The gates of Hell

The gates of Hell January 25, 2022

• “Will the Gates of Hell Be Closed Forever?” If this were a theology quiz, I would say the answer to that question is No. Because the “gates of Hell” cannot be closed, having been destroyed for good on Easter Sunday.

That answer will upset some (but by no means all) of my fellow Christians who imagine that “the gates of Hell” are something constructed by God to imprison sinners for eternity. They seem to have forgotten the only thing the Bible has to say about “the gates of Hell,” which is that “they will not prevail.”

But never mind that, because that link isn’t about theology — it’s about the giant crater in Turkmenistan that has been on fire for decades.

• The Gates of Hell are still, for now, prevailing in Brookside, Alabama, the focus of this remarkable, infuriating report from “Police in this tiny Alabama town suck drivers into legal ‘black hole.‘”

Months of research and dozens of interviews by found that Brookside’s finances are rocket-fueled by tickets and aggressive policing. In a two-year period between 2018 and 2020 Brookside revenues from fines and forfeitures soared more than 640 percent and now make up half the city’s total income.

And the police chief has called for more.

This Jim Crow corruption is so Old School we’re used to seeing it in black and white.

The town of 1,253 just north of Birmingham reported just 55 serious crimes to the state in the entire eight year period between 2011 and 2018 – none of them homicide or rape. But in 2018 it began building a police empire, hiring more and more officers to blanket its six miles of roads and mile-and-a-half jurisdiction on Interstate 22.

By 2020 Brookside made more misdemeanor arrests than it has residents. It went from towing 50 vehicles in 2018 to 789 in 2020 – each carrying fines. That’s a 1,478% increase, with 1.7 tows for every household in town.

The growth has come with trouble to match. Brookside officers have been accused in lawsuits of fabricating charges, using racist language and “making up laws” to stack counts on passersby. Defendants must pay thousands in fines and fees – or pay for costly appeals to state court – and poorer residents or passersby fall into patterns of debt they cannot easily escape.

This is Jim Crow lawlessness at 21st-century speed. The follow-up stories are just as appalling, see for example this one: “Pastor, sister say rogue Alabama police force sought revenge.”

Unchecked greed is one thing driving this industrial-scale corruption in Brookside. The police are making big money by extorting it from citizens under false pretenses. But the Jim Crow playbook doesn’t stop with that. The next step, of course, is policies that restrict the “privilege” of voting to only those whose fines and penalties are paid in full.

• Speaking of corrupt, lawless, racist fiefdoms ruled by corrupt, lawless, racist monsters, remember this story from last October, “Black Children Were Jailed for a Crime That Doesn’t Exist. Almost Nothing Happened to the Adults in Charge“?

I would love to provide an update here informing you that the incompetent and corrupt judge at the center of that story, Donna Scott Davenport, has been brought to justice. Alas, that hasn’t happened yet. But at least there’s this: “Tennessee Judge Who Illegally Jailed Children Plans to Retire, Will Not Seek Reelection.”

Donna Scott Davenport, the juvenile court judge at the center of a controversy over the arrest and detention of children in Rutherford County, Tennessee, has announced that she will step down this year rather than run for reelection.

Earlier on Tuesday, ProPublica and Nashville Public Radio published a story about a move by some Tennessee lawmakers to remove Davenport from her post. About an hour after that story was published on ProPublica’s website, Davenport, in an email sent by the county’s spokesperson, announced that she will not be running for reelection this year. Instead, she plans to retire when her current eight-year term expires this summer.

Davenport smashed up things and creatures and now she will retreat back into her money or her vast carelessness, or whatever it is that she worships, and let other people clean up the mess she has made.

• Do I think that a book titled “Live Laugh Love” would be something I would enjoy or be interested in reading? Ugh, no, probably not.

But if it turns out that this is a trick question, and that this is actually the working title of Kristin Kobes Du Mez’s next book, “a cultural history of white Christian womanhood” that seeks to do for that subject what Jesus and John Wayne did for the culture of white Christian masculinity? Well then, yes, count me in. I am now very interested in this book.

• Here is an addendum to a post last month about the strange new life of former church buildings: “With congregation’s blessing, developer will demolish church for $8 million housing project.” A dwindling Lutheran congregation in Madison, Wisconsin, merged with a nearby ELCA church, selling its former property to become the site of 32 units of affordable housing in the community. Well done.

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