Chris McNair, former Jefferson County Commissioner (Jefferson County is county in which the city of Birmingham is mostly situated) and father of Denise McNair, one of the four girls killed in the 1966 Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing, is headed to jail.
According to a Birmingham News article, McNair will likely be sent to one of the federal government’s five (!) medical care detention centers. Presumably only if the government doesn’t “shut down” as is anticipated.
McNair was convicted of taking bribes in the Jefferson County Sewer imbroglio, in which all of its Commissioners of the era were convicted of taking bribes, or other offenses, all of whom went, or are going, to jail.
McNair was elected to the Commission on the back of his notoriety as the father of one of the four girls killed in what has to be the stupidest and most abhorrent expression of racial bigotry since the Holocaust. How it was that a bunch of stupid white rednecks thought they could advance their cause by exploding a bomb in a black church during Sunday morning services is just beyond me. It speaks to how stupid bigotry can be. It’s of the same ilk as the idiocy that led some moron to poison the iconic oak tree at Toomer’s corner in Auburn, which the fans traditionally drape in toilet paper to celebrate football victories. Racial bigotry, in all its stupid expression, has apparently been transferred to sports bigotry.
Chris McNair is eighty-five years old. He is already imprisoned in a body racked with diabetes, stroke, prostate cancer and other ailments. His legacy is imprisoned in the reality that all the good he ever stood for is forever tarnished by his conviction. To be sure, there is little doubt that the conviction was deserved. But what purpose could possibly be served by his incarceration? Let him die at home. It would save the bankrupt federal government thousands of dollars (perhaps more, considering his medical condition) to simply put an ankle bracelet on him and allow him to live at home until he dies. They could use the bracelet to allow the pretense that the government has it covered if he again tries some more nefarious conduct.
It would seem that every last person involved with the Jefferson County Sewer project was corrupt. But can this be? In a group of twenty or so community leaders (roughly the number convicted and sentenced to jail in the matter), is there not at least one honest person? Of course there is. The County Sewer rehabilitation project, not unlike so many things in the insular community, was ordered by federal court decree. It seems that the federal courts believed that what didn’t work for school desegregation would work for cleaning up Jefferson County’s sewers. Instead what happened was a system perfectly set for corruption to flourish. Guess what? Even honest people can be corrupted when the incentives are great enough. And that’s what happened. Its been a sorry chapter in the history of local governance, and the tale isn’t fully told. Jefferson County is, and has been for some three or so years, in default on $3.2 billion in sewer bonds issued to pay for the court-ordered rehabilitation.
The county is insolvent, no matter that it hasn’t yet declared bankruptcy. But it does nobody any good going forward to incarcerate Mr. McNair. His life and his legacy have been ruined. He’s already in a jail that poor judgment and time conspired to create for him. The price of vengeance, which is all that incarcerating him would accomplish, can be exceedingly steep.