Four activists charged last year with defacing public property because of spray painted messages on a street in front of the Capitol in Montgomery pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charge today.
The four are members of the Save OurSelves Movement for Justice and Democracy (SOS), which has held rallies and press conferences urging Alabama to expand Medicaid for the last seven years.
In July 2020, Montgomery police arrested four participants with the group after “Black Lives Matter” and “Expand Medicaid” were spray painted on Bainbridge Street.
They entered the not guilty pleas in Montgomery Municipal Court today. A trial was set for September 8 in the municipal court. The four are Faya Rose Toure, John Zippert, Karen Jones, and Kumasi Amin, also known as Juan McFarland II.
“I plead not guilty by reason of necessity and the right to free speech guaranteed me under the First Amendment,” Zippert said in a press release. “I am only guilty for standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. Because of Alabama’s purposeful failure to expand Medicaid, rural hospitals across Alabama have closed and more are on the verge of closing. People are dying. This could be easily prevented by simple action by Alabama leaders.”
Zippert is chair of the Greene County Health System and Co-Publisher of “The Greene County Democrat.”
After the arrests last year, Toure said she and Jones were strip searched in the Montgomery jail. Toure wrote about that experience in an open letter to Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed.
Related: ACLU condemns Montgomery protest arrests
Jones, a Montgomery community leader, said today, “I pled not guilty. All I am guilty of is trying to save lives by expanding Medicaid so that more people will not die needlessly or lose their health. I want people to have the health care that they need. While Alabama keeps failing to care about the health of its citizens, I acted and was singled out as a woman and strip searched. But I will never stop fighting to expand Medicaid until Alabama does what is right.”
Alabama is one of 12 states that have not adopted Medicaid expansion as authorized under the Affordable Care Act. Gov. Kay Ivey and the Republican-controlled Legislature have not supported expansion, citing concerns about the cost.
Federal funds would cover most of the cost for expanded health care, although the state would have additional administrative costs.
Studies by UAB economist David Becker have concluded that the state’s costs would be almost entirely offset by new tax revenues generated by expansion and savings in other areas. Becker found that expansion would reduce the number of uninsured people in Alabama by about 223,000.
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