† Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.
Criminalizing the Vote
by Kay Whitlock
The Great White Right has already criminalized President Obama. Racist dog-whistling is a staple of Mitt Romney’s campaign. The Republicans have staked their entire effort – in federal and state elections – on the influence of Dark Money and criminalizing the right to vote.
The elections of 2012 all come down to who votes and who doesn’t. That’s why the Republicans are trying to suppress voting in communities of color. Though a number of their Voter ID/Voter Restriction laws or efforts to suppress early voting in targeted states ran into various judicial buzzsaws, they’re still at it.
The latest: Check out these voter intimidation billboards appearing in predominantly black and Latino communities in Ohio.
Through these efforts, promoted by the Koch Brothers, they seek to deny the right to vote to millions of people – poor people, seniors, students – and most particularly, people of color.
We shouldn’t be surprised. And we shouldn’t respond with eyeball rolling and cynicism. For any of us who isn’t already fighting mad, it’s way past time. It’s up to us to not let them get away with it. Too bad we can’t count on the sunshine patriots and fair-weather white pundits in the MSM and blogosphere to continuously shine a light on what’s been happening, call it for what it is, and call out the white supremacist strategies now tailored for a so-called “color-blind”. But you know. They have other priorities.
A White Supremacist Legacy Stained with Blood
The struggle to secure the right of people of color to vote in the United States – from Reconstruction to the present – has always been marked by continuously morphing forms of violence (overt and covert), threat, intimidation, and despicable legal flimflam:
It’s seen media collusion in voter intimidation efforts:
[originally printed in all capital letters in 1906 Atlanta newspaper]
POLITICAL EQUALITY BEING THUS PREACHED TO THE NEGRO
IN THE RING PAPERS AND ON THE STUMP, WHAT WONDER THAT
HE MAKES NO DISTINCTION BETWEEN POLITICAL AND SOCIAL
EQUALITY? HE GROWS MORE BUMPTIOUS ON THE STREET, MORE
IMPUDENT IN HIS DEALINGS WITH WHITE MEN, AND THEN, WHEN
HE CANNOT ACHIEVE SOCIAL EQUALITY AS HE WISHES, WITH THE
INSTINCT OF THE BARBARIAN TO DESTROY WHAT HE CANNOT
ATTAIN TO, HE LIES IN WAIT. . .AND ASSAULTS THE FAIR YOUNG
GIRLHOOD OF THE SOUTH…”
cited in Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow, by Leon F. Litwack
“Several days before the [Charleston, SC, 1947] election some of the whites made the statement that if blacks attempted to vote in the primary, then blood would be running down the streets like water.”
“My sister Dovie’s house was bombed twice in November 1967, because of that school mess and because we registered to vote, and our NAACP was always trying to make folks do right. They meant to bomb my house, but we heard the truck. I was night watching until twelve that night, and the Klan was backing into our driveway…my husband Cleo and I got ready to start shooting, but by this time the German shepherd dog had forced the Klan to move on. I ran to the phone to call Dovie…When they answered, a bomb went off at her house and I heard Mary, my sister’s baby girl, screaming. I started outside, and Cleo was shooting, emptying every gun.”
Winson Hudson, in Mississippi Harmony: Memoirs of a Freedom Fighter.
In recent decades, temporary or permanent disenfranchisement of persons convicted of felonies has denied the vote to millions of people, most of whom are no longer in prison, and most of whom are people of color. One out of every 13 African Americans is disenfranchised through these laws, which reflect the racism foundational to mass incarceration in this country.
And now, with anti-immigrant xenophobia and hysteria rising, Latino voters are in the voter suppression crosshairs, too.
The Tea Party and its pals have also set up volunteer citizen vigilante mechanisms, True the Vote (sic) and others, to actually harass voters waiting in line on election day. Claiming to be nonpartisan, they failed to successfully hide a donation to Republicans.
Sheets Collar” Efforts to Suppress the POC Vote
Over the past few decades we’ve seen a tidal wave of efforts – some successful, some not – voter restrictions (on early voting; registration windows; same-day registration/voting, and the like) and voter ID laws: the Brennan Center for Justice provides a 2012 voting laws roundup here.
Most of those who design and implement voter suppression schemes are so-called “respectable” members of our communities: politicians, business and civic leaders, members of faith communities. Some of them are our neighbors. But no matter how spruced up it is, it’s the same old racism.
And under any name, the new Voter ID laws are a contemporary poll tax.
The Democratic Party, NAACP, ACLU, and other groups are fighting back, and we’ve won some victories on early voting and Voter ID laws. In other related news, Montana tribal members are suing for equal access to the polls. It’s not a coincidence that so many Indian folks living on reservations have to go a long way just to vote. Native Vote is working round the clock to ensure large Native turnouts this year. But in the meantime, the Republicans never quit their own fraudulent activities.
And it’s no coincidence that Republicans seek to dismantle the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – in pieces, if necessary, but altogether as soon as possible, and the current U.S. Supreme Court, dominated by conservatives, headed by Justice Roberts who apparently is “colorblind,” might just let them do it. They seek to ensure Republican/Right victories for at least the next generation.
Our immediate job is to say to those who want to suppress voting and intimidate voters: Hell, No!
And then recognize that we still have movement work to do once this election is over. Because structural racism is still in place, and voter suppression helps keep it there. We have to be in for the long haul, as Fannie Lou Hamer, Dolores Huerta, and so many other freedom fighters have reminded us.
What You Can Do.
Volunteer to Get Out the Vote – GOTV. The entire election depends upon it.
Educate yourself and make sure friends, family, neighbors, colleagues have the voting rights information and tools they need to exercise their right to vote and challenge anyone who tries to intimidate them or others.
- Advancement Project Information
- Project South Information
- Brennan Center for Justice Information
- ACLU Information
- Native Vote
Challenge “Left Wing” Voter Discouragement Efforts. You know what I’m talking about. The folks who contend that there’s no difference between the Republicans and Democrats, so why vote? The ones who feel President Obama just didn’t do enough for them. If you’ve got friends and family who actually give a damn about things, but prefer to be luxuriously cynical and are willing to let a Romney presidency and an even more right-wing Supreme Court be the price of that cynicism, challenge them. Because this kind of voter suppression may not be encoded in law, but its effects will be just as damning.