By Donna Thornton/News Editor
The Etowah County Detention Center was the scene Monday (March 24) of a demonstration by the Alabama Coalition for Immigration Justice. About 100 people participated, some using an elaborate system of chains and PVC pipe wrapped with chicken wire and tape to link themselves together in front of the detention center.
Seven people were arrested on charges of failure to disperse and/or unlawful assembly and within hours they were released on bond and on their way.
As a precaution, the judicial building and the Etowah County Courthouse went on lock-down for a while during the time of the protest. Doors were locked for about two hours, Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin said. The action was a precaution, he said; there are immigration offices in the courthouse, Entrekin said, and there was some concern that the protesters could take their demonstration across the street.
At the Etowah County Commission’s work session on Tuesday (March 25) commission members present praised the way the sheriff’s office handled the protest, and Entrekin and Chief Corrections Officer Scott Hassell praised the assistance they received from other county departments.
Etowah County Revenue Commissioner Linda Barrett Vaughan said she thought the “Run, Hide, Fight” training all county employees participated in earlier this year helped them to follow instructions calmly and without a lot of questions Monday when the lock down went into effect.
Entrekin said the sheriff’s office did not receive advance notice about this protest, as they have in the past. Apparently, some members of the media did receive notice about it. In addition to local media, a film crew from the HBO show “Vice” was filming the protest.
Entrekin said a nation-wide immigration protest is planned for the coming weeks, and he said this protest could have been a way to generate publicity before that protest occurs.
He said because Etowah County’s detention center houses immigration and customs detainees, such protests are going to happen.
And Entrekin said that’s fine: People have a right to protest and as long as they obtain permits and follow laws, his office has no problem with protests.
“We’re not going to let them shut down business,” Entrekin explained.
“The people we have in our detention center are not farmers or hands that have been picked up,” Entrekin said. “These are criminal detainees who need to be deported.”
Etowah County Chief Administrative Officer Patrick Sims asked if some of the detainees were here because their home countries will not allow them back in, and Entrekin said they were.
“They’re bad enough that the country where they were born and are citizens of don’t want them back,” Sims said.