LETTER: City Hall security has chilling effect

Published 4:11 pm Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Dear Editor,

I usually enjoy visiting my hometown and seeing old friends. However, on my visit last Friday, my wide-eyed innocence was shattered when I attempted to visit Selma City Hall.

Selma has long been known as a beacon of hope to oppressed people due to the voting rights movement of 1965.

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Well, last Friday, I ran into “papers please” situation at the front door to city hall.  Unlike any other city hall or courthouse I have ever visited, the Selma City Hall requires a citizen to sign-in on a public registry book maintained at the front door and state what department you wish to visit. While this may sound like a benign procedure, it smacks in the face of our Constitution.

The first amendment to our Constitution allows for unencumbered travel in public places.  The fourth amendment provides for a person to be secure in their person and papers (this includes their identity) unless they have been connected to a crime.

U.S. Supreme Court decisions in cases like: Terry v. Ohio (1968), Brown v. Texas (1979) and Hiibel v. Nevada (2004) all back this up. City attorney Jimmy Nunn told me that these measures were adopted by the city council for security reasons.

Tyranny is not what Selma should be known for, and these tactics can only have a chilling effect on the general public wishing to do business at city hall.

As I stood there discussing the situation with the security guard Capt. Jennings, I observed two different ladies reviewing the listed names as they left the building.

I can see where a person with an unpaid traffic ticket, an undocumented person, someone illiterate or someone with a disability could feel intimidated to the point of not visiting city hall.

This “sign-in” procedure could also have a chilling effect on people like myself wishing to do nothing more than visit the public bulletin board posted in the lobby.

The city hall is owned by the citizens of Selma, and if it isn’t designed to contend with modern-day security needs of elected officials, the design needs to be changed, rather than trampling on the Constitutional rights of its citizens to travel freely in public spaces.

I also don’t really see how an unverified name on a registry book enhances security.  This situation needs to be revisited by the city council to reflect a free and open government that is ready to do business with visitors to city hall.

Tom Headley

Former Selma City Councilman