Discussions about youth gun violence and a string of recent homicides were overshadowed Wednesday by controversial online comments made by Mobile Police Chief James Barber that drew “outrage” from some members of the community.
Those concerns stemmed from a post Barber made on his personal Facebook account, in which he implored the community to “talk about and repeat” the name De’Launa Powell (Anderson).
MPD’s homicide unit had spent most of Tuesday investigating Anderson’s murder after police say she was shot to death in her own car at the intersection of the I-10 service road and Duval Street on her way to work.
However, in the post, Barber made reference to the death of 19-year-old Michael Moore, who was shot and killed by MPD officer Harold Hurst on June 13 — an incident still under investigation by the department’s Internal Affairs unit.“Everyone remembers the name Michael Moore but not even a peep about Delauna Anderson,” he wrote. “I intend to change that narrative and have the conversation, albeit uncomfortable, about the real victims in the African American community.”
Barber said his remarks were only intended to bring attention to the “senselessness” of Anderson’s murder. According to Barber, she was a 25-year-old single mother who was doing “nothing but the right thing” when she became Mobile’s 10th homicide victim this month.
However, the responses to Barber’s post were varied, to say the least.
While many praised his comments and expressed sympathy for the family of the victim, others said Barber’s mention of Moore’s death was insensitive to his family and improper given that the investigations into Hurst’s actions are still ongoing.
On Wednesday, Barber clarified that he only made the reference because, to him, the response to Anderson’s murder didn’t seem to be as evident as the response Moore’s death saw from the community and national media.
“It was an effort to say why can’t we get this kind of reaction when we see this every day in our streets — 10 so far this month,” he said.
Ultimately, though, Barber removed his comments at the behest of Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration, though it’s unclear exactly who that order came from. Chief of Staff Colby Cooper said the city was looking to move forward from the controversy, but offered no other comment.Barber also went on to publicly apologize during a meeting of Mobile United’s public safety committee that was originally intended to focus on the 11 teenagers that have been killed by gun violence this year in Mobile.
Despite having the “best intentions,” Barber said it was insensitive to bring up Moore’s death in his public statements online.
“I offer my sincerest regrets and my apologies to Michael Moore’s family, who themselves have lost a child. I should have never been so insensitive as to make a remark about that child,” Barber said. “Facebook is public, and all of us have learned lessons about Facebook, and that’s why you’re getting a public apology from me today.”
While Barber’s original statement sparked the “outrage” and led to his apology, comments on the post from some of Barber’s family members ultimately spiraled into what the Chief described as a “heated debate” that led his wife, Faith Barber, to feel their daughter had been threatened.
“During that exchange, she made an insensitive remark herself, and I know many of you have been in a heated exchange and we say things we shouldn’t, but on social media, you don’t get to withdraw it. It doesn’t just go away… It stays out there,” he said. “That remark inferred that black men are violent and she was concerned for my daughter.”Barber was referring to an exchange with a Facebook user named Sam Louis, who at one point said, “You tried it Faith Barber LADY try again all BLACKS AREN’T Violent” In the next comment, Faith Barber replied, “Since when?”
Despite the post being deleted, that brief exchange among thousands of comments was captured in a screenshot that has since been widely shared on social media itself.
“I know my wife and I know my wife’s heart, and she should not have allowed herself to get heated up to the point where she made a comment herself that was insensitive. No matter what the other person said, turn it off, step away from it,” he said. ““As a chief of police and as a husband, I accept responsibility for any remarks made by her as well. I can assure you, this is not the message I wanted to send to our community.”
In an email sent at 9:44 p.m. Wednesday Faith Barber apologized for her comment in “the heat of the moment.” She also confirmed she felt “our daughter” was “directly threatened.”
“I love all the people of this city and every life is precious,” she wrote. “I love my husband, our family, and I value the important work law enforcement does every day in trying to keep us all safe.”
Though councilman C.J. Small made reference to the incident during Wednesday’s city council meeting, he did not name Barber directly — only saying he’d been contacted by several constituents about social media comments from “a city employee and his wife” that he’d passed on to Stimpson’s office.
Because management of city employees falls under the purview of the mayor’s office, Small said it would be improper for him to directly address the actions of a city employee. So far, Stimpson himself has not addressed the matter publicly.
Councilman Levon Manzie said he was “appreciative” the administration worked to remove the post. He said residents throughout District 2 found the post “insensitive.”
“Comments like that divide us,” Manzie said.
Manzie also mentioned that he was once ridiculed personally over the summer for commenting on the Facebook page of a childhood friend, who had been linked to making threats against police officers.
Jason Johnson contributed to this report
Regular council business
During a working meeting of the Mobile City council Wednesday morning, which was held prior to Barber’s apology, the Chief had another tense exchange… this time with Councilman C.J. Small.The chief announced to the council his plan to hold a series of meetings where community stakeholders could meet with members of the police department and discuss issues surrounding the increase in gun violence in the city.
Barber said members of the 100 Black Men of Mobile, the local chapter of the NAACP, local pastors and others would be invited to a meeting this afternoon. Small said residents in his district were concerned that some of the members of that group would only be there for show.
Barber assured him that those invited had a vested interest in the community. Small suggested the chief ask the youth in the community who’ve been accused of possessing firearms to get more involved.Barber said he and Stimpson had personally been to Strickland Youth Center to talk to kids about that very subject.
Small also asked Barber, more than once, if he had plan to get guns off the street. Barber said he plans to meet with pastors next week to help develop an amnesty plan to get illegal guns turned in.
After a little more back and forth, a visibly frustrated Barber mentioned it was an effort the entire community could get behind and asked Small and other councilors what they are doing to help get guns off the street, before walking out of the meeting.
In other council business, the council voted 6-1 to move $250,000 from the administrative services budget line item to capital to help pay for the drainage repairs to Hank Aaron Stadium. The council also approved a $356,261 contract with Youngblood-Barrett Construction and Engineering to do the stadium work.
Councilwoman Bess Rich was the lone dissenting vote on both of those items. While she said she was happy that the Hank Aaron Stadium tenants, the BayBears, had paid rent for the last three quarters, the team was still roughly $200,000 behind.
Cooper said the team would begin to pay that off once the repairs are completed.
The council also granted a certificate of public convenience and necessity to Preston Griffith and Mobile Pedicab, Inc. Griffith told councilors during a public hearing he waited 21 weeks for the Federal Bureau of Investigation to return to him the results of his city-mandated background check.
Gulf Coast Ducks, Inc., the company behind the city’s duck boat tours, had a similar issue with the FBI background check, but was allowed to operate downtown without the certificate. Wednesday, the council voted unanimously to do away with that requirement and instead rely on the Mobile Police Department to do the background checks.
Scott Tindle, owner of Gulf Coast Ducks, told councilors that his application for the needed certificate would be submitted to the city the same day. He said he had held off to this point because he hadn’t yet received the results of the FBI screening.
This post was updated at 9:02 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 20 to add comments made by Faith Barber.