On September 5, the University of Alabama’s administration released a statement officially announcing Dr. Jamie Riley’s removal from his position as Dean of Students after little over half a year. This decision came only 24 hours after the white supremacist rag outlet Breitbart released a hit piece on Dr. Riley. Breitbart dug up tweets Dr. Riley had written over the past few years in which he criticized the white supremacist foundations of the United States and its connection to modern day racist police violence and mass incarceration.
Since then, the university has been in lockdown mode, refusing to make any further comments on the matter and refusing to confirm or deny that the tweets published by Breitbart were the reason for his removal. While we can only speculate as to the nature of the “mutual agreement” between the university and Dr. Riley, it is painfully clear that the university administration has, once again, capitulated to the demands of white supremacists and failed to uphold freedom of expression for Black students, faculty, staff, and workers.
Anyone with a passing knowledge of United States history can see the truth illuminated in this tweet. A little over a decade after the first stable English colony of Jamestown was founded in Virginia, enslaved Africans were packed shoulder to shoulder and shipped to the new colony to labor as chattel for the English settlers. Chattel slavery only expanded from there, and before long, became the primary source of labor for the settlers. Although the fledgling empire nearly tore itself apart trying to decide whether it was better to continue to rely on enslaved people, or if the risk of insurrection was too great to continue to allow the planter elite to rely on slaves for labor, the passage of the 13th amendment provided a compromise. Chattel slavery was now outlawed, except as a punishment for a crime.
Slave patrolmen and overseers were reorganized into the earliest predecessors of the modern police departments. “Black Codes” were instituted throughout the south immediately after the Civil War. Anti-vagrancy laws were designed to punish the newly freed slaves for their lack of land and inability to find employment. Land was never seized from the planter elites and redistributed, and white owned businesses refused to offer gainful employment to the former slaves, and as a result, many Africans found themselves at the mercy of the prison system and the police, and a new system of convict leasing allowed for the perpetuation of exploitation of unpaid African laborers. This system of using convicts as cheap labor continues to this day, most notably when California mobilized thousands of inmates to fight wildfires back in 2018, for which they were compensated a meager 2$ a day. Unpaid labor is the basis of American settler economics, and Dr. Riley was astutely correct when he made the connection between white supremacy and the modern institution of policing. His Tweet should be uncontroversial, but the University of Alabama relies on donations of old money from white financiers, and anyone that offends their feudal sensibilities cannot be tolerated.
The University of Alabama’s administration routinely touts pompous phrases and progressive sounding rhetoric, describing the campus as “inclusive and diverse” in an attempt to deflect community concerns when frequent incidents of blatant racism occur – such as an Instagram video of a drunk fraternity member hurling racist slurs
Recognizing this, students began organizing in opposition to this decision the very night the news broke. Numerous meetings and a variety of letter drops and sit-ins culminated in a march across campus exactly two weeks after Dr. Riley’s resignation. Marching to chants of “We will not be silenced!” several hundred students marched through the sweltering Alabama autumn from the student center to confront President Bell on the steps of the administrative building.
President Bell delivered a substance-less speech, markedly similar to the copy/paste emails he signs and sends out after every racist controversy the university finds itself embroiled in. Before he could finish, an angry student heckled him from the crowd, reminding him that this demonstration was not about him and his image. Bell promptly ended his speech and left the demonstration, declining to stay and listen to the letter students had written listing their concerns to the administration.
While UA’s administration took great strides to insert themselves into this narrative and do damage control for the media outlets covering the march, the march was a nightmare for UA’s administration because they know this march isn’t the end of this struggle.