Pubdate: Tue, 09 Oct 2012
Source: Detroit Free Press (MI)
Copyright: 2012 Detroit Free Press
Author: Leonard Pitts Jr.


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 of the War on Drugs. Pradia, then a college
student in Virginia, became involved with, and terrorized by, a man
who choked and punched her. 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 in Florida 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 policies of "eternal damnation," laws that continue to
punish former felons and deny them the vote long after they have done
their time, finished their parole and rejoined society.

The state's former governor, Charlie Crist, had streamlined the
process, making voting rights restoration automatic for nonviolent
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 voting rights returned.

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

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.

We are indebted to the NAACP for bringing attention 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. 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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