(Chicago, Illinois ) –
INCARCERATION: AN OLD POLITICAL DISENFRANCHISEMENT SCHEME
“Stop and Frisk”
Statement By Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.
The U.S. District Court’s ruling today in New York regarding Mayor Bloomberg’s “Stop and Frisk” approach to crime and Attorney General Eric Holder’s statement reducing the penalty for those involved in drugs at a low level is a small step in the right direction. But it also allows us to highlight an incarceration scheme that is as old as the post-Reconstruction period when incarceration of the newly freed slaves was used to undo the effect of laws benefiting them. Today incarceration is being used to political disenfranchise minority voters. Approximately one-half of all those in prison are there because of drug-related crimes and over half are minorities.
According to Mr. Jamelle Bouie in the July-August issue of The American Prospect:
· 5.85 million Americans or 1-in-40 adults have currently or permanently lost their right to vote because of incarceration – an increase of 270,000 over the past decade.
· 2.2 million African Americans are currently disenfranchised because of incarceration.
· 1.4 million African American males are currently disenfranchised – 24% of the total disenfranchised population and a whopping 13% of all voting-age African American men.
· In the 48 years since the 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed, the number of legally disenfranchised Blacks has actuallyincreased, thanks to felony laws interacting with a justice system that disproportionately locks up African Americans.
· Four states - Virginia, Florida, Iowa and Kentucky – have a lifetime ban on ex-felons. Only a decree from the governor or a clemency board can restore voting rights in those four states.
· The U.S. is the only democracy that permits permanent disenfranchisement.
· All but two states, Vermont and Maine – where you can vote while incarcerated - disenfranchise felons for some period of time.
Felony disenfranchisement laws can be traced back to the post-Reconstruction era – during the “Redemption” period - in which the former Confederates and white Southern Democrats violently deposed Republican governments throughout the South and rolled back the political gains made by free slaves after the Civil War. From the start, criminal disenfranchisement laws were part of Democrats’ “Redemption” campaign.
· Between 1874 and 1882, every Southern state except Texas found ways to disenfranchise those convicted of minor crimes, like petty theft.
· The view among many whites Southerners was that the 15th Amendment – which outlawed discrimination in voting on the basis of race, color or previous condition of servitude - was a mistake that needed correcting.
· Following the Civil War, freed slaves ran legislatures, served in both chambers of Congress, established public schooling and built political organizations - and whites were anxious to destroy this embryonic political order.
Whatever the motive of today’s massive incarceration, the effect is the same – political disenfranchisement - and, in the name of democracy, it must stop.