Alabama Governor Consoles Family Of Murdered 8-Year-Old Black Girl By Suggesting Their Dysfunction Killed Her (Updated)
UPDATE: A spokeswoman for Gov. Bentley has offered an explanation; see end of post.
Hiawayi Robinson, of Pritchard, Alabama, a small city on the north side of Mobile, was looking forward to turning nine years old next week. On Tuesday, Hiawayi had talked to her father on the phone about what she wanted for her birthday (a laptop computer) and told him that she was going downstairs to see if her cousin was home. She never came back.
Her parents reported her missing that evening. Her grandmother, Brenda Populus, was heartbroken.
"I'll do anything to get my grandbaby back," she said. "Her birthday was on the 24th, in one week." Populus couldn't believe that Hiawayi could disappear so suddenly. "She went right down the steps -- she didn't have to cross the street or anything, just a little courtyard."
Thursday, after a search coordinated by local police and the FBI, as well as volunteers from the community, Hiawayi's body was found behind an abandoned building. Police are investigating her death as a homicide, in conjunction with the FBI; no cause of death or possible suspects have been announced.
When reporters asked Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley to comment on the news that Hiawayi's body had been found, these were the words of comfort and support he had for Hiawayi's family:*
"There are things that happen we just don't understand. There are difficulties in families. We don't know, maybe drug related. Maybe alcohol related. Maybe family problems. We just don't know what the situation is."
Bentley added he needs to do everything he can to make families more sound.
What a peach. A child goes missing, her family is frantic and organizing a search for her, and the governor's first thought when her body is found is to shake his head and pontificate on the sad, sad state of the Black Family In America Today. And let's keep in mind that absolutely no one in law enforcement has said anything to suggest that Haiwayi's family had anything to do with her abduction and killing. Needless to say, people in Alabama are Not Happy.
Gov. Bentley has not yet replied to press queries about his comments Thursday (see update below), but on Friday, he abruptly offered a $5000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a suspect and has issued a written statement saying something rather different from his earlier comments about the sad family with its possible drug and alcohol problems:
“Dianne and I were heartbroken to learn of the tragic death of this innocent child. We have been praying and following the situation closely, and our prayers for comfort are with Hiawayi’s family.
“We won’t rest until this little girl’s killer is brought to justice. Alabama’s state law enforcement agencies have been actively assisting the Prichard Police Department in the investigation into the death of Hiawayi Robinson. I directed the Secretary of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, Spencer Collier, to go to Prichard and offer any resources needed. As soon as Hiawayi was reported missing, we sent 10 State Bureau of Investigation agents to Prichard, and our Trooper Aviation Unit also assisted in helping to find Hiawayi. Those agents will remain in Prichard until a suspect has been arrested. Furthermore, I’ve directed an increased presence of state troopers in Prichard until the person who committed this terrible act has been found."
Huh. You might almost think that was written by a completely different person from the one who moralized about the sad, impossible-to-understand family dynamics that no doubt killed the little black girl.
And yes, we are bloody well playing the race card. Anyone who thinks Gov. Bentley or any politician would say the same thing if an 8-year-old white girl went missing and was found murdered is a fool. Don't worry, we're already taking bets on which Fox News anchor will insist that Bentley's comments had nothing to do with race.
A GoFundMe site for Haiwayi's family is available here.
UPDATE: A spokeswoman for Gov. Bentley offered an explanation of the videotaped comments to Mobile's Lagniappe Weekly:
Jennifer Ardis, the governor’s spokeswoman, told Lagniappe that Bentley was first asked about domestic violence, one of his wife’s primary platforms, before he was asked for his reaction to the girl’s death.
“He was talking about domestic violence prior to the question,” Ardis said.
She indicated the governor was still on the topic of domestic violence when he was asked about Hiawayi and there was some confusion when switching topics, adding some of his statements were taken out of context.
WPMI, which originally posted and removed the now-removed video, has posted another clip of the full interview. it does show Bentley answering a question about domestic violence at about the three-minute mark, and he's actually the person who first brings up the death of Hiawayi Robinson:
Reporter: You touched on domestic abuse in your speech. Hot topic right now, what are your inputs?
Bentley: Well, you know, families have some difficult problems, and it's a tragedy, you know, I just heard about the little nine-year-old that was killed, and things like that just break your heart when you hear of things like this. But you know there is a lot of domestic violence that goes on in families and we've been seeing a lot of this in the news right now..."
Bentley then talks more about domestic violence and his wife's involvement in programs aimed at helping with the problem, and fields a question about whether Federal judge Mark Fuller should resign after being accused of battering his wife (probably yes, but Bentley doesn't have all the facts). After Dianne Bentley briefly talks about how serious a problem domestic violence is, the governor offers the domestic violence hotline, and a reporter returns to the death of Hiawayi Robinson:
Reporter: One more question, and you touched upon the 8-year-old in Pritchard: What message will you send to people grieving right now in the area?
Bentley: There are things that happen we just don't understand. There are difficulties in families. We don't know if it's -- you never know -- maybe drug related. Maybe alcohol related. Maybe family problems. We just don't know what the situation is. Only thing that we can say is we need to do everything we can to make families more sound...
We can't say we really buy Ms. Ardis's explanation -- the governor brought up "the little nine-year-old that was killed" himself when asked a question about domestic violence, and then when asked specifically to speak to people who are grieving her death, he went with the line of bullshit about drugs and alcohol, not "pray for this grieving family in their hour of need" or any of the nice things he said in the statement today. We're pretty sure that's not a problem of confusion or context, except in Gov. Bentley's mind. Nice try, governor's office, but you look no better.
*WPMI, the TV station that posted the video of Bentley's comments, has now removed it from the website without explanation. News director Bob Noonan has not yet responded to Wonkette's request for comment as to why the video was removed.
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