Multiple Police Cars Summoned to Arrest Selma Civil Rights Activist for Allegedly Stealing a Campaign Sign
Faya Rose Touré, a 73-year-old former judge, says she’s determined to fight the charges against her.
The Selma Police Department—charged with overseeing one of Alabama’s most violence-plagued cities—sent at least seven police cars to arrest a civil rights activist and attorney for allegedly stealing an illegally placed campaign sign on July 16. It plans to recommend that the state attorney general prosecute the misdemeanor case, according to the department’s chief.
The activist, Faya Rose Touré, 73, is facing charges of fourth-degree theft and attempting to elude a police officer after she led cops on a four-block chase through the city. Touré was the first Black female judge in Alabama and founder of the National Voting Rights Museum and Institute in Selma.
“I’ve been in office 35 years and I’ve been running campaigns since 1974 and now I’ve never heard of a single person being arrested for a campaign sign,” Touré’s husband and attorney, state Senator Hank Sanders, told The Appeal in an interview in the Selma law office he shares with his wife.
Meanwhile, Touré says, the police have been slow to investigate a more pressing matter: death threats she received weeks before her arrest. She suspects the threats are due to her activism.
The Selma Police Department did not respond to multiple interview requests from The Appeal.
The campaign sign incident occurred following weeks of tension leading up to a July 17 run-off election for a county probate judge between winning Black candidate Jimmy Nunn and white candidate Nicholas Switzer. Despite having an 80 percent Black population, Sanders said, the city had never, to his knowledge, had a Black probate judge.
Selma has a city ordinance that forbids signs from being placed on public rights of way, but Touré and Sanders alleged that in the weeks before the election a city worker was removing signs for Nunn from these walkways but not Switzer’s signs. The worker denied these allegations to The Appeal.
After Touré complained to City Hall in a letter and got no response, she began taking Switzer’s signs from the public rights of way, announcing over the radio that the placards could be picked up at a local radio station where she and her husband used to be part owners. According to Police Chief Spencer Collier, who spoke about Touré’s arrest at a July 19 press conference, residents had complained to the police about the removal of Switzer’s signs for weeks, but she was arrested only after a detective caught her in the act.
On July 16, the day before the election, a detective in an unmarked car observed Touré taking a sign from the right of way in front of the Tabernacle Baptist Church, which held one of the first mass meetings during the voting rights movement. As she was driving away, Touré said she heard someone in a car yell at her for taking the sign. She then started to drive to Nunn’s office with her 11-year-old granddaughter, but on the way, the plainclothes officer turned on his siren, she said, noting that she drove for four blocks before coming to a stop.
“[Collier] made it sound like on the news that what was happening was a big chase,” she told The Appeal. “How can four blocks be a chase?” She says she kept driving because she wanted witnesses to the interaction. “People advise people if you feel harassed by the cops, you make sure you got a witness.”
According to Collier, the detective called in the incident as a “vehicle pursuit,” which demands that any officer in the area respond. A video filmed by Touré and her granddaughter and shared with The Appeal shows at least seven police cars surrounding her minivan as the detective informs her that she is under arrest for eluding police.
“A young Black man was killed last night and all y’all coming after me,” she can be heard saying. “Y’all would think I have committed a murder.”
Touré was booked in the Dallas County jail on a $2,000 cash bond for two nights, refusing to post the bond out of protest. The cash bond requirement was eventually withdrawn and Touré was allowed to leave on her own signature.
Touré said police should focus on calming the city’s violent crime wave and finding the people who have threatened her life. More than a month ago, a woman phoned threats into the radio station and into her law office. In the latter, the woman told Touré’s secretary, “If y’all wanna live y’all better get out of that law office right now.” The radio station filed an incident report and provided the phone number to the police, but no arrests have been made.
Touré said she was also threatened in December 2017 in the parking lot of a town 15 miles from Selma when she said a man took a “Vote or Die” sticker from her car and said, “Somebody’s gonna die tonight.”
The Selma Police Department told reporters in a news conference that the investigation into the death threats was ongoing.
Touré is filing a motion for a speedy trial and is considering suing the city.
Selma, a historic city at the heart of the civil rights movement, is home to the Edmund Pettus Bridge—the site of Bloody Sunday—over which Martin Luther King Jr. led a march to Montgomery that helped result in the passage of the Voting Rights Act. A half-century later, the city’s police station still displays a cattle prod and batons in a glass case near the entrance. The Old Live Oak Cemetery has a monument to Confederate soldiers with cannons pointing north, said to be protecting dead soldiers. It also contains a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a slave owner, Confederate Army general, and grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. The memorial is inscribed, “One of the South’s finest heroes.”
Some Selma residents told The Appeal that tensions with the police seem to have worsened since Collier took over as chief last year. Collier did not respond to The Appeal’s requests for an interview.
In May, police arrested Council Member Sam Randolph for public lewdness, a month after he was observed publicly urinating. His attorney said the arrest was an act of retaliation after a heated exchange with between Randolph and the mayor during a City Council meeting days earlier, the Selma-Times Journal reported.
Bishop Anthony Austin, who was born in Selma in 1973, told The Appeal that people are frequently pulled over by the police for little cause. “You can’t never ever talk to them,” he said. “It’s never been this bad.”