- Created on 25 April 2013
Last week, the Delaware State legislature approved a constitutional amendment to all but remove the last Jim Crow-era voter suppression law from its books.
The amendment, passed at the urging of the Delaware NAACP, allows people with nonviolent felony convictions to vote after their release from prison. This is a major victory for voting rights and a strike against the practice of "felony disenfranchisement". But it is also a major step forward for a nation still struggling to heal old racial wounds.
Felony disenfranchisement has direct roots in the Jim Crow Era. In the late 19th century, states above and below the Mason-Dixon Line began to find new and creative ways to keep black voters away from the polls. Banning people with felony convictions was one of the solutions.
For example, in 1901 the Commonwealth of Virginia had 147,000 black voters on the rolls. But many lawmakers saw this growing political block as a threat. At that year's Constitutional Convention, they hatched a plan to disenfranchise African Americans through a combination of black codes and felony disenfranchisement. One legislator said on the record that the plan would "eliminate the darkey as a political factor."
Ninety years later, Kemba Smith-Pradia was an undergraduate student at Hampton University. She got involved with the wrong crowd and found herself behind bars as an accessory to a nonviolent drug offense. President Clinton granted Kemba executive clemency in 2000, six years into her 24 year sentence. She went on to become a college graduate, law student, mother and foundation president - but until 2012, when her rights were finally restored, not a voter.
Kemba's story is just one example of how the legacy of the 1901 Convention lives on. In today's Virginia, 350,000 people are still disenfranchised by the 1901 law, and many of them are African Americans. Nationwide, 48 states allow some form of felony disenfranchisement, and one out of every 13 voting-age African Americans is affected. In four states - Virginia, Iowa, Kentucky, and Florida - disenfranchisement can be permanent.
When Virginia introduced felony disenfranchisement in 1901, they also expanded the list of felony crimes. By raising the penalty for a number of minor offenses, they planned to lock African Americans in the prison system - and out of the political system. A century later, our drug laws have the same amplifying effect. African Americans are far more likely to be arrested for minor drug crimes, and therefore more likely to have their vote taken away.
The good news is that Delaware and other states are beginning to turn the tide. In Virginia, Governor Bob McDonnell has sped up the review process for those who have finished the terms of their sentence. So far he has restored the votes of more than 4,000 citizens. And Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, who callously eliminated automatic restoration of voting rights early in his term, is now taking steps toward restoring those rights.
These are certainly steps in the right direction, but there is more work to do. Virginia, Iowa, Kentucky, and Florida still allow permanent disenfranchisement, and 44 other states permit some level of felony disenfranchisement. You can learn about the law in your state. If you or someone in your community is affected, you can use that information to educate your family, your community and your elected officials about why this is an important issue.
Felony disenfranchisement is an affront to our democracy. Millions of people like Kemba Smith-Pradida - parents, workers, and community leaders - pay taxes, raise families and contribute to society. But they cannot fully participate in our democracy.
If poll taxes, literacy tests, and gumball-counting tests could be outlawed because of their racist intent, then felony disenfranchisement laws from the same era should be overturned today.
Ben Jealous is president/CEO of the NAACP
- Created on 05 March 2013
On Monday, March 5, the FBI released 128 pages of documents that span four years from 1988 to 1992 of the late, legendary singer, Whitney Houston’s life, reports 'The Guardian.'
There was a maniacal Vermont fan who was obsessed with the young diva at the time. The man professed his undying love for her and longed to one day meet her as well. The fan’s all-consuming devotion to Houston escalated to a threatening tilt which waved a red flag to the entertainer, as he attended her every concert and tried desperately to get flowers to her and wrote letters on end which were ignored. The Houston devotee who penned over 70 letters to his imagined lady-love wrote, “I might hurt someone with some crazy idea and not realize how stupid an idea it was until after it was done.” The crazed stalker’s behavior and items that he sent to Houston was monitored by the FBI.
Another fan from the Netherlands sent Houston audio tapes of songs that he had composed, one however was perceived as a threat. When he...
- Created on 12 March 2013
First Lady Michelle Obama (pictured above) has become the latest hacking victim in a string of alarming online assaults on big-named celebs and politicians whose personal finances have been publicly disclosed, reports the New York Daily News.
The Los Angeles police and now the FBI has stepped in to find the culprit/s who supplied the website Exposed.su with Mrs. Obama’s finances as well as the financial pictures of such A-listers as Donald Trump, Vice President Joe Biden, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, and FBI Director Robert Mueller.
The site’s main page, which is titled “The Secret Files,” depicts a dark and zombie-like picture of a teen girl with gory makeup (pictured above) shushing the viewer with the words, “If you believe that God makes miracles, you have to wonder if Satan has a few up his sleeve.” Music from the macabre cable TV show “Dexter” is also playing in the background. Visitors are invi...
- Created on 18 January 2013
(AP) — Too many students worry more about being killed by a gun than learning in the classroom, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said on Thursday, as he cautioned that firearms alone do not make schools safer.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Duncan said that he understands the urgent concerns over school safety in the wake of last month's shooting in Newtown, Conn., which left 20 students dead. He called the 23 executive orders that President Barack Obama signed Tuesday a move in the correct direction but emphasized that they alone were not enough.
"This was only a first step. We need a lot less children being shot dead. We need a lot less children living in fear," he said, urging leaders to listen to teachers.
"Right now, the overwhelming majority of teachers are saying they'd love more resources," Duncan said in wide-ranging interview about his second term as the nation's top school administrator. "They do not want — they are speaking very clearly — they are saying they do not want more guns in schools."
Duncan was one of the top advisers to the White House's sweeping, $500 million gun-control package, the most comprehensive effort to tighten gun laws in almost two decades. The effort faces an uncertain future in Congress, where many Republicans are rejecting his proposals and some fellow Democrats are stopping well-short of pledging immediate action. The country's most powerful gun group has promised the "fight of the century."
Duncan, a former Chicago public schools chief, said he saw violence firsthand and urged both parties to avoid politics.
"We are not all going to agree on every issue but I think the common goal of having fewer dead children, fewer children living in fear — we have to do everything to break through," he said. "If we don't do it now, I don't know when we're going to do it."
He called youth violence a personal issue; as a child, he knew friends killed on the South Side of Chicago and as an adult who led Chicago's schools for seven years, he said he averaged a student's funeral every two weeks.
"By far, the toughest part of my job was going to those funerals, going to those homes and going to those classrooms," he told a conference of the nation's mayors who met with Duncan earlier in the day to discuss education.
He said that fear prevents students from making the most of their time in the classroom.
"If our children aren't sure if they're going to grow up, what that does to their mentality, psychology is very, very deep. They're trying to survive day to day, wondering if they're going to make it past 16, 17 and 18. ... Our whole mantra about working hard sounds a little ludicrous to them. So we have a little work to do."
Duncan said security officers at schools didn't translate to reduced violence in the schools he led.
"I had schools who used to have nine security folks there, and I put all that money into nine social workers. I saw huge reductions in violence," he said.
That same approach could be replicated across the nation, he said, although he was careful to echo Obama's call to let local school districts decide how to spend their money.
"Some schools may want a school resource officer or a social worker or psychologists. It's really important for us to listen to local communities and to empower them," Duncan said.
Yet he strongly urged leaders to listen to teachers.
"If you ask the vast majority of teachers, the vast majority of teachers don't want guns in the schools," Duncan said. "They want more social workers, counselors, mental-health services, after-school programs."