A new Texas A&M study has found that the Castle Doctrine – on which Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law is based – does not deter crime and, in fact, increases the murder rate.
“This study provides further evidence that ‘stand-your-ground’ legislation does more harm than good,” NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous said in a statement. “Too often these laws provide cover for vigilantes and hate groups who choose to take the law into their own hands. They have led to an increase in homicides, and people of color seem to always get caught in the crossfire.”
The study finds that these laws increase murder and manslaughter by a statistically significant seven to nine percent. The study also finds that they have no “meaningful deterrence” on theft-related crimes.
The killing of Florida teen Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in late February launched thousands of arguments about Castle Doctrine laws, which allow a person to use lethal force against an intruder in certain situations, provided they have a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily harm. Lawmakers in several states, including Texas, have debated revising their own self-defense laws.
"We found a seven to nine percent increase in homicides," says one of the study's authors, associate economics professor Mark Hoekstra. "That's significant. That's robust. We did comparisons in a bunch of different ways. We compared states that adopt (the law) to states that don't adopt. It doesn't matter if you control for things like policing or levels of incarceration. You can compare to only other states in the same region. It doesn't matter. At the end of the day, Castle Doctrine increased homicides by seven to nine percent."
Hoekstra and his co-author, grad student Chen Cheng, looked at 23 states where Castle Doctrine laws exist and found evidence that the Castle Doctrine increases justifiable homicides committed by civilians by anywhere from 17 to 50 percent. The reality is that justifiable homicide is narrowly defined and exceedingly rare: according to the FBI, a killing can only be classified that way when someone kills another person who's committing a felony. Fewer than 200 deaths are classified that way each year.
Instead, the study found that the Castle Doctrine increases total homicides, including murder and non-negligent homicide, by 500 to 700 additional deaths per year. Hoekstra says they see three distinct possibilities that might account for the increase.
"One theory is that these are in some sense legitimate self-defense killings that just don't meet the strict definition of justifiable homicide," he said. "On the other hand, it could be that the increase in homicide is due to criminals escalating. So one possible response to the Castle Doctrine is for criminals to carry and use guns more frequently, for example. We could be picking up the effect of that. The third possibly is that otherwise non-lethal conflicts turn deadly because of Castle Doctrine. It's really, really difficult to distinguish between those three possibilities."
In 2005, Florida became the first state to legally expand self-defense protections by removing the duty to retreat before using lethal force outside one’s own home, as well as by adding other provisions that address civil liability and a “presumption of reasonable fear” when acting in self-defense. Twenty-two other states have passed similar laws, though some are more restrictive than others.
The term “Castle Doctrine” comes from the English common law principle that people have no duty to retreat before using lethal force in self-defense when in their own home, or castle. The purpose of the laws is to help victims better protect themselves against violent crime.
For their study, Hoekstra and Cheng analyzed state-level crime data from 2000 to 2009 from FBI Uniform Crime Reports. They began their initial investigation last summer, well before the Martin case pushed self-defense laws into the spotlight.
To the untrained eye, their research doesn’t fall into a category of traditional economics, but Hoekstra says it is all about incentives.
“When you change self-defense law, you change incentives. You change the incentives of people protecting themselves — now it’s lower cost to use lethal force, for example, after a state passes a Castle Doctrine law,” Hoekstra said. “So … on the one hand you might expect to get more lethal force because you lowered the cost, and on the other hand, you might expect to get less crime because you raised the expected cost to criminals.”
But as Hoekstra found, the results indicated only that there was an increase in the use of lethal force. The main question now, Hoekstra says, is why homicides increased.
“I think there are several reasonable explanations for why homicides would go up, but I’m not sure which one is true,” he said. “It could be that the increase in homicides is driven by an increase in self-defense killings. On the other hand, it could be that the increase in homicides is due to an escalation of violence in otherwise nonviolent situations.”
The study says that self-defense alone probably doesn't explain the numbers, though.
"We suspect that self-defense situations are unlikely to explain all of the increase, as we also find that murder alone is increased by a statistically significant 6 to 11 percent," they write." "This is important because murder excludes non-negligent manslaughter classifications that one might think are used more frequently in self-defense cases. But regardless of how one interprets increases from various classifications, it is clear that the primary effect of strengthening self-defense law is to increase homicide."
Any hope that criminals in Castle Doctrine states might be deterred from robbing you by the knowledge that you could be packing heat are also incorrect.
"This is true not just of criminals, but of the general public: when it comes to things that involve probabilistic thinking, people have a pretty hard time with it,” he said. “What's the increase in the possibility that someone will defend themselves with lethal force against me? It's tough to answer that in a super rigorous way. The idea that a criminal is going to do a really great job of answering that, and if they'd be able to make these calculations – you're asking a lot of anybody to make that calculation."
The homicide increase also presents another issue for the researchers. How do you determine who died in a Castle Doctrine situation: the alleged criminal or the person allegedly defending themselves? The FBI data Hoekstra and Cheng studied doesn't show that kind of detail, and Hoekstra says it's crucial in figuring out what's driving the homicide increase. The answer, he says, is another study.
"The best idea I've come up with is to try to figure out if the people getting killed have criminal backgrounds," Hoekstra said. "If you see an increase in people getting killed without criminal backgrounds then at least part of what it suggests is escalation." But, he concedes, "It's going to be difficult. I don't know how optimistic I am."
Texas A&M University and the Dallas Observer contributed to this report.
Zack Burgess is the Enterprise Writer for The Tribune. He is a freelance writer and Editor who covers culture, politics and sports. He can be contacted at zackburgess.com and followed on Twitter @zackburgess1.
There are few things more precious to humans than the air we breathe; unfortunately, not all air is created equally.
If you need proof, take a ride across the Passyunk Avenue Bridge, past the sprawling oil refinery owned by the recently formed Philadelphia Energy Group, and spend a few moments wandering the streets of Schuylkill Southwest – where residents have spent decades dealing with the mysterious odors that periodically emanate from the glowing stacks less than a mile away.
Nearly three quarters of the neighborhood's population is African American – more than half earn less than $25,000 a year – and while their story is not unique, they share something in common with similar populations of Americans scattered across the nation's post-industrial landscape: They are being disproportionately deprived of quality air.
Over the years, research has shown that low-income and minority communities are breathing higher concentrations of dangerous chemicals and particulates than their upper income and white counterparts; and experts say they are paying the price for it, with higher incidences of learning disabilities tied to lead exposure, respiratory ailments such as asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia, and chronic heart disease and cancer.
Statistics show that African Americans are suffering the worst. Blacks are hospitalized for asthma at more than three times the rate of whites. Between 2001 and 2009 asthma rates in Black children increased almost 50 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control, with higher exposure to environmental pollutants listed as one of the causes.
Whether you choose to call it a “disproportionate burden of environmental risks and harms,” as the Environmental Protection Agency did in 2004, or “environmental racism” – the term preferred by community advocates – the problem is real, and it's not getting any better.
A new report from the NAACP shows that despite a federal mandate designed to narrow the gap, poor people and minorities continue to be impacted by coal industry pollution more than any other group. The NAACP ranked 378 coal-fired power plants on the basis of toxic emissions and demographic factors and found that the income level of people living near polluting facilities is more than $3,000 below the national average.
More than two-thirds of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired plant – the distance at which health effects from fallout are most likely to be felt. The dirtier the coal plant, the higher the proportion of minorities living near it. Of the four million people living within three miles of the nation's 75 “failing plants” – which account for the highest levels of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides – 53 percent are minorities, while more than three quarters of the people living near the 12 “worst offending plants” are people of color, the NAACP found.
“Coal pollution is literally killing low-income communities and communities of color,” said NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. “There is no disputing the urgency of this issue.”
Jacqui Patterson, director of the NAACP Climate Justice Initiative, traveled the country as a co-author of the study and saw firsthand the human impact of these disparities.
“We saw a troubling pattern, and heard story after story of people who had health conditions that presented themselves after moving into areas near these plants, or saw a pattern of more people than the norm having these conditions,” she said, recounting the story of one resident who claimed that half the members of her church were on respirators.
Yet coal is hardly the only culprit. Thanks to its long history as a center of heavy industry, Philadelphia has earned the distinction of being one of America's most polluted metropolitan areas. In its 2012 State of the Air report, the American Lung Association listed Philadelphia tenth on its list of cities with the worst particulate pollution, and just last week Philly was ranked the third dirtiest city in the nation by Forbes – with 18.5 million pounds a year of toxic releases, according to EPA data. The City of Chester – which sits just outside Philadelphia and where three quarters of the population is Black – is home to the largest trash incinerator in the state, and for years has been a focal point of environmental justice activism.
A pattern of discrimination
The NAACP report is just one of a number of studies released over the past decade detailing the disproportionate impact of environmental pollution on communities of color. An Associated Press analysis of data from the EPA's Toxics Release Inventory from 2005 shows African Americans are nearly 80 percent more likely than whites to live in neighborhoods where industrial pollution is a problem. In 2009, the Ford Foundation sponsored a comprehensive survey of 300 metropolitan areas and determined that Blacks fare worse than any other ethnic group when it comes to exposure to air pollution from a variety of sources.
“If the first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem,” the authors stated, “America must acknowledge that clean and safe air – which would seem to be a birthright of every person – is not currently an equal-opportunity affair.”
The study ranked the Harrisburg metropolitan area fifth in the nation for environmental racism, with minorities suffering more than 32 percent of the impact from industrial pollution despite making up just 13.5 percent of the population. Until it was shut down in 2003, the predominantly minority neighborhood of South Harrisburg was home to the largest dioxin polluting trash incinerator in America. (A plan to rebuild it forced the city into bankruptcy last year).
While both low-income and minority communities suffer disproportionately from environmental pollution, according to Philadelphia-based environmental attorney Mike Ewall – a long-time activist and founder of the Energy Justice Network – race plays a bigger role than class.
“If one were to compare a middle-class community of color to a low-income white community, and look at which community is more likely to have a hazardous waste facility sited there, the middle-class community of color would have a greater chance of being targeted for such a facility,” he said.
Patterson, of the NAACP, says that's because environmental racism is as much a function of political capital, or lack thereof, as it is about income. Black communities have faced a history of political marginalization, making it harder to fight off proposed polluting facilities or close down existing ones, she says. Also, while poor white and Black families might have similar incomes, African Americans tend to have less wealth, which is an important factor when it comes to buying property. Patterson points to a study that found property values average 15 percent lower in areas near a toxic polluting facility.
The federal government has been aware of these discrepancies since the early 1970s, and under President Bill Clinton resolved to do something about them. In an executive order signed in February 1994, Clinton called on the EPA to achieve “environmental justice ... by identifying and addressing...disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations.”
Twice since then, in 2004 and 2006, the EPA's Office of Inspector General has analyzed the agency's progress, and in both cases determined that it had failed to consistently integrate environmental justice into its day-to-day operations or direct regional offices to conduct environment justice reviews. Last year, the nonprofit Center For Public Integrity detailed dozens of open environmental justice cases “languishing” in the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights, some of which are more than a decade old.
Lisa Jackson, the EPA's Administrator, has listed environment justice as one of the agency's top seven priorities and says her goal is to make environmental justice and fairness part of EPA's everyday decision-making. In 2010 the agency launched its EJ2014 initiative, which seeks to create a comprehensive roadmap for protecting and empowering communities over-burdened by pollution.
“EPA has always had a special role with respect to environmental justice, but in this administration, President Obama has really revitalized the larger issue of environmental justice, in which other agencies as well as ours are playing important roles,” she said, in an interview last March published in The Root.
But activists representing the environmental justice movement are dubious of the government's ability to get anything done without legislative changes to the current mandate, which according to its own language “is intended only to improve internal management” and lacks “any right, benefit, or trust responsibility, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law.”
Mike Ewall, director of the Energy Justice Network, says current law “lacks teeth” because it includes “no remedies; there's basically nothing enforceable in it at all.” He insists that any new initiative will require new laws with the power to hold polluters accountable, for instance, by revoking permits.
Meanwhile courts have tied private citizens' hands to deal with the problem through legal channels. Ewall points to a legal precedent set in 2001 that prohibits private lawsuits alleging a violation of Title VI civil rights without proof of intent. “If you can't prove that the disproportionate environmental impact is intentional, you're out of luck,” he said.
According to the EPA's website, while EJ2014 will “implement guidance [for] incorporating environmental justice into the fabric of its rulemaking process,” the program itself is “not a rule or regulation,” but “a strategy to help integrate environmental justice into EPA's day to day activities.” Among the proposed reforms are changes to the permitting process to include more community involvement.
As opponents of Pennsylvania’s controversial voter ID law, or Act 18, await a final decision by Judge Robert Simpson, the results of a recent study regarding the expected impact of the law were announced this week.
During a teleconference on the validity of the law, Keith W. Reeves, director of the Center for Social and Policy Studies at Swarthmore College, said that original state estimates were wrong. Reeves said the research shows that as many as 400,000 eligible voters would be turned away from the polls in November because they lack proper identification.
“We surveyed 227 actual voters who participated in the last primary election,” Reeves said. “Of that number, 49 percent were African-American, 18 percent Latino and the rest a mix of other ethnicities. We wanted to know if the voter ID law was being implemented fairly and evenly. What we found were half of the voters surveyed were asked to show a valid photo ID. Fifty-nine percent had a driver’s license, 13 percent had some form of military ID and 3 percent had employee photo identification. There were 4 percent of those who turned out that had no photo ID at all. That 4 percent translates into 400,000 eligible voters who would be barred from voting. The survey also showed that the 4 percent who had no photo ID were non-white — none of the white respondents were affected. Clearly that shows there is some racial disparity here, and we have a lot of work left to do in order to educate voters.”
Democratic State Sens. Anthony Hardy Williams, Vincent Hughes and NAACP CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous were also on hand for the teleconference and offered their insights into how the Voter ID law would disenfranchise thousands of voters. Jealous said that voter suppression was always the intent behind the legislation, and Williams referred to it as one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the nation.
“What the Reeves Report clearly demonstrates is what we’ve been saying all along, that if voter ID goes forth as is on Nov. 6 — just six weeks away — otherwise qualified voters will lose their rights,” Williams said. “These are the facts. They cannot be denied. They cannot be ignored. So no matter what the administration says, let me be clear: Act 18 is unconstitutional. It cannot be fully implemented in time to prevent voter disenfranchisement this November.”
According to Reeves, his research team conducted exit polls at 13 separate wards in Philadelphia during the April 24 primary elections. The team also polled voters in Allegheny and Butler counties and the August 7 special elections, taking random surveys. The surveys determined that enforcement of the law was arbitrary and 4 percent of those voters — all people of color — possessed no forms of valid photo identification at all.
Jealous said voter suppression, particularly of African Americans and other minorities — segments of the population most inclined to vote for Barack Obama in November — was always the intention.
“The 4 percent number suggests those who would be affected by this is much larger than the state suggested,” Jealous said. “This says to me that senior citizens, many of whom fought against the Jim Crow laws and poll taxes, would be significantly affected — and after so long now they’re going to see that repeat itself. This report shows that was the intent of the law, Senator Mike Turzai said that was the intent and if not for the courts this will be successful.”
In June, Republican State Sen. Mike Turzai stated during a party function that the state’s Voter ID law would help presidential candidate Mitt Romney win in Pennsylvania. In August, Commonwealth Judge Robert Simpson, also a Republican, upheld the law. Simpson stated in his decision that opponents who were asking for an injunction that would halt its implementation didn’t adequately demonstrate that voters would be adversely affected.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP, which challenged the law, appealed to the State Supreme Court, who, in a ruling on Sept. 18, kicked the decision back to Simpson. Ruling 4 to 2, the justices ordered Simpson to consider whether or not all eligible voters will be able to obtain acceptable ID if the law is upheld. The high court asked Simpson to submit a supplemental opinion on the availability of alternate IDs by Oct. 2nd.
“This is empirical evidence of what Turzai stated, and what we and my colleagues have been saying all along. This is all about assisting Romney through voter suppression,” said Hughes. “This is real evidence of what the actual intent was, and shows that the state is nowhere near ready to implement this failed law, which is what it is. Even if all the data was in place, when we escort people to PennDot centers to get their state photo ID’s, they get mixed and conflicting information about what they need. There are significant problems here. At best this law needs to be thrown out, and at worst, its implantation should be halted.”
Even before the United States Supreme Court’s decision last week to declare juvenile life without parole to be unconstitutional, it was a well documented fact that America leads the world in sentencing youthful offenders to a lifetime behind bars.
But in the shadow of the landmark decision is the extreme racial disparity that exists in the sentencing of juveniles without the possibility of parole, according to a report by the Sentencing Project.
The study, The Lives of Juvenile Lifers: Findings from a National Survey, determined that along with the racial disparity was a tendency on the part of judges to impose sentences without judicial discretion, and the defendants were generally exposed to excessive levels of violence in their homes and communities, high levels of physical abuse, and significant social and economic deprivations.
According to the report, a third of the more than 1,000 defendants surveyed were raised in public housing, 18 percent were not living with a close adult relative before their incarceration and some reported being homeless. More than half witnessed weekly violence in their neighborhoods and less than half were attending school at the time of their arrest. More disturbing is the proportion of African Americans serving juvenile life without parole sentences for the killing of a white person: 43.4 percent. Conversely, white juvenile offenders with Black victims are only about half as likely to receive a sentence of life without parole.
“Racial disparities remain extremely pronounced in the Juvenile Justice system,” said Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP in a press release. “African-American children are 10 times more likely than their white peers to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. We remain concerned that racial disparities will continue to be evident as courts exercise discretion in making this assessment. If past sentencing is any guide, this most severe sentence may remain all too common for children of color.”
The study showed that most of the sentences were imposed in states where the judges were faced with the obligation to sentence the defendants mandatorily and without consideration of their age or circumstances. In Pennsylvania, which leads the nation in juveniles serving life without parole, it is a legal requirement that youthful defendants of any age who are charged with homicide must be tried in an adult court and when convicted, sentenced without the possibility of parole.
Also, Sentencing Project research shows that of the 450 inmates in Pennsylvania who are serving juvenile life without parole, 315 are African-American.
Chief Justice Elena Kagan, in writing the majority decision last week, held that juvenile life without parole was cruel and unusual punishment. Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the dissenting opinion, said the ruling was not their decision to make.
In Pennsylvania, one inmate who was sentenced to life in 1973 has already filed a petition with the Court of Common Pleas for release based on the Supreme Court decision. Tyrone Jones, now 56, was arrested at age 16 for his connection to the murder of Henry “Country” Harrison. Jones fit the general description of the shooter and there were more than 30 people who witnessed the shooting. When Tyrone was arrested, he had a .25 caliber pistol in his waistband. During questioning, he told detectives he shot at the victim about four times, but Harrison was killed with a .22 caliber bullet. During further interrogation, Jones said that his friend Michael Long also had a gun. When Long was questioned by investigators, he admitted that he had a .22 caliber gun and that he also shot at the victim.
Neither Jones nor Long was ever identified by witnesses as having killed Harrison. Jones was convicted and sentenced to life based on his own statements, which did not match the facts.
“The large number of individuals sentenced to juvenile life without parole represents the dismantling of the founding principles of the juvenile justice system,” said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project in a press release. “These youth were failed by systems intended to protect children. Many juveniles sentenced to life without parole first suffer from extreme socioeconomic disadvantage, and are then sentenced to an extreme punishment deemed unacceptable in any other nation. Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs, the cases behind the ruling involved Evan Miller and Kuntrell Jackson, both of whom were sentenced when they were 14 years old. Miller was convicted of killing a man in Alabama; Jackson was convicted of being an accomplice in a robbery that ended in murder in Arkansas.”
Publicly and privately, most Republican strategists tout the party line on Voter ID. Publicly, it’s on principle, they say, with legions of conservative think tankers, fellows and analysts providing “reams” of data and evidence on hints and instances of “voter fraud.”
“The fraud denialists also must have missed the recent news coverage of the double voters in North Carolina and the fraudster in Tunica County, Miss., — a member of the NAACP’s local executive committee — who was sentenced in April to five years in prison for voting in the names of ten voters, including four who were deceased,” said Heritage Foundation senior legal fellow Hans von Spakovsky. “And the story of the former deputy chief of staff for Washington mayor Vincent Gray, who was forced to resign after news broke that she had voted illegally in the District of Columbia, even though she was a Maryland resident.”
Still, opponents of Voter ID, a legal measure that has hit the political landscape in a wave of state legislative maneuvers and referenda, dismiss such talk as delusional and lacking on pure numbers. Whether or not GOP-fueled fears and gossip are true, it doesn’t change the fact that one of the most obscure legal battles in recent American history is actually turning into one of the most knuckle-up and personal fist fights of the 2012 election season.
Which is the point, argues one prominent white Republican consultant who refuses attribution due to close business and political ties within the African-American community. “This is about winning. Pure and simple,” says the source in a conversation with the Philadelphia Tribune. “This is, not really, about race or anything doing with racism like a lot of people on the left are claiming. I know it might look like that, but I think that a lot of people are really underestimating what lengths Republicans will go to just to win a race. And if that means disenfranchising a few people along the way, then that’s just the way it is.”
That the source insisted on anonymity speaks to the sensitive nature of the topic. The moral optics of the fight clearly do not favor Republicans, especially the voting blocs of state legislators who keep putting the measures in place in an effort to eliminate shenanigans at the polls. Nine states, mostly clustered in the South, require some form of legitimate identification to vote; more than two dozen states — including Pennsylvania — have some sort of Voter ID law in the proposed legislative pipeline. Key political battleground states like Ohio and Florida (known to turn the tide of an election) have “repressive election legislation” according to the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, which shows it all on a big, colorful interactive map on its website.
Many of the laws are passed in states with large African-American populations – the same population that provided Democrats with enough bounce in 2008 to catapult Barack Obama into the White House.
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) President Ben Jealous, thinks they’re more angry about the color of the man in the White House than they are about his politics. “You’re talking about the oldest and most successful head game in the realm of racist politics,” argues Jealous, who rattles off a chronology of key moments in history where the Black vote has been suppressed. Jealous eagerly gives the rundown, arguing that throughout this country’s history, there’s a direct correlation between major moments of progress for African Americans and the subsequently bad aftertaste of racist response. “You have to do the investigation and look back years ago. Voting bans today are identical to voting bans of years ago.”
To Jealous, it’s an all out assault, driven in part by the Obama’s win in 2008. Since then, he said, “more bills have been pushed through to limit ballot access than in any other time in U.S. history. When our democracy expands, people who object to the direction of it are going to find creative ways to suppress it.”
“The urgency is on state-sponsored voter suppression. These are laws that require multiple forms of Voter ID and there are, in many instances, thousands of older Black folks who don’t have the ID.”
The impression, based on Jealous’ observations and the standing consensus of many prominent Black political leaders and civil rights icons, is that Voter ID is the Battle of the Bulge. It’s an African American Alamo, the last big political stand of 2012 that requires just as much sweat, vocal push and blood – if need be – as the 1960s civil rights mass movements. There are two problems however.
On one hand, there’s a growing internal discussion within the Black political community that shows some cracks in that consensus. Some Black Republicans, many privately out of fear of public humiliation at the barbershops and churches, take their party’s line on the issue, claiming that it’s an embarrassment that Black leaders would actually admit that large numbers of Black folks don’t have one of the most common pieces of personal baggage in existence: their ID.
Consultant and strategist Raynard Jackson, however, is a bit more brazen and open about it. “To my knowledge, I have never heard anyone claim they were discriminated against if they were not allowed to fly or enter a government building because they didn’t have an I.D.,” blasts Jackson, who feels the “21st century poll tax” argument is overblown. “To the contrary, people know the rules in advance, so therefore they comply.”
“I don’t know anyone — young or old, Black or white — who doesn’t have any form of government sanctioned I.D.”
Former U.S. Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL), who is Black, won’t take Jackson’s side on that argument, but he has stunned Black politicos and civil rights types with his persistent charge on behalf of his home state’s Voter ID law – considered by the Lawyer’s Committee and other organizations as one of the most egregious in the South. “I was certainly critical of the Georgia Voter ID law,” Davis’ backtracks a little. “[But] I’ve looked at the issue and what Alabama has done over the past several months. Any Voter ID should make an exception for different circumstances and make identification available free of charge.”
Davis, a former member of the Congressional Black Caucus up until he suffered a stinging defeat in a gubernatorial primary in 2010, shifts uncomfortably these days at the accusation that he’s “sold out.” The tone in his voice gets considerably sharper when pitching Alabama’s voter ID law further, at some points pivoting. “There is a group of individuals out there who don’t have a driver’s license. Those individuals should have a chance to get identification, so they have the opportunity to vote. I don’t think a fair Voter ID law is going to disenfranchise any group of people.”
But, beyond the sparring and philosophical open-mic battles, the other problem deals with awareness.
It’s just not that sexy an issue.
Conduct an informal survey of average Black folks working to make ends meet in, say, North Philadelphia or Southeast D.C. on Voter ID, and chances are they’ll stare at you in befuddlement.
Ask those under the age of 25 and younger about it, and you’re likely to get more information on Nicki Minaj’s latest tattoo.
It’s a challenge Jealous is aware of. After speaking fluidly and almost non-stop for nearly 20 minutes on the topic, he’s reached a pause on that question. Still, he doesn’t sound frustrated. He just regains footing and boasts the confidence an NAACP president is supposed to have.
“The NAACP can always get as much attention as TMZ. You look at the Troy Davis situation where it was one of the most visible events in 2011,” says Jealous.
“We must make the conflict visible. And we are working state by state and nationally to make that happen. You finally start getting conversations on street corners and in barbershops. They have to understand that their right to vote is under attack.”
During an angry and vocal rally held outside of the Municipal Services Building Thursday morning, members of the NAACP, several union representatives, clergy, state and city legislators took turns commenting on the Pennsylvania Voter ID law.
The rally, which was hosted by the NAACP, took place before the state Supreme Court heard testimony regarding the controversial law that has been the target of opposition since Republican Governor Tom Corbett signed off on it. Opponents of the law have said it was not designed to prevent voter fraud but to disenfranchise voters who most likely will cast their ballot for Pres. Barack Obama in the upcoming election.
“This law is nothing less than a criminal offense against democracy,” said Philadelphia NAACP President J. Whyatt Mondesire. “We’re out here to let the government know that this voter identification law is wrong and based on a lie. We have not stopped fighting to turn this thing around. Despite attempts to use voter ID as a way to block the vote, we will make sure that people vote. Today, we use the voice that the NAACP has been fighting to protect for over a century.”
Referencing deceased civil rights leaders Medgar Evers and Harry T. Moore, who were murdered while working to register African Americans to vote, NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous said the law amounts to a modern poll tax.
“This year, in this country, we have seen more states pass laws to push voters off the polls than in the past 100 years,” Jealous said. “Turning the tide, we have won in Texas and we have even won in the Republican states of Michigan and Virginia, but we find ourselves here challenging the law again. We won in Wisconsin and Minnesota and yet here we are, in the cradle of our democracy, fighting to keep the right to vote. This is not a Republican thing or a Democratic thing. It is an extremist thing. All of us should have the right to vote.”
According to a legal brief filed by the city , City Commissioners Stephanie Singer and Anthony Clark, and the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, the Voter ID law would place unconstitutional burdens on more than 100,000 voters in the city. At least 186,000 registered voters in Philadelphia have no form of PennDOT identification. At least 175,000 registered voters have expired PennDOT identification. The brief goes on to state that approximately 361,000 of the city's 1,100,000 registered voters may not have sufficient identification to cast their votes on Election Day.
Opponents of the law say that despite virtually no evidence of voter fraud — the problem that the law was supposed to prevent — voter ID is necessary to protect the integrity of the ballot. During hearings in March, before Corbett signed the law, attorneys for the Commonwealth could provide no instances of voter impersonation fraud. Following the passage of the measure into law, the U.S. Department of Justice requested information to determine Pennsylvania’s compliance with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. That section prohibits voting procedures or practices that discriminate on the basis of race, color or membership or membership in a language minority. That information request was subsequently refused by James Schultz, general counsel for the Corbett administration. In a letter responding to the DOJ request, Schultz said the federal government had no authority to either request or compel the Commonwealth for that information.
“The question is why you really had to change the law?” asked the Rev. Dr. Kevin, R. Johnson, pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church, during the rally. “Did you change the law because you knew that people lack photo ID in poor black and brown communities?
“We have to vote because people died for out right to vote. We have to vote because Medgar Evers died for us. We have to vote because hundreds of thousands marched for us.”
HOUSTON — The head of the NAACP on Monday likened the group’s fight against conservative-backed voter ID laws that have been passed in several states to the great civil rights battles of the 1960s.
Benjamin Todd Jealous, the CEO and president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said these are “Selma and Montgomery times,” referring to historic Alabama civil rights confrontations. He challenged those attending the NAACP’s annual convention to redouble their efforts to get out the vote in November.
“We must overwhelm the rising tide of voting suppression with the high tide of registration and mobilization and motivation and protection,” he said.
“Simply put, the NAACP will never stand by as any state tries to encode discrimination into law,” Jealous said.
The power to vote will be a key theme of the weeklong 103rd convention, which was expected to host about 8,000 attendees. An appearance by Attorney General Eric Holder was postponed from Monday until Tuesday, and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Vice President Joe Biden were also expected to speak at some point.
Since 2010, at least 10 states, including Texas, have passed laws requiring people to show a government-issued photo identification card when they go to the polls.
Supporters of voter ID laws, including many conservative Republicans, contend they are necessary to protect against voter fraud. But opponents say instances of such voter fraud are extremely rare and that voter ID laws could suppress turnout among the elderly, poor and some racial minorities who are less likely to have driver’s licenses or passports and who might find it harder to miss work or lose pay to obtain proper ID.
George R. Brown Convention Center was only about half-full for Jealous’ hour-long speech, but by the end he had much of the crowd standing and shouting, “Forward ever, backward never!”
“Our democracy is literally under attack from within. We have wealthy interests seeking to buy elections and when that ain’t enough, suppress the vote,” Jealous said. “There is no battle that is more important or urgent to the NAACP right now than the battle to preserve democracy itself. Let me be very clear, our right to vote is the right upon which our ability to defend every other right is leveraged.”
He cited the group’s 103 years in existence as proof it wouldn’t cede ground on voting rights.
“If you let someone diminish the power of your vote you will already have lost a battle.”
Jealous said with 120 days remaining before the November elections, his organization’s members could allow the election to be stolen from them “or we can double down on democracy and overcome the tide of voter suppression.”
“If we simply accept things as they are and allow those who wish to turn back the clocks and tides of all that we have gained, and block the forward movement of our movement for human rights ... we will have failed in our mission and our calling,” he said. — (AP)
BALTIMORE — NAACP President Benjamin Jealous said he hopes the civil rights organization's resolution supporting same-sex marriage will encourage Blacks to support marriage equality as a civil right if the question is put to voters on the ballot in Maryland or other states.
The NAACP's resolution was significant, as only 39 percent of Blacks favor gay marriage, compared with 47 percent of white Americans, according to a Pew poll conducted in April. Much of the opposition stems from churches, which have long been important institutions in the Black community.
"I hope this will be a game-changer," Jealous said. "There is a game being played right now to enshrine discrimination into state constitutions across the country, and if we can change that game and help ensure that our country's more recent tradition of using federal and state constitutions to expand rights continues, we will be very proud of our work."
Jealous spoke about the resolution, which was approved by the organization's board of directors on Saturday, at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People headquarters in Baltimore. The resolution was approved about two weeks after President Barack Obama, America's first Black president, announced his support for gay marriage.
Jealous appeared with Roslyn Brock, who chairs the NAACP board of directors, and three other board members, Bishop William Graves of Memphis, Tennessee, Richard Womack of Washington and Donald Cash of Columbia.
Jealous struggled to speak while recalling how his white father and Black mother confronted marriage laws that forced them to marry in Washington, D.C., in 1966 because interracial marriage was illegal in Maryland and his mother's hometown of Baltimore until 1967. He noted that the civil rights organization has opposed laws barring gay marriage in the past.
"What has changed is that this is the first time that we have made a full statement on marriage equality that goes beyond the circumstances of any one proposed law or any one state," Jealous said.
Brock emphasized that the resolution focused on marriage equality in the eyes of government, not religion.
"As the nation's leading and oldest civil rights organization, it is not our role, nor our intent, to express how any place of worship should act in its own house," Brock said.
Same-sex marriage is legal in six states and the District of Columbia, but 31 states have passed amendments to ban it in their constitutions. Maryland lawmakers passed a same-sex marriage measure this year. However, it does not take effect until January, and opponents are working to petition the law to the ballot for voters to decide in November. -- (AP)
As the Republican presidential race heats up, and Republicans around the country struggle to decide who they want as their eventual nominee — race has found its way into the debate.
Gingrich, who is already under fire for labeling President Barack Obama “the food-stamp president,” touched off further controversy on Thursday for declaring he would visit the NAACP and explain to the organization why African Americans should “not be satisfied with” food stamps.
The former House speaker’s incendiary remarks came on the heels of Rick Santorum’s earlier comment in which he appeared to single out African Americans as recipients of federal aid — a statement that an NAACP official declared “inaccurate and outrageous.” Santorum has denied he was singling out Blacks.
“I didn’t say Black.” Santorum said to CNN and Fox News. He told John King Wednesday night, “I’ve looked at that quote, in fact I looked at the video. In fact, I’m pretty confident I didn’t say Black. I started to say a word, and then sort of changed and it sort of — blah — mumbled it and sort of changed my thought.”
And let’s not forget Ron Paul’s evolving story on his newsletters. Confronted about their racism when he campaigned to return to Congress in 1996, Paul first tried to defend the remarks. It wasn’t until 2001 that he floated the notion that someone else had written the newsletters, and it’s only recently that he completely deplored their racism and claimed he had absolutely no idea what was in them.
Santorum’s comments were criticized by National Urban League President Marc H. Morial as pandering to racist elements within the GOP. Morial also said that 70 percent of people on food stamps are white. The Agriculture Department does not break down food stamp participation rates by race.
NAACP President Ben Jealous also criticized Santorum’s remarks.
Food stamp participation and costs have risen under Obama, from 28.2 million participants at a cost of $37.6 billion in 2008, to 44.7 million participants at a cost of $75.3 billion last year, according to federal data of what is officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The increases followed the steep economic downturn that began in 2008.
Gingrich, in a variation of a line he has used in other recent speeches, said in New Hampshire, “I’m prepared, if the NAACP invites me, I’ll go to their convention and talk about why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.”
“And I’ll go to them and explain a brand new Social Security opportunity for young people, which would be particularly good for African-American males because they are the group that gets the smallest return on Social Security because they have the shortest life span. And under Social Security today, you don’t build up an estate,” Gingrich said.
Jealous responded to Gingrich’s incendiary comments Friday with the following statement: “It is a shame that the former Speaker feels that these types of inaccurate, divisive statements are in any way helpful to our country,” said Jealous. “The majority of people using food stamps are not African-American, and most people using food stamps have a job.”
“We invited Speaker Gingrich to attend our annual convention several times when he was Speaker of the House, but he declined to join us,” Jealous continued. “If he is invited again, I hope that he would come with the intention to unite rather than divide. Gingrich’s statement is problematic on several fronts, most importantly because he gets his facts wrong.”
On the website YourBlackWorld.com, political analyst and commentator Dr. Boyce Watkins wrote: “I’m not sure where Gingrich is getting his perception of the Black experience in America. I’ve never asked for a welfare check in my life, and neither have most of my friends.”
The left-leaning Center for American Progress wrote on its ThinkProgress blog: “Not only is his perception of food-stamp beneficiaries prejudicial, it’s false.”
The center took the time to note that whites comprise the majority of people who are participants in the nation’s food-stamp program. In addition, most of the participants on food stamps are either children or senior citizens.
Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said Thursday in response to the criticism: “Newt believes that every American should have the opportunity to earn a paycheck, rather than be given a food stamp, and he is prepared to make that case in every neighborhood to all groups of all backgrounds in America. Furthermore, this theme of taking the conservative message to every American — including the NAACP — has been a constant refrain during Newt’s entire career.”
Gingrich has actually tried in his recent comments invoking the NAACP to demonstate his commitment to reaching beyond traditional GOP groups to Democratic constituencies.
On Wednesday he said, “My goal is to create a very big coalition. If the NAACP invites me, I will come and speak. If the various Latino groups invite me, I will come and speak. If the construction unions get fed up enough over the [Keystone] pipeline and invite me, I will come and speak.”
And last month in Columbia, S.C., he said, “Outreach is when five white guys hold a meeting and then call you. Inclusion is when you’re in the meeting. And I can assure you precisely because we want to decentralize back home, we want to have people back home with a bigger responsibility, that’s why I’m asking you to be with me. I want every community in America to have a better future.
“And I will tell you, unlike some candidates, if the NAACP invites me to come to their annual convention, I’m going to come there and I’m going to invite them to join us in getting America back on the right track so every American can work.”
Two Gingrich surrogates — former New Hampshire Sen. Bob Smith and former Ohio Rep. Bob McEwen — sought to make the case that their former House colleague would be a stronger candidate in a general election against Obama than Mitt Romney.
“You have to remember that in the Iowa caucus, 75 percent of the voters did not pick Romney,” Smith told reporters in a conference call.
McEwen was even more blunt, saying of Romney, “I don’t know how a party can nominate a guy like that and expect to win.”
In a subsequent interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Gingrich lumped himself in with Santorum and Texas Gov. Rick Perry in further distinguishing himself from Romney.
“Santorum and Perry and I — all three — represent an American conservatism that is dramatically different than a Massachusetts moderate,” he said. “We all naturally have a similar reaction to Romney’s policies ... We three would write a platform more conservative than the platform that Romney would want to write.”
As traditional news organizations like The Associated Press and CBSNews.com picked up Gingrich’s remark — he had said something similar the day before, including an offer to visit Latino groups — the Gingrich campaign recognized trouble.
R.C. Hammond, Mr. Gingrich’s spokesman, was overheard at an evening event in New Hampshire chewing out a reporter over the coverage while kicking a door.
He said Gingrich’s statement was not patronizing, but an act of outreach to an organization usually ignored by Republicans. In a 2007 book, Gingrich criticized President Bush for failing to address the NAACP. It was a sign “to the African American community,” he wrote, “that Republicans did not see them as worthy of engagement in dialogue.”
The National Journal and New York Times contributed to this report.
Zack Burgess is the enterprise writer for The Tribune. He is a freelance writer and editor who covers culture, politics and sports. He can be contacted at zackburgess.com.
A Black conservative group is criticizing the NAACP’s voting rights awareness campaign as “demeaning” to African Americans, and accuses the civil rights organization of “crying wolf.”
Last week, officials with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People urged all Americans to resist voter restriction measures in their states and educate themselves as to their voting rights. Restrictions – such as identification requirements, restricting voter registration, disenfranchising convicted felons and restrictions on early and absentee voting – could bar as many as 5 million people from the polls, they said.
This week, critics from Project 21, The National Leadership Network of Black Conservatives, fired back.
“I don’t understand where the NAACP is making the point that this is disenfranchising voters,” said Cherylyn LeBon Harley, a spokesperson for Project 21 and former senior counsel on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, speaking specifically on voter ID measures. “In fact, this is protecting voters. You have to show an ID to check into the Holiday Inn Express, then it makes perfect sense that you should do the same when you are exercising the most sacred constitutional right – the right to vote.”
In a blistering statement, Project 21 officials argued that the measures requiring voter ID protected Blacks’ right to vote as vigorously as they protect others.
“It seems the NAACP conveniently forgets how their position demeans Blacks,” said Shelby Emmett, another member of the group. “We fought for over a hundred years not just to vote, but to have that vote count and mean something. How does allowing illegal immigrants and dead people to vote and other forms of voter fraud secure and protect Black rights?”
NAACP officials said history disproves Project 21’s point of view.
“For them to release a statement like that, it’s reckless,” said Hilary Shelton, senior vice president for policy and advocacy for NAACP. “It means that they haven’t done their due diligence or research to see just where things are.”
Shelton noted that concerns about photo ID requirements are just one aspect of the NAACP’s discussion on voter suppression, noting that changes to early voter and Sunday voting provisions were also a cause for worry.
“In 2008, we saw an historic turnout, and that meant standing in line two and three hours to exercise the franchise,” Shelton said. “Extending that means you’re extending the life of the line. What we’re going to see is it going from two, three, four hours to four, six hours and longer.”
The NAACP estimates suggested that nearly 38 percent of the potentially disenfranchised voters are Black – nearly 2 million people. Some 13 percent of Black men are disenfranchised nationally, and in some states up to one-third of Black men are denied the right to vote. When voting restrictions on convicted felons are included, the numbers rise dramatically, with another 5 million people being disenfranchised.
Project 21’s press release didn’t include any data disproving the NAACP’s research, a fact that Shelton noted.
“It sounds like the same kind of gut response that’s created a lot of these problems across the country,” he said.
Sticking to the issue of photo IDs specifically, Harley dismissed concerns, noting that many states have offered to pay for identification cards and that many low-income people are already required to have an ID.
“If you are lower income and are on social services, you’re required to have an ID,” she said. “Despite what people may think, most people are going to have an ID.”
On Saturday, the NAACP held its “Stand for Freedom” march in New York City in an effort to raise awareness about voter restriction policies, proposed and enacted, in 38 states across the country. Organizers said 25,000 took part in the march, which also included labor unions, the National Action Network and several Democratic groups. It started at the Manhattan offices of Koch Industries and ended at the United Nations headquarters. The group also plans to lay its grievances in front of the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, and ask for a U.N. opinion.
“Millions upon millions of people are potentially affected by restrictive changes to voting laws,” said Benjamin T. Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, last week. “Those people are disproportionately Black, Latino, students and the poor.”
Emmett argued that the NAACP’s position belittled African Americans.
“Maybe if they viewed Blacks as capable beings, obtaining identification wouldn’t equal a ‘poll tax’ but would instead equal Blacks protecting and defending their rights as Americans to a fair and transparent process open only to real, live American citizens,” she said. “Maybe it’s the NAACP that is instituting a new barrier to voting.”