to his almost exclusively white audience.

The point of the recent focus on race in black activist political conversation has been to draw attention to ways in which racism is not expressed as people wearing blackface—as Alabama’s governor did in college—but as embedded, structural biases against black Americans. Things like disproportionate incarceration or uneven representation.

But sometimes racial hostility also manifests itself as a US senator blaming blacks for crime.

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