Category Archives: Civil Liberties

Coming Soon! ~ Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence

Killing Trayvons

Skin privilege. When you’re black it seems the hardest thing to explain to whites. Even the most conscious or liberal whites sometimes don’t quite get it. Or as Langston Hughes once said, “A liberal is one who complains about segregated railroad cars but rides in the all white section.”

The killing of Trayvon Martin in February 2012 rang yet another alarm about the costs of that privilege. Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence tracks the case and explores why Trayvon’s name and George Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict symbolized all the grieving, the injustice, the profiling and free passes based on white privilege and police power: the long list of Trayvons known and unknown.

With contributions from Robin D.G. Kelley, Rita Dove, Cornel West and Amy Goodman, Thandisizwe Chimurenga, Alexander Cockburn, Etan Thomas, Tara Skurtu, bell hooks and Quassan Castro, June Jordan, Jesse Jackson, Tim Wise, Patricia Williams, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Vijay Prashad, Rodolfo Acuna, Jesmyn Ward and more, Killing Trayvons is an essential addition to the literature on race, violence and resistance.

Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence is set to be released early Summer 2014.

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Editors:

Kevin Alexander Gray is a civil rights organizer in South Carolina and author of Waiting for Lightning to Strike!: The Fundamentals of Black Politics.

Jeffrey St. Clair is the editor of CounterPunch. His books include Whiteout (with Alexander Cockburn), Grand Theft Pentagon, and Born Under a Bad Sky.

JoAnn Wypijewski regularly writes for The Nation and CounterPunch. Her books include Painting by Numbers.

Published by CounterPunch Books.

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The legal fight to protect white power | By Kevin Alexander Gray

The Voting Rights Act (VRA) signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965 struck down laws supporting Jim Crow segregation and other measures designed to disenfranchise or disempower black voters.  When Congress enacted the law in 1965, it determined that racial discrimination in voting was prevalent in certain areas of the country, particularly in the South.  It has been renewed four times.  In 2006, Congress voted overwhelmingly to reauthorize Section 5 for another twenty-five years. The vote was 390-33 in the House and 98-0 in the Senate.

Opponents of the Act say it’s outdated and no longer necessary.  That it infringes upon states’ rights or sovereignty, and the South is being unfairly punished for racial discrimination that no longer exists.  They argue that the country now has over 10,500 black elected officials including the president and is in effect – “post-racial” in voting practices.

The case that has the VRA in jeopardy is Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder.  Shelby County, a predominately white suburb of Birmingham, wants the Supreme Court to declare a part of Section 4 and Section 5 of Act unconstitutional.  The Court began hearing the case in March of this year.  They will rule on whether Congress’ decision in 2006 to reauthorize Section 5 under the pre-existing coverage formula of Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act exceeded its authority under the 14th and 15th Amendments and thus violated the 10th Amendment and Article IV of the Constitution.

Shelby County attorneys argue, “The violence, intimidation and subterfuge that led Congress to pass Section 5 and this court to uphold it no longer remains.” “The children of today’s Alabama are not racist and neither is their government,” wrote Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange in USA Today.

Alabama has several supporters of its outlook on the high court.  In 2009, Chief Justice John Roberts said, “Things have changed in the South.”  He wrote: “The evil that Section 5 is meant to address may no longer be concentrated in the jurisdictions singled out for pre-clearance.  The statute’s coverage formula is based on data that is now more than 35 years old, and there is considerable evidence that it fails to account for current political conditions.”  In opening oral arguments on the Shelby County case Justice Antonin Scalia called the Act a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” 

Yet the law’s intent is to protect against the entitlement of primarily white men calling the shots and legislatively protecting the unchecked ability to so.  It’s about a fair playing field and making sure biased, bigoted or prejudiced lawmakers are not able to fix the rules to empower their group over others.

Make no mistake about it – the fight over the VRA is about “power, access to power and representative.”  It’s about who makes the rules as to who can vote, when and where they vote and who and what they can vote for.  It is a fight about turnout – limiting some, enhancing others.  As civil rights attorney John Brittain puts: “It’s a fight over a defensive procedural tactic that puts the burden on jurisdictions to prove it is not their intent to discriminate.”   

Here’s a quick overview of the VRA:

  • Section 2 prohibits voting discrimination, and any voting practice or procedure that has a discriminatory result.  It prohibits drawing election districts that improperly dilute minorities’ voting power. This section is permanent and does not require renewal.  
  • Section 3 is how jurisdiction come to fall under or “bail in” to federal scrutiny.  It’s the process by which jurisdictions found to have a ‘pocket’ of discrimination may be required to seek pre-clearance under Section 5.   Section 4 provides a formula to identify those areas and sets remedies.  The jurisdictions covered under the Act include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and most counties in Texas and Virginia.  Jurisdictions in California, Florida, New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Dakota, Michigan and sections of New York City are also covered under the Act.
  • Section 4 also guarantees the right to register and vote to those with limited English proficiency.  It also addresses the ability of members of language minority groups to get information about the electoral process.
  • Additionally, Section 4 provides “bailout” from coverage under the Act. To qualify a jurisdiction must show that for the past ten years, it has not violated the Act. Exceptions may be made for small, immediately corrected violations.  The bailout applicant must show that it has worked to eliminate discriminatory voting practices and it has improved minority access to the electoral process.
  • Section 5, or “pre-clearance” – the “heart of the VRA,” requires that areas of the country with a history of voter suppression and intimidation determined by Section 4 – must submit any changes in their election laws or attempt to change “any voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting…” in any “covered jurisdiction to the Department of Justice or a three-judge panel of the District Court of the District of Columbia for approval. 

VRA supporters oppose shifting the “burden of proof” to the people or “plaintiffs” as opposed to those covered jurisdictions that have shown time and again they will try to slip something unsavory and unfair pass the people.  

If opponents of the Act have their way, plaintiffs – be they private citizens or the United States Department of Justice, will have the burden of proving intent (to discriminate) which for a private citizen will be both costly and discouraging in most cases.

Conservative “post-racialists” pretend that colorblindness is now the order of the day. Yet in 2011 and 2012, 19 states passed more than two-dozen measures that would have made it harder to vote. The Brennan Center for Justice called these schemes “the biggest rollback in voting rights since the Jim Crow era.”  Those measures included voter ID laws, – which some argue, are the “modern day equivalent of poll taxes,” early-voting cutbacks, and curbs on community-based voter registration drives – all of which disproportionately impacted minority and Democratic Party voters.   Moreover, in the last decade or so, lawmakers have broken up majority-minority districts with questionable redistricting practices.  African-American and Latino voters’ names are routinely purged from voter lists under the pretext that “election officials were cleaning them up.”  There’s also been attempts to suppress voting (mostly Democratic) in states like Ohio and Florida that played politics with voting hours in predominately minority precincts.

Most of the states passing restrictive voter ID laws are in the south and covered under Section 5 pre-clearance coverage.  They include states like Texas, South Carolina, Virginia, and Florida in the South, and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in the North, just to name a few.  Voter ID laws in Texas, South Carolina and Wisconsin were suppressed by the courts prior to the 2012 elections.  A DOJ ruling on the S.C. case, prior to the election, led to a federal court ruling that upheld a modified version of the law. It goes into effect in 2013. Moreover, in Texas a federal court recently refused to pre-clear the state legislature’s redistricting plan, finding “the new lines intentionally discriminated against minorities.”  Because of Section 5, Texas was blocked from racial gerrymandering.

Back in June 2012, in the midst of a Presidential election year, Pennsylvania Republican House Majority Leader Mike Turzai let the “cat out of the bag” when he said at a Republican State Committee meeting that the voter ID law was “going to allow Governor (Mitt) Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”  A state judge blocked Pennsylvania from requiring voters to show photo identification in the November ’12 election but also ruled it could be implemented for future elections.

But don’t think its just Republicans who try to get around the Act.  Southern Democrats try to get around the law for pernicious reasons as well.  A couple of years back two white democratic legislators – a Senator and a House member from predominately black Fairfield County, tried to take over their local majority-black school board by successfully passing a measure in the State Legislature that would have given them the power to appoint school board members and gain control of the board’s budget.  The law, had it stood, would have put back in place the same Constitutional setup that existed in the early 1900s.  In those days white supremacy was the order of the day in South Carolina.  It was a time when politicians openly spoke about “fixing” the state’s Constitution after Reconstruction ended to keep black people from power in perpetuity. 

Luckily, the state legislature failed to have their school board takeover scheme pre-cleared by the Justice Department as required by Section 5.  Once a challenge was filed the law was rejected.  One of the legislators, former Representative Boyd Brown, is now a member of the Democratic National Committee.

Unsurprisingly, the two white legislators were educated at a predominately white, private academy set up in response to school desegregation in the 60s.  Coincidentally, Justices Roberts and Scalia’s early education were at private, religious schools.

Additionally, the Act doesn’t just protect African Americans.  It protects alternative political parties. South Carolina is one of only a few states that permit fusion voting, allowing multiple political parties to nominate the same candidate.  Here in South Carolina I was a plaintiff in a 2010 lawsuit against the State Election Commission when it tried to require that political candidates formally notify the state elections commission, in advance of the primary election, of each party that might choose to nominate them and whose nomination they may seek.  The law would have in effect barred electoral fusion because alternative parties, which often choose to cross-nominate the winner of a major political party’s primary, cannot know who the major party candidate in the general election will be before the primaries actually takes place, and cannot put a candidate who hasn’t filed multiple intention forms on its ballot.

A federal court blocked implementation of the state’s requirement after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit charging that the requirement violated Section 5 and that it “severely impairs alternative political parties’ ability to get their candidates on the ballot in violation of the free speech protections of U.S. Constitution.”

Doubtless, the Voting Rights Act has been a “necessary and effective tool” in safeguarding minority-voting rights.  It is also a double-edge sword because it has helped bolster Republican control of southern state legislatures.  In that regard, some opponents and critics of the Act argue that Section 5 is often interpreted to require “racial gerrymandering” in order to ensure minority representation.  Some critics, black and white, mainly libertarians and white democrats, point out that while there’s been an increase in black representation in state houses and congressional districts across the south that African Americans have seats but no real voting power.  Moreover, southern white democrats say that the cost has been a more racially polarized set up where blacks negotiate with white Republicans when it comes time to draw representational lines which in turn fuels the rise of blue- dog conservative democrats who believe they have to be “republican-lite” to stand a chance of getting elected to any office.  And, in some states, Republicans are now attempting to make party registration law in the South, which will most likely lead to a black party – Democrats, and a white party – Republicans.

Even so, “racial gerrymandering” to perpetuate white entitlement is what a town in Shelby County was accused of doing in 2008, when it drew up a City Council redistricting plan that eliminated the city’s sole majority-black district, which had elected black councilmen for 18 years.  And while Shelby County argues before the Court that widespread discrimination of the Jim Crow era had ended, and that “it is no longer constitutionally justifiable for Congress to arbitrarily impose” on the county and other covered jurisdictions the “disfavored treatment” – over the years the county has had more than 200 discriminatory voting irregularities blocked by Section 5 objections. Just last year Judge John D. Bates of Federal District Court, a George W. Bush appointee, rejected the Shelby County case including in his ruling “anecdotal examples of discrimination from the past 25 years, mentioning openly racist lawmakers and poll officials, (and) an episode in Alabama where the doors to polling places were shut early to keep blacks out in last decade. ”

To their credit Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan stated the obvious to Shelby County attorneys.  Sotomayor offered up,  “You may be the wrong party bringing this,” and “why would we vote in favor of a county whose record is the epitome of what caused the passage of this law to start with?”  Kagan followed  saying, “you’re objecting to a formula, but under any formula that Congress could devise, it would capture Alabama.”

Problems aside, to weaken or invalidate the VRA would be a setback for the protection of voting rights.   In light of recent efforts to restrict minority voters’ rights, more, not less, need to be done to protect and expand the right to vote – to include restoration of voting rights for both ex-felons and those in prison.  The progressive voting rights’ agenda has in times past been “no second-class citizenship.”

There’s ample evidence to validate the need to maintain Sections 4 and 5.  ‘Any formula would capture Alabama.’ And as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund argues; “Comprehensive studies of case by case litigation under Section 2 of the VRA (a section covering all states), which compare jurisdictions that are covered by Section 5 with those that are not, strongly support Congress’s conclusion that certain areas have worse records of voting discrimination than others…”

Scalia has made it clear why this case is before the Court – it’s about race and white “race entitlement.” 

The Voting Rights Act was passed because no group is going to “apportion themselves out of power.” If the Court rules in favor of Shelby County in the face of its racist record, it will be doing nothing more than validating white power and racism.

 

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Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address

Saturday, March 4, 1865

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At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

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One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

President Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address (1865) ~ http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?doc=38

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SC Progressive Network Needs Election Day Volunteers

Network Needs Volunteers to Help Voters on Election Day

The SC Progressive Network is working with the Election Protection Coalition to help voters with election-related problems between now and Nov. 6.

We are training volunteers from across the state to respond to requests for assistance from voters on Election Day.

The Election Protection Coalition is supported nationally by most major nonpartisan organizations and is managed by the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights Under the Law. Our state partners are the Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, Inc., League of Women Voters of South Carolina, and the ACLU of South Carolina.

The National Hotline number is 866-OUR-VOTE, and in Spanish: 888-VE-Y-VOTA. Signs with this number have been made available to all of South Carolina’s 2,183 precincts.

In 2008, we fielded nearly 1,400 calls on Election Day from South Carolina voters. Most of the calls were from confused voters, and the problems were easy to fix. Other calls required on-the-ground follow-up at precincts or county election offices.

Columbia training: Oct. 30, 5:30pm, Room 138, USC Law School
Charleston training: Nov. 2, noon-2pm, Room 333, (3rd floor) Charleston School of Law, 385 Meeting. St.

To RSVP for training, or to arrange to be trained at another time, call the Network at 803-808-3384.

Download the Election Protection Hotline sign here.

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Sister Helen Prejean on the death penalty

Sister Helen Prejean

St. Bonaventure University hosted Sr. Helen Prejean’s talk on Nov. 11, 2008 regarding her vocation helping the poor and crusade to abolish capital punishment. Following bio is an 8-part YouTube video of her presentation.

“Sister Helen Prejean was born on April 21, 1939, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She joined the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille (now known as The Congregation of St. Joseph) in 1957 and received a B.A. in English and Education from St. Mary’s Dominican College, New Orleans in 1962. In 1973, she earned an M.A. in Religious Education from St. Paul’s University in Ottawa, Canada. She has been the Religious Education Director at St. Frances Cabrini Parish in New Orleans, the Formation Director for her religious community, and has taught junior and senior high school students.

Sister Helen began her prison ministry in 1981 when she dedicated her life to the poor of New Orleans. While living in the St. Thomas housing project, she became pen pals with Patrick Sonnier, the convicted killer of two teenagers, sentenced to die in the electric chair of Louisiana’s Angola State Prison.

Dead Man Walking

Upon Sonnier’s request, Sister Helen repeatedly visited him as his spiritual advisor. In doing so, her eyes were opened to the Louisiana execution process. Sister Helen turned her experiences into a book that not only made the 1994 American Library Associates Notable Book List, it was also nominated for a 1993 Pulitzer Prize. Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States was number one on the New York Times Best Seller List for 31 weeks. It also made the International Best Seller List and has been translated into ten different languages.

In January 1996, the book was developed into a major motion picture starring Susan Sarandon as Sister Helen and Sean Penn as a death row inmate. Produced by Polygram Pictures, the film was directed and written by Tim Robbins. The movie received four Oscar nominations including Tim Robbins for Best Director, Sean Penn for Best Actor, Susan Sarandon for Best Actress, and Bruce Springsteen’s “Dead Man Walkin'” for Best Song. Susan Sarandon won the award for Best Actress.”

http://www.prejean.org/

http://www.sisterhelen.org/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helen_Prejean

[Note- the following is an 8 part video. Click at upper right for continuation or click onto Youtube for Parts 2-8]

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Kevin Alexander Gray on State Violence and the Murder of Troy Anthony Davis

KPFA FLASHPOINTS

Execution of Justice by Kim Nicolini

With the murder of Troy Anthony Davis by the state of Georgia, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a 2009 capital punishment opinion of  conservative associate, Justice Antonin Scalia, in which he ruled: “[T]his court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.”

Still, the ultimate victory for Troy Davis is that he inspired millions of people – around the world and here in the United States – who want to live in a more peaceful and less violent society. In that regard Troy’s life and murder by the government was not in vain. Sometimes it takes a single incident to shake people up.

Bruce Dixon, managing editor@Black Agenda Report: ” It’s great that so many people signed Troy Davis’s petition and made themselves so visible as opponents of the death penalty. But Troy was clearly and obviously innocent, and imprisoned for decades, ultimately executed anyhow. But until we stand up for the rights of ALL the imprisoned, convicted and formerly convicted, including all those whose innocence, however you construe that word, is not so obvious and those who may in fact not even be innocent —- till we stand for their human rights to education, to health care and a decent chance at life by radically shrinking and ultimately ending the institution of prison the machine that convicts the literally innocent will retain legitimacy and roll on, doing what it does. In other words, coming out to oppose the execution of an obvious innocent person like Troy Davis is low hanging fruit. It’s good that so many are wiling to reach for it. But we will rarely be able to save even these till we de-legitimize the institution of prison and chop down the whole rotten tree.”

Amnesty International

To hear Kevin Alexander Gray’s interview click on header@top of page.  To contribute time or money to organizations working to abolish the death penalty in the U.S. click on any or all of the provided logos.  Click on Kim Nicolini’s artwork of Troy to link to his website which is being maintained by family and friends.  Or start, help start or join an existing anti-death-penalty group.

National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

The struggle continues.

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

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11:08

Troy Anthony Davis | October 9, 1968 – September 21, 2011

SEPTEMBER 21, 2011

Troy Anthony Davis’ final words:

“I’d like to address the MacPhail family. Let you know, despite the situation you are in, I’m not the one who personally killed your son, your father, your brother. I am innocent.

The incident that happened that night is not my fault. I did not have a gun. All I can ask … is that you look deeper into this case so that you really can finally see the truth.

I ask my family and friends to continue to fight this fight and to keep the faith.

For those about to take my life, God have mercy on your souls. And may God bless your souls.”

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