† 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. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.
Undercurrents of #Pointergate ~ White Supremacist Policing and Racialized Voter Disenfranchisement by nancy a heitzeg
Questions also emerged with regard to the timing of the piece. The following day, the City of Minneapolis was about to introduce a pilot program that required Minneapolis Police to wear body cameras. This requirement has long been part of Mayor Hodges’ platform and one source of conflict between the Mayor and the police union over growing community demands for accountability. The other98 blog offers a timeline of the evolving tensions and a closer look into the events preceding the body cam announcement:
Battle of the Open Letters
… late September of 2014. Councilwoman Hodges was now Mayor Hodges, and as such was facing higher expectations from the community. On September 26, a coalition of local professors, religious leaders, community groups and others penned “An Open Letter to Mayor Betsy Hodges,” which was later published in the Star Tribune, a local paper. The letter laid out serious concerns about the conduct of the Minneapolis Police Department, particularly residents’ frustration with the behavior of Chief Harteau, who had abruptly dropped out of a listening session intended to address these very concerns. The letter urges Mayor Hodges to break her “silence” on the growing tension and start working to regain public trust of both the police department and local government.
Mayor Hodges responded on October 8 with an Open Letter of her own, emphasizing her commitment to “eliminating gaps based in race and place, growing inclusively, and running the city well for everyone.” The letter goes on to lay out, in exhaustive detail, the plans and goals Hodges had for improving relations between police and the community at large. Early in the letter, this passage appears:
Hundreds of police officers serve respectfully and collaboratively every day to keep people safe and make neighborhoods across our city stronger. But not all do: some officers abuse the trust that is afforded to them, and take advantage of their roles to do harm rather than prevent it. Minneapolis has, and has had, officers like that. These officers do not represent a majority of the department, but their behavior disrupts community trust for all officers in the community… This is why it is so important to check bad behavior and end it, once and for all.
Well. Minneapolis Police were pissed, to put it lightly. In the third and final entry of the Battle of Open Letters, the President of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, John Delmonico, wrote a blistering reply to the Mayor, calling her words “repeated and personal slaps in the face to every member of the Minneapolis Police Department.” He accused her of painting all officers with the same unfair brush, and expressed anger that all of her plans for improving community relations involved changes in the department (Delmonico did not offer alternative plans, nor clarify as to what it would look like to reform the community rather than the police).
Certainly the KSTP story was a distraction from (and perhaps retaliation for) the announcement of the new body camera requirement. What has not yet been fully explicated in the #pointergate story, however, is a deeper discussion of the role of race in policing, including a new Minnesota ACLU Report on racial disparities in low level arrests, and the targeting of efforts to enfranchise Black voters.
FURTHER UPDATE 4:35 p.m. The text of the motion to intervene in the San Antonio redistricting case is here. The legal complaint of the U.S. as intervenor is here. The text of the new lawsuit against the Texas voter ID law is here.
The Justice Department went to court again on Thursday to challenge the legality of Texas’s voter ID law — a law that Texas says it has put back into effect since the Supreme Court freed the state from federal court supervision. In that new lawsuit and in a new maneuver in a pending case over new election districting maps for Texas, the Department will be asking that the state be returned to court oversight of all of its election laws, for at least a decade. Both new moves were announced in a press release. The legal filings are not yet available.
“We will not allow the Supreme Court’s recent decision to be interpreted as open season for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights,” Attorney General Eric Holder said. “The Department will take action against jurisdictions that attempt to hinder access to the ballot box, no matter where it occurs.”
Holder said the Texas filings were “the latest action to protect voting rights, but will not be the last.” That statement may have been a signal that the Obama administration will also mount a legal challenge to the sweeping new North Carolina law limiting voting rights in that state.
In the Supreme Court’s ruling on June 25 in an Alabama case, Shelby County v. Holder, Texas and other state and local governments that had been required to get legal clearance in Washington for any changes in their election laws were spared from that duty, at least for the time being. The Court made the 1965 Voting Rights Act’s Section 5, the preclearance provision, unenforceable by striking down the coverage formula for that section.
The Justice Department had previously signaled that it would make energetic efforts in the courts to get Texas put back under Section 5, by applying an additional, seldom-used part of the 1965 law – Section 3, the so-called “bail in” option.
The Obama administration on Thursday moved to protect minority voters after last month’s Supreme Court ruling striking down a central part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, with the Justice Department asking a court to require Texas to get permission from the federal government before making changes…
Last month’s ruling, Shelby County v. Holder, did away with a requirement that Texas and eight other states, mostly in the South, get permission from the Justice Department or a federal court before changing election procedures. On Thursday, the administration asked a federal court in Texas to restore that “preclearance” requirement there, citing the state’s recent history and relying on a different part of the voting rights law.
North Carolina was long regarded as one of the most progressive Southern states—an island of moderation amid a sea of conservatism. But since Republicans took over the state legislature in 2010 and the governorship in 2012—putting the GOP in control for the first time since 1896—the state has personified the hard-right shift in state capitols across the country after the 2010 elections, moving abruptly from purple to deep red. So far this year, legislation passed or pending by Republicans would eliminate the earned-income tax credit for 900,000; decline Medicaid coverage for 500,000; end federal unemployment benefits for 170,000 in a state with the country’s fifth-highest jobless rate; cut pre-K for 30,000 kids while shifting $90 million from public education to voucher schools; slash taxes for the top 5 percent while raising taxes on the bottom 95 percent; allow for guns to be purchased without a background check and carried in parks, playgrounds, restaurants and bars; ax public financing of judicial races; and prohibit death row inmates from challenging racially discriminatory verdicts. “They’ve drank all the Tea Party they could drink and sniffed all the Koch they could sniff,” Barber says.
The Moral Monday protests began in April, after the legislature introduced voting restrictions that would require a state-issued photo ID (which 318,000 registered voters don’t have) to cast a ballot, drastically cut early voting, eliminate same-day registration during the early voting period, end the $2,000–$2,500 child dependency tax deduction for parents whose college students vote where they attend school, and rescind the automatic restoration of voting rights for ex-felons. Pro-democracy groups dubbed the legislation the Screw the Voter Act of 2013 and the Longer Lines to Vote Bill. The clear aim was to dampen turnout of the young and minority voters who propelled Obama to a surprise victory in North Carolina in 2008 and a near repeat in 2012.
On April 29, Barber and sixteen others, mostly ministers, were arrested inside the North Carolina legislature for trespassing and failure to disperse. He called it a peaceful “pray-in.” The next week, thirty more people were arrested, including the former dean of arts and sciences at Duke University. The numbers grew quickly. By July 15, 838 people had been arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience.
“It really caught on like in the old days,” says Bob Zellner, a former field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, who lives in the city of Wilson. “We’ve been waiting for a renewal of the civil rights movement, and this is it.” The protests are building something unique in North Carolina—a multiracial, multi-issue movement centered around social justice. It’s the kind of thing the South hasn’t seen much of since the 1960s, when students at North Carolina A&T in Greensboro jump-started the modern civil rights movement by refusing to leave the lunch counter at Woolworth’s.
Barber is the MLK of the Moral Monday movement, a charismatic preacher and savvy political organizer. “What do we do when they try to take away our rights?” he asks at the church. “We fight! We fight! We fight!” the crowd shouts, standing and pumping their fists. “Forward together,” Barber says, invoking the slogan of the protesters. “Not one step back,” the congregation responds. Simple placards are passed around: Protect Every American’s Right to Vote; Stop Attacks on the Poor and Working Poor; Why Deny Unemployment Benefits?
n May, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell announced a historic win for voting rights: the automatic restoration of those rights for former nonviolent felony offenders on an individualized basis. It was a few steps short of what voting rights advocates have been calling for, which is full automatic rights restoration for all former felons, but they acknowledged it was a big step forward.
All McDonnell, a Republican, left out of his May announcement was how exactly he was going to do it. After consulting with a number of stakeholder organizations invested in helping the formerly incarcerated, McDonnell this week unveiled the how.
The biggest problem with restoring rights on a person-by-person basis is finding all of the Virginians with nonviolent felonies to inform them of their new voter status.
“We could easily find the felons who were currently in the system or who had previously expressed an interest in getting their rights back,” said Virginia Commonwealth Secretary Janet Kelly in a statement. “However, there is no accurate comprehensive database of felons who are not currently in the legal or corrections system and have been released from probation, and the stakeholder group helped us to find creative solutions to meet that challenge.”
Failing to locate and inform people about their new voter eligibility could lead to continued disenfranchisement — eligible voters failing to register because they think they are ineligible. It could also result in inaccurate claims of voter fraud, as I found in Florida last year.
In addition, the state reclassified certain crimes labeled as “violent” felonies — like statutory burglary and breaking and entering — as nonviolent so that more can take advantage of the restoration. Information about the rest of the voting rights restoration process can be found here: http://www.governor.virginia.gov/News/viewRelease.cfm?id=1895