Archive for Sunday, October 7, 2012

Opinion: Waging war on 21st century Jim Crow

October 7, 2012


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


Armstrong 2 years, 12 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.

50YearResident 2 years, 12 months ago

Garbage is garbage, no matter how pristine the can.

Is he talking about the felons?

Flap Doodle 2 years, 12 months ago

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

Flap Doodle 2 years, 12 months ago

As the law stands, losing the right to vote is part of the punishment. It continues after the jail sentence is completed. Thanks for playing. Better luck next time.

Liberty275 2 years, 12 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..

Armstrong 2 years, 12 months ago

Keep grasping, you may actually have a valid point some day

Kathy Getto 2 years, 12 months ago

L275 Typical appeal of emotion to end the argument.

"The mind of a bigot is like the pupil of the eye; the more light you pour on it, the more it will contract." OWH

50YearResident 2 years, 12 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?

Kathy Getto 2 years, 12 months ago

Not across the board. Look at the states that have similar laws as Fla.

RogerClegg 2 years, 12 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 [ ] and our congressional testimony here: [ ].

Kathy Getto 2 years, 12 months ago

Your links are bad, please don't bother to re-link to the conservative think- tank on ASSIMILATION.

jafs 2 years, 12 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.

Armstrong 2 years, 12 months ago

Here's a thought, Don't do stuff that will get you thrown in jail ! Wow that was hard.

jafs 2 years, 12 months ago

Since this isn't a personal issue for me (ie. I've never been arrested for a crime), I wonder why you want to make it personal.

That's one of those Fox News tactics, I guess.

Now, back to the topic at hand, which was how our policies make it harder for folks to re-integrate, and increase recidivism.

Which do you think is better public policy? Helping folks who've made mistakes re-integrate and become productive members of society, or making it so hard for them to do that that they have virtually no other choice than to re-offend, and get locked up again?

In thinking about this issue, you might consider how much we're spending as a nation on our criminal justice system, and whether or not there might be better ways to spend that money.

tbaker 2 years, 12 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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