Pubdate: Sun, 07 Oct 2012
Source: Daily Item (Sunbury, PA)
Copyright: 2012 Miami Herald
Author: Leonard Pitts Jr.
Note: Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for 
commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, 
Miami, Fla. 33132.


Kemba Smith Pradia went to Tallahassee, Fla., last week to demand the 
right to vote. Back in the '90s, when she was just Kemba Smith, she 
became a poster child for the excesses and inanities of the so-called 
War on Drugs. Pradia, then a college student in Virginia, became 
involved with, and terrorized by, a man who choked and punched her 
regularly and viciously. By the impenetrable logic of battered women, 
she thought it was her fault.

The boyfriend was a drug dealer. Pradia never handled drugs, never 
used drugs, never sold drugs. But she sometimes carried his gun in 
her purse. She flew to New York with drug money strapped to her body.

Eventually, she was busted. And this good girl from a good home, who 
had never been in trouble before, was sentenced to more than 24 years.

In the 12 years since President Bill Clinton commuted her sentence, 
Pradia has theoretically been a free woman. Except that she cannot 
vote. Having returned home to Virginia after living awhile in 
Indiana, she had to apply for the restoration of her voting rights. 
She is still waiting.

So last week, Pradia, along with actor Charles S. Dutton, joined 
NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous at Florida's old state capitol 
building to launch a campaign demanding restoration of voting rights 
to former felons.

CNN reports that Florida, Virginia and nine other states embrace what 
might be called polices of "eternal damnation," i.e., laws that 
continue to punish former felons and deny them the vote long after 
they have done their time, finished their parole, rejoined society.

The state's former governor, Charlie Crist, had streamlined the 
process, making voting rights restoration automatic for non-violent 
felons. His successor, Rick Scott, reversed that. In Florida, an 
ex-felon is now required to wait up to seven years before even 
applying to have his or her voting rights returned.

"Welcome back, Jim Crow" said the headline on a Miami Herald editorial.

Ain't that the truth. Between policies like these, new restrictions 
on Sunday and early voting and, of course, Voter ID laws, the NAACP 
estimates that 23 million Americans stand to be disenfranchised - a 
disproportionate number of them African-American.

We have seen these shenanigans before: grandfather clauses; poll 
taxes, literacy tests. Yet African-Americans - heck, Americans in 
general - seem remarkably quiescent about seeing it all come around 
again, same old garbage in a different can.

"If you want to vote, show it," trilled a TV commercial in support of 
Pennsylvania's Voter ID law before a judge blocked its 
implementation. The tenor of the ad was telling, though, implicitly 
suggesting that voting is a privilege for which one should be happy 
to jump through arbitrary hoops.

But voting is emphatically not a privilege. It is a right. By 
definition, then, it must be broadly accessible. These laws ensure 
that it is not.

We are indebted to the NAACP for bringing attention and leadership to 
this. Five years ago, a newspaper columnist - a guy named Pitts, 
actually - raked the organization for being "stagnant, static and 
marginal to today's struggle."

But that was then. In fighting to restore the voting rights of 
ex-felons, in calling last year for an end to the failed "War on 
Drugs," the NAACP has done more than energize itself.

It has also challenged us to recognize that the brutish goals of Jim 
Crow America never died, but simply reshaped themselves to the 
sensibilities of the 21st century, learned to hide themselves in the 
bloodless and opaque language of officially race-neutral policy. It 
would be a critical mistake not to understand this. Indeed, the 
advice of the late Teddy Pendergrass seems freshly apropos: Wake up, 
everybody. And realize:

Garbage is garbage, no matter how pristine the can.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom