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Archive for Sunday, October 7, 2012

Opinion: Waging war on 21st century Jim Crow

October 7, 2012

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Kemba Smith Pradia went to Tallahassee, Fla., last week to demand the right to vote.

Back in the ’90s, when she was just Kemba Smith, she became a poster child for the excesses and inanities of the so-called War on Drugs. Pradia, then a college student in Virginia, became involved with, and terrorized by, a man who choked and punched her regularly and viciously. By the impenetrable logic of battered women, she thought it was her fault.

The boyfriend was a drug dealer. Pradia never handled drugs, never used drugs, never sold drugs. But she sometimes carried his gun in her purse. She flew to New York with drug money strapped to her body.

Eventually, she was busted. And this good girl from a good home, who had never been in trouble before, was sentenced to more than 24 years.

In the 12 years since President Bill Clinton commuted her sentence, Pradia has theoretically been a free woman. Except that she cannot vote. Having returned home to Virginia after living awhile in Indiana, she had to apply for the restoration of her voting rights. She is still waiting.

So last week, Pradia, along with actor Charles S. Dutton, joined NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous at Florida’s old state Capitol to launch a campaign demanding restoration of voting rights to former felons.

CNN reports that Florida, Virginia and nine other states embrace what might be called polices of “eternal damnation,” i.e., laws that continue to punish former felons and deny them the vote long after they have done their time, finished their parole, rejoined society.

The state’s former governor, Charlie Crist, had streamlined the process, making voting rights restoration automatic for non-violent felons. His successor, Rick Scott, reversed that. In Florida, an ex-felon is now required to wait up to seven years before even applying to have his or her voting rights returned.

“Welcome back, Jim Crow” said the headline on a Miami Herald editorial.

Ain’t that the truth. Between policies like these, new restrictions on Sunday and early voting and, of course, voter ID laws, the NAACP estimates that 23 million Americans stand to be disenfranchised — a disproportionate number of them African-American.

We have seen these shenanigans before: grandfather clauses; poll taxes, literacy tests. Yet African-Americans — heck, Americans in general — seem remarkably quiescent about seeing it all come around again, same old garbage in a different can.

“If you want to vote, show it,” trilled a TV commercial in support of Pennsylvania’s voter ID law before a judge blocked its implementation. The tenor of the ad was telling, though, implicitly suggesting that voting is a privilege for which one should be happy to jump through arbitrary hoops.

But voting is emphatically not a privilege. It is a right. By definition, then, it must be broadly accessible. These laws ensure that it is not.

We are indebted to the NAACP for bringing attention and leadership to this. Five years ago, a newspaper columnist — a guy named Pitts, actually — raked the organization for being “stagnant, static and marginal to today’s struggle.”

But that was then. In fighting to restore the voting rights of ex-felons, in calling last year for an end to the failed “War on Drugs,” the NAACP has done more than energize itself.

It has also challenged us to recognize that the brutish goals of Jim Crow America never died, but simply reshaped themselves to the sensibilities of the 21st century, learned to hide themselves in the bloodless and opaque language of officially race-neutral policy. It would be a critical mistake not to understand this. Indeed, the advice of the late Teddy Pendergrass seems freshly apropos: Wake up, everybody. And realize:

Garbage is garbage, no matter how pristine the can.

— Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. His email address is lpitts@miamiherald.com.

Comments

tbaker 1 year, 6 months ago

The U.S. Constitution does not grant individual citizens the right to vote for president.

Before you reproduce the act of breathless stammering on the keyboard, do a little research and see for yourself.

The “right” to vote has always been limited. For example, if you are not a citizen of the country or if you are under 18 you can’t vote. Over time, the law and the many court cases about it have concluded that the “interests” of people in these restricted groups do not coincide with those of the ordinary citizen, hence they are not permitted to vote.

By the same token, there are laws guaranteeing voting rights based upon race, religion, and gender but there is nothing in the US constitution that prevents voting restrictions from being imposed based upon other criteria, such as on convicted felons. Given the fact they are much more likely to commit a crime than an ordinary citizen is, the law and the court decisions that have affirmed it have held that in general, the interests of a convicted felons do not coincide with those of the ordinary citizens.

The root of this flap Pitts is ranting about has nothing to do with voting rights, or more race-baiting Jim Crow BS demagoguery. It is just (another) example of failed government policy called the War on Drugs. But for this nonsense, this poor woman would not be a convicted felon. No, I’m not “for” illicit drugs. I am against wasteful, stupid, government policy that has utterly failed by any rational measure resulting in all manner of grievous harm being done to the people of this country by their government. This woman is just one example out of millions.

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atiopatioo 1 year, 6 months ago

Pitts wants to be represented by felons? To each his own.

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jafs 1 year, 6 months ago

This issue is an interesting one.

If our laws are structured so as to make it much more difficult for previous criminals to re-enter mainstream society, what do we think will happen?

I say it's pretty obvious that the recidivism rate will be higher.

If you get out of jail, but can't find a place to live, a job, etc. you have many fewer options and ways to support yourself.

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RogerClegg 1 year, 6 months ago

If you aren’t willing to follow the law yourself, then you can’t demand a role in making the law for everyone else, which is what you do when you vote. The right to vote can be restored to felons, but it should be done carefully, on a case-by-case basis after a person has shown that he or she has really turned over a new leaf, not automatically on the day someone walks out of prison.Kemba Smith Pradia may have turned over a new leaf, but the majority of those leaving prison will be returning because they have not -- that's the unfortunate reality. Read more about this issue on our website here [ http://www.ceousa.org/voting/voting-news/felon-vo... ] and our congressional testimony here: [ http://judiciary.house.gov/hearings/pdf/Clegg1003... ].

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50YearResident 1 year, 6 months ago

Leonard already did that when he wrote this:

"Ain’t that the truth. Between policies like these, new restrictions on Sunday and early voting and, of course, voter ID laws, the NAACP estimates that 23 million Americans stand to be disenfranchised — a disproportionate number of them African-American".

What does that paragraph mean to you?

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Liberty275 1 year, 6 months ago

Typical leftist hypocrisy. The constitutions and laws in question apply to everyone in the state but this yo yo only gives it a second notice when he can dress it up a klan suit and parade it around to get people to look at his political frivolity.

He's a bigot. He doesn't care about the felon that can't vote. He cares about the skin of the felon that can't vote. That's all he sees..

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observant 1 year, 6 months ago

The point you nutcases missed is simple. You commit a crime, you serve the punishment. Now why do you continued to be punished? Voting is a right, not a privilege. If you aren't a total nutcase, you would understand that this is a simple fact.

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Flap Doodle 1 year, 6 months ago

Charles Dutton is still alive? It must be his career that's dead.

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JonasGrumby 1 year, 6 months ago

"But voting is emphatically not a privilege. It is a right. By definition, then, it must be broadly accessible. These laws ensure that it is not."

Yet Pitts has a problem with law-abiding citizens such as George Martin carrying guns, which is also a right in the Constitution. When it comes to that right, Pitts opposes broad accessibility.

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tange 1 year, 6 months ago

/ looks like the garbage is on the street for early pickup, this morning

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50YearResident 1 year, 6 months ago

Garbage is garbage, no matter how pristine the can.

Is he talking about the felons?

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Constitutional_Malfeasance 1 year, 6 months ago

"Garbage is garbage". Yes, it is. Pitts needs to put a lid on his can.

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Armstrong 1 year, 6 months ago

Hey Len,

 When you're avoid simple facts like those pesky laws that state convicted felons lose their right to vote, your lame editorial starts to circle the bowl fast.   This editorial is about as lame as Barrys debate performance.
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atiopatioo 1 year, 6 months ago

"Garbage is garbage, no matter how pristine the can."

Once America is taken over by felons like Snoop Lion, and Kemba, Obama will be able to get that 7.8% unemployment down even more.

Snoop Dogg changed his name to Snoop Lion.

Snoop Dogg highlighted a list of top ten reasons to not vote for Mitt Romney as well as why one should vote for President Obama. The politically incorrect list refers to Romney as a “white n*” who looks like he “says n” all the time.”*

http://v103.cbslocal.com/2012/10/05/snoop-dogg-mitt-romney-is-a-morman-with-no-hoes-and-other-musings/

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