[This post originally was published on February 5, 2018. All updates are in purple.]
Charles Cole lived in the North Birmingham community of Harriman Park until 1959 after he was brutally beaten by racist Birmingham cops. He saved up his money and immediately moved to Michigan to escape the horrors of segregation.
After retiring, he and his wife moved back to Harriman Park ten years ago to be close to family. The racist cops are gone; segregation is gone; but institutional racism continues.
Balch & Bingham partners allegedly masterminded a $360,000 bribery scheme to suppress, discourage, and disenfranchise African-Americans from having their toxic and contaminated property tested in Harriman Park, Collegeville, and Fairmont by the EPA. Charles and his neighbors were impacted by this alleged racist scheme.
According to the U.S. Census, 35207, the ZIP Code that these communities are located in, is 92.5% African-American.
The alleged acts by a convicted Balch & Bingham partner appear to be acts of blatant environmental racism.
But has Balch & Bingham been involved in any other recent alleged racial controversies?
In Vincent, Alabama, Balch & Bingham represented a quarry company that allegedly bought out white land-owners but kept the African-American community out in the cold.
According to a news report from 2013:
There is an underlying racial issue at play in the River Loop [in Vincent]. According to the residents who live within a stone’s throw of the proposed limestone quarry, no offer was made on a single black-owned property in the area. As for the white property owners in the area who sold to the quarry, their land sold quickly and quietly for highly inflated rates.
Wanda Threatt is a resident who lives in the River Loop. She claims that the racial discrimination by the quarry company has left her community isolated and without any property value to sell their homes. “White Rock bought land bordered by blacks, but never from them. White Rock bought land bordered by Evangel Temple, but left the black-owned church untouched and devalued. The economic worth of white sellers increased. They moved away. The economic worth of blacks decreased, leaving us trapped by inequities. Our land is devalued — unsaleable. We face exposure to hazardous waste, air, water, noise and vibration pollution,” Threatt said in a letter sent to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The quarry company vehemently denied the accusations on their own website, but the stench of racism, discrimination never left.
So what should Balch’s management and their new Chief Compliance Officer Steve Feaga do?
Start by publicly apologizing to the North Birmingham African-American community for the inappropriate and criminal conduct by convicted felon Joel Gilbert.
Then Feaga and his team should drive up to North Birmingham and visit the community (as we have). Maybe attend a community meeting (as we have) and publicly apologize again.
The firm is allegedly losing top partners, clients, and its reputation in part due to the alleged mistreatment of African-Americans and in part due to the secret and unconstitutional Star Chamber.
Will Balch and Feaga have the courage to bring alleged institutional racism and discrimination to an end? Will they finally toss aside the “ruining a rival” mentality from 1961 and shut down the Star Chamber?