The tension between Mobile Police Chief James Barber and some members of the Mobile City Council seem to be growing as the city’s leaders gear up to consider bringing in additional oversight from citizens to monitor Barber’s department.
Barber called a press conference Monday afternoon to express his “absolute outrage” over a Facebook exchange between Councilman Levon Manzie and a person Manzie described as a “friend from elementary school.”
On Sunday afternoon, a man named Quinten Russell posted a message on his Facebook in reference the death of Michael Moore, who was shot by Mobile Police Officer Harold Hurst on June 13. In the post, he encouraged those in Prichard and Mobile to “Stand up.”
“Let’s do something boycott protest, push those councilmen to do something,” he wrote, finishing the message with “f*** chief Barber.”
In the comments, Manzie wrote that he had been working on the issue since Moore’s death last month, and reminded Russell that “the chief and every Mobile police officer works directly for Mayor [Sandy] Stimpson.”
He also extended an invitation for Russell to speak at Tuesday’s council meeting, where council members are expected to discuss the merits of a citizens’ oversight council for the MPD.
“We really could use you coming down and speaking in favor of the ordinance,” Manzie concluded.
However, it’s Russell’s other posts on Facebook that gave Barber and other police officials pause.
The concern among the law enforcement community across the country intensified last week after a gunman opened fire on police officers and protesters in Dallas, Texas — killing five officers and wounding seven others.
That gunman was later identified as 25-year-old Micah Xavier Johnson, a black man and former member of the U.S. Army Reserve Russell had hailed as a martyr in previous post to his public Facebook page.
“Micah Xavier Johnson was an Army man he got 5 & 7,” Russell wrote in a post distributed to the press by the MPD. “I’m a marine I know I can do 20$ 10 one shot one kill.”
The MPD also shared other posts with local media collected from Russel’s page that referenced Hurst directly, calling him a “pig” and encouraging people to shoot him.
Barber said it was outrageous that Maznie would invite someone who “advocates the indiscriminate killing of police officers” to speak before the city council, and took a shot at the council’s push to create a citizens oversight council — an idea Barber has been openly critical of in the past.
“In the wake of the tragedy in Dallas last week, Councilman Manzie’s association with an extremist demonstrates a deliberate indifference to the lives of law enforcement officers,” Barber said. “But I do have a question for Councilman Manzie? Is this his idea of citizens oversight of the police? Empowering those whose contempt for the law endangers the very lives of the people sworn to protect this community? Because if it is, I will have no part of it.”
Barber didn’t take any questions at the press conference, but one many reporters hoped to ask was whether he reached out to Manzie before calling a press conference to publicly discuss his social media activity.
Barber ignored the question as he left the press conference, but Manzie and council spokeswoman Marion Steinfels said they’d had no communication with Barber prior to his public statements. Steinfels told Lagniappe she reached out to MPD’s Public Affairs office to get ahead of the situation but was told she could “find out about it at the press conference.”
At his own press conference Monday afternoon, Manzie said he did not receive a call from Barber and his calls to the chief were ignored on Tuesday morning. Manzie said he attempted to call Barber, Stimpson Chief of Staff Colby Cooper and city attorney Ricardo Woods, but his calls were not returned.
At his own press conference, Manzie said he has over 4,000 Facebook friends and had “never been on Russell’s page “in years.” Manzie described Russell as “a friend from elementary school,” adding that he was unaware of any previous statements he’d made on Facebook and still doesn’t know what’s on his page.
“I had absolutely no knowledge of his sickening and appalling comments and postings as it relates to police officers,” Manzie said.
Like Barber, Manzie initially refused to take questions following a statement, but — unlike Barber — he did answer a couple before stepping out of the council’s ninth floor conference room in Government Plaza.
Lagniappe also attempted to reach Russell via Facebook prior to publishing this report, but hasn’t received a response.
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