Equal Rights and Justice?
I missed the book signing that prompted this discussion (and this one and this) on felony disenfranchisement for a couple of reasons, one being that the headlight on my car went dead and my attempts to fix it were for naught. I’m interested enough in the topic to keep the discussion among local bloggers going, however.
Liz Garrigan has no compassion for ex-cons who are not allowed to vote. Cool. You don’t have to have compassion for them to believe they should have their rights to vote restored. However if passion must color your sense of justice, let’s look at it from an historical perspective.
Chris Wage inserted the spectre of institutional discrimination into the discussion, and was of course attacked by the typical cast of characters. (You can count on it, if someone on the political left brings up racism, they will be there, protesting too much, like Queen Gertrude said). For this, he’s branded a wacko conspiracy theorist, and told, like a child, that this is not 1966. Thing is, Wage is right on point.
Ya see kids, in this country, disenfranchisement has roots not in criminal jurisprudence, but in good old fashioned stop the darkies racial hatred. Sure, the practice has been around for eons, the idea being that the most egregious criminals should be banned from society. And smart racists know a good idea when they see one. After the freed slaves (men only) were allowed to vote, Southern heads commiserated on all sorts of ideas on how to turn back the clock. In many states, disenfranchisement laws were specifically tailored to catch Negroes, and if possible, exclude whites*. Call me a wacko conspiracy theorist, but to me it sounds a little suspicious.
Am I arguing that felony disenfranchisement is some plot to keep people of color out of the voting booths? No, but it was. Now it is just left to hang, as useless as an appendix (that is, unless you are a Republican). And, like most issues with baggage from slavery and racism, it has residual effects.
It is very un-ironic that felony disenfranchisement affects mostly men of color today, but then again that’s what The Man wanted. Nowadays, with our labyrinth of criminal laws and sentencing guidelines and war on drugs, some people get caught in the crossfire, like some 18 year old first time felony drug offender who pleas out to avoid jail time then finds he can’t vote. He could be white. He could be your cousin, your brother. Can you work up a couple of tears for that?
There have been considerable efforts to abolish felony disenfranchisement. They are all likely to fail. What politician, especially in these times, wants to be seen as having sympathy for Mr. Felon? They’d never vote for a bill containing such a provision. Not even Jr., not even Obama (though they might speak platitudes to this in front of the proper audience).Were I in my old job, I’d likely advise them to do just that. What their party would stand to gain in votes would be minimal; being honest, it isn’t likely that a significant number of former felons would actually vote. Doesn’t mean they should have their right to vote kept from them.
Coble sez: “What makes felonies less criminal (to my mind) is the degree of external violence they cause. How much external violence is caused by felony posession [sic] of narcotics?”
Legalize it, don’t criticize it. (when in doubt, always quote Peter Tosh)
*Alabama lawmakers are on record, there is a paper trail on what I’m saying, look it up.
UPDATE: Seems the Tennessee Legislature is interested after all. They are considering a bill making it easier for felons to get their rights back.