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Rethinking public safety: Trust vs. force
by Robert C. Koehler
"Guns aren't just a danger in and of themselves," writes Noah Berlatsky at Quartz. "They enable a policing philosophy built on violence and forced compliance, rather than one founded on respect, trust and consent. That philosophy affects every police interaction, even those that don't involve actual shooting."
Examples of this, of course, are everywhere. A recent one is the arrest of Tye Anders in Midland, Texas on May 16.
Anders, 21 and . . . what a surprise! . . . black, may have run a stop sign, though even that is contested. Police flagged him down. Fearing an encounter in complete isolation, he pulled over in front of his grandmother's house, a short distance away. As he exited his car, the police drew their guns and Anders threw himself on the ground, raising his arms in the air to show he didn't have a weapon. His grandmother, age 90, came outside, stood in front of her grandson — in essence, protecting him with her life — and eventually fell or was pushed on top of him as the officers approached and handcuffed Anders.
The young man was arrested and later released on bond. He has a civil rights attorney, Justin Moore, who maintains there was no traffic violation, no legal reason for the stop, simply "racial profiling."
Perhaps the worst thing about this incident, not to mention all the others that preceded it — many of them, of course, ending in someone's death — is how situation-normal they are, at least in neighborhoods that are neither upper-class nor white.
Oh, America! This is an occupied country with the biggest prison system in the world. We "keep order," in the non-privileged areas, with armed authority backed up by a history of racism. We need to start over: set down the guns and strip this system down to the bone, with the intention of rebuilding our social infrastructure on a foundation of trust, cooperation and a belief in the sanctity of life. This is the unwritten message behind every viral video of a police shooting.
"About 1 in 1,000 black men and boys in America can expect to die at the hands of police, according to a new analysis of deaths involving law enforcement officers, That makes them 2.5 times more likely than white men and boys to die during an encounter with cops," the Los Angeles Times reported last year.
". . . Scientists, meanwhile, are increasingly studying police violence as a public health problem whose long-term harms radiate far beyond the original victim."
One of these days, that will simply be obvious — but first we have to reinvent the wheel, or so it seems. That is to say, we must disarm our concept of social order. This means a different sort of training for police officers — less target practice, more psychological awareness. Many police themselves recognize this, e.g.:
"American police leaders can learn from their unarmed colleagues," writes Brandon del Pozo, chief of police in Burlington, Vt.. in the New York Times.
Police academies should ingrain a wide range of skills, drills and responses in trainees before they ever handle a firearm. Training should start by sending officers into scenarios where they have to solve problems without recourse to lethal force.
Unarmed officers will cultivate an instinct to de-escalate: They will keep a safe distance, they will try to assess the true level of threat rather than see a weapon as a cue to rapidly escalate, and they will communicate in ways that reach people.
But the issue goes far beyond simply a different kind of police training. How does the concept of policing itself — which emerged in the era of slavery in the form of slave patrols and expanded over the decades as we waged a Jim Crow-driven "war on crime" — separate itself from this past? How in God's name will American police ever gain respect, trust and consent in non-white and low-income communities? This will never happen . . . until they are created by those communities, not sent into them from above as an occupying army.
This is not an ideological opinion. It's simply a fact. Philip McHarris, for instance, who is black and grew up in a low-income corner of New York, writes in The Appeal of his encounter, at age 15, with a gang of boys as he and some friends walked home from a party one night. One of the gang guys pointed a gun at them. They ran and managed to escape unharmed, but the point he makes is that he never considered calling the police. That would have accomplished nothing except aggravating the danger.
His essay addresses the idea of "community policing" — something seen by many as a workable alternative to the current system, in which police work to build trust and partnerships in the neighborhoods they patrol. He begs to differ.
"Time," he writes, "has shown that community policing is merely an expensive attempt at public relations, after a long history of racialized police violence and injustice, and does little to reduce crime or police violence."
Indeed, some $14 billion have gone into local police departments since 1994 as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act signed into law by Bill Clinton, which has expanded the reach of police enormously but has done nothing to help the actual communities, McHarris writes. They have simply been left to flounder in their poverty. The billions invested in police departments would have been far better spent creating jobs and improving housing and education, not to mention changing laws "that criminalize people for being poor and disadvantaged."
He adds: "The real work lies in developing alternatives to punishment and policing, not nicer cops."
Policing has institutionalized itself out of the social structure, at least in low-income communities, and established an objective role for itself to play in an obsolete social hierarchy, based on force, threat and indifference. This is a danger both to community residents and individual police officers. No one is safe in a war zone.
`~~~~~~~` Incarceration, Detention, and Covid-19
by Andrew Moss
Recently I sat in on a live-streamed town hall sponsored by the school of public health at a large university in my state. The town hall's purpose was to answer viewers' questions about Covid-19: how to understand the pandemic, what to expect, how to stay healthy and safe. At the end, the moderator, the dean of the school, asked his fellow participants (epidemiologists, biostatisticians, infectious disease specialists) what they wanted viewers to take away from the program, and two or three referred to Covid-19 as a "wake-up call," an alarm bell calling attention to the long-term defunding of public health systems in America, and the profound lack of preparedness for a catastrophic public health emergency of this kind.
The town hall succeeded in getting these points across, but a wake-up call like this should also alert us to other issues, particularly the deep-seated forms of social dysfunction that have long plagued America. The pandemic, for example, has sharpened the focus on systemic injustices underlying our criminal justice system, our prisons, and our immigration system. America has the largest number of incarcerated people in the world, and even before the pandemic, many of these 2.3 million individuals were confined in facilities notoriously detrimental to physical and mental health. As Covid-19 finds its way behind prison walls, they are now particularly vulnerable to the spread of the disease. Without sufficient physical distance, restricted in many cases from using sanitizers, and lacking adequate access to soap and water, incarcerated people are living in facilities that are incubators and amplifiers of infection – what the president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners called "petri dishes."
Hundreds of cases of Covid-19 have now been confirmed in jails and prisons across the country, and both inmates and employees have been infected. According to a New York Times report, the Rikers Island Jail complex in New York City alone had 167 reported cases as of March 23. As a result of the rapid spread of the disease, many jail and prison systems are attempting to reduce their incarcerated populations with early releases (particularly for nonviolent crimes), and many prosecutors are reconsidering low-level cases that would otherwise land individuals in jail and subject them to exposure.
Similarly, calls for the release of people confined in immigration detention facilities have intensified. Judges in several states have ordered the release of small numbers of immigrants because these individuals have been particularly at risk for infection by Covid-19. In California, federal judge Dolly M. Gee ordered the government to "make continuous efforts" to release thousands of migrant children held in detention. Judge Gee's order came on the heels of a report that four migrant children held in a facility in New York tested positive for the virus.
What's significant is that the initiatives to release both prisoners and immigrants from incarceration are intensifying simultaneously, often at the behest of the same groups. There has been a growing recognition, certainly in a state like California, which has the second-largest prison system in the country, that mass incarceration and immigration detention have impacted individuals and communities in devastating ways – and this recognition has long preceded the outbreak of the pandemic.
In recent years, activists and legislators in California have worked to slowly reverse the powerful forces leading to incarceration and detention. Last August, for example, the LA County Board of Supervisors, which oversees the largest jail system in the country, cancelled a $1.7 billion contract to replace the Men's Central Jail facility. Activists had long pushed for this action, arguing that funds should go instead to community resources and services. Two months later, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill mandating a phase-out of the for-profit detention centers in the state.
These were significant and hopeful indicators of the state's shift to decarceration, but resistance, particularly from the Trump administration, has remained tenacious. The administration, for example, found a technical loophole in the state's phase-out of the for-profit detention facilities, and it now has the capacity to renew the contracts for those facilities for up to 15 years. Meanwhile, despite the pandemic, ICE agents have continued to sow fear by conducting raids in immigrant communities.
The pandemic is indeed a wake-up call on many levels, but it would be a mistake not to acknowledge the stark choices it is placing before us with ever-greater clarity. Will we continue addressing our social and economic problems with resources poured into militarized policing, surveillance, and incarceration, or can we rise to a renewed and reimagined sense of community? Can we envision governance intended not for social control and social exclusion but rather for the benefit of well-being for all?
Andrew Moss, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is an emeritus professor (English, Nonviolence Studies) at the California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.
Russia wins, but it isn’t over yet
By Wim Laven
On May 29th, Robert Mueller, Special Counsel of the Department of Justice told us: “If we had confidence the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.”
It was a truth we already knew.
Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) expressed it in concrete terms: “I think it's really important that we do our job as a Congress, that we not allow misconduct to go undeterred. That we not just say, someone can violate the public trust and that there are no consequences to it…”
Amash notes that reaching the conclusion that Trump needs to be impeached only required two things: taking his oath of office seriously and reading the Mueller Report. He is “confident that if you read Volume II, you'll be appalled at much of the conduct,” and I agree. There is no means by which one can take their oath seriously and reach any other conclusion. There is no doubt about the findings in the report.
To Mueller and Amash I owe a debt of gratitude. I hope that they do not carry the weight of regret in the future—it is the citizens who must own the irresponsibility that we—as a whole—needed to do more. But it is not necessary to give up; as clear as it is that Trump has committed crimes, and that he is unlikely to face consequences from spineless elected officials, there is power in the hands of the people.
Mueller and Amash have reminded the public and placed emphasis on the truth: Russia attacked American democracy on behalf of Donald J. “I love Wikileaks” Trump.
Since Mueller noted that the Department of Justice cannot indict a sitting president, there is only one option if we don’t believe any president should be above the law: impeachment proceedings.
Sadly, Republican cowardice is so great that Amash will face reprisals for an insistence on doing the right thing. The Republican Senate has promised to fail the public on articles of impeachment, Lindsey Graham (R-SC) vows“it would be disposed of very quickly.” But his concession to Russia, and the threats to those willing to stand up for what is right should not cause us to lose hope.
The praise Amash deserves, and he is receiving standing ovations, for proclaiming the importance of serving the public trust is because it comes at personal cost. Toeing the Republican line is easy and comes with rewards, there is incentive for supporting the Russian attack. Lindsey Graham, for example, used to defend the US in the face of Trump’s lunacy, but he became a traitor when he saw opposing Trump was hurting his numbers. The praise comes from a willingness to make sacrifice.
Russia has won, but it is not a permanent defeat of American democracy unless we forfeit. There are still a handful of representatives presenting moral fiber and the courage to act, but, more importantly, there are millions of outraged citizens. Believe it or not, this is a formula for success!
Russia’s victory in installing its preferred candidate is but a single victory in a much larger struggle. The US can win through organized resistance.
The truth is that real positive change can be produced through strong moral commitments from small minorities. Evidence provides robust proof of this point, Erica Chenoweth, Professor of Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School, has found the 3.5% rule—“the notion that no government can withstand a challenge of 3.5% of its population without either accommodating the movement or (in extreme cases) disintegrating.”
The track record of nonviolent struggle scares the right. This is why violence is so frequently promoted. Hate crimes are up under the Trump administration, etc… Extremist chatrooms are full of discussions of another civil war… But, We the Peoplewield power through the practice of nonviolence, and there are too many examples to list them all: Civil Rights in the US; the People Power Movement in the Philippines led to Marcos’ resignation; the Protest on Rosenstrasse opposing Nazi Germany; the Rose Revolutionousted Eduard Shevardnadze in Georgia; the Velvet or Gentle Revolution in what was then Czechoslovakia; this year the presidents of Sudan and Algeria stepped down because of nonviolent resistance…
Citizens, it is time to fight back. We must look to the wisdom of our heroes—Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, and Martin Luther King Jr., and more—and commit ourselves to the causes of justice. We must unite in our demands that Donald Trump is not above the law despite the refusal of our elected officials to live up to our oaths. We must support each other. The cost for inaction is clear, complete defeat at the hands of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, all of our freedoms hang in the balance—we cannot give up!
Wim Laven, Ph.D., syndicated by PeaceVoice, teaches courses in political science and conflict resolution.
The Mueller Report—Guilty!
By Mel Gurtov
My moniker for this president is Desperate Donald. Now the Mueller report shows the moniker is a good one: It tells us that Trump went bonkers, fearing Mueller’s appointment spelled “the end of my presidency.” In June 2017 Trump told the White House counsel, Don McGahn, to fire Mueller. McGahn refused. Other attempts by Trump to get subordinates to undermine Mueller’s work also failed, the report shows. Publicly, Trump sought to debunk the Russia investigation on an almost daily basis; 1,100 times, to be exact (according to the New York Times, February 19, 2019). All those efforts clarify that the president was running scared, no doubt afraid that his indebtedness to Moscow and Moscow’s expectations of him would be exposed.
Mueller’s investigation was unable to prove corrupt intent on the part of Trump or any of his campaign aides—neither sufficient evidence of a conspiracy with Russia nor obstruction of justice that rose to the level of a crime. But his final report notes several instances, such as the pressure on Comey and Sessions and the order to fire Mueller, that came close to obstruction of justice. “Close to” was evidently not close enough: Trump and his supporters will be claiming “total exoneration” right up to the next election, thanks in no small measure to Attorney General William Barr, successor to Michael Cohen as Trump’s fixer. Too bad nobody followed through on Trump’s demand; then we really would have a clear-cut case for obstruction.
Nevertheless, the Mueller report accomplished four things that could constitute grounds for impeachment or post-presidency indictment. It added to the extensive public record about Trump’s efforts to undermine the investigation, defy the law, lie and misrepresent constantly, and support and engage in extensive secret contacts with Russia. It reinforced all the previous findings of Russian interference in 2016 for Trump’s benefit. It showed that the Trump campaign was willing and able to partake of Russian interference, specifically including the WikiLeaks document dump. Lastly, the report made clear that the president was not above the law and could still be subject to obstruction of justice charges. In fact, one reading of the report is that the Mueller team is encouraging action by Congress to make whole the judgments that Mueller was unable to carry out.
The various ongoing investigations of Trump’s finances will hopefully find the answer to the hanging question not pursued by Mueller: What is Trump hiding about his connections to Russia? Our suspicions have long been that the answer lies in a conspiratorial bribe: Russian money and business opportunity in exchange for an easing of US sanctions and a policy of benign neglect toward Moscow. Will the investigators find the answer in time to make a difference in the 2020 election? Will Robert Mueller become a profile in courage by offering his personal assessment of the evidence his team accumulated? Absent more striking evidence of conspiracy and obstruction, we’re back at square one: He said (“no collusion, no obstruction”) versus We said ("lock him up"). That cannot be allowed to happen. There is a criminal in the White House, and he must be removed.
MID-TERM ELECTORAL PROGRESS & SETBACKS—WOMEN, NATIVE AMERICANS, MUSLIMS
By J.P. Linstroth
It is clear after these past mid-terms we need the United Nations to monitor our national elections to make certain they are democratically fair. Indeed, the elections proved Americans can be both progressive and regressive.
Not only were there voting irregularities on voting day—machine breakdowns, loss of power, long voting lines, voters turned away at polls—but there were significant efforts at voter suppression as well. When Republicans claim “fraud” in the voting process, the political strategy is to limit or even purge potential voters who may vote for the Democrats.
Yet, be reminded of our history. We are not discussing actual fraud here. No, here, it is the “potential” of fraud.
In the history of our politics, fraud was evident when a voter may have voted more than once, or a dead person’s name was used for voting. This happened most infamously in corrupt politics in the mid-to-late nineteenth century New York with Boss Tweed and his Tammany Hall Democrat-party machine.
In our current politics, the idea is to prevent potential voters from voting because they may lean toward the other political party. This is done by both parties, predominantlyin recent decades by Republicans, with gerrymandering.
In the 2018 mid-terms, what we also saw were voting limitations placed upon minorities such as Native Americans and African Americans.
In a 6-2 ruling, the US Supreme Court upheld a lower court in October, which required Native Americans to have proof of an actual street address in order to be able to vote. In rural Native reservations in North Dakota, there are most often no street addresses. This is no fault of their own. The Native reservations were never designed with street addresses in mind.
This was never a voting issue in North Dakota; Native Americans on any of the six large reservations have always just used P.O. boxes and they could vote. Then Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, won six years ago by small margins. ND Republicans knew she had the general support of the Native community so they passed a law requiring voters to have an ID with a street address.
Unfortunately, this is not a unique case. Efforts are being made across the country to suppress the vote. Since 2010, according to the Brennan Centerfor Justice, there have been 24 states which have introduced measures making it more difficult to vote. This new restrictive-voting legislation includes: more rigorous requirements of photo IDs, more limitations on early voting, and more stringent obligations on voting registration. Arguably, even though the Constitution declares it a right, many state officials are treating voting as a privilege. The difference is significant. States must legally justify restrictions on rights but not so on privileges.
Voter suppression in general damages our democracy. The more people we include in our democracy, and by giving more people the right to vote, the more representative government we have. Moreover, democracy is not simply about protecting the majority or how the majority rules but rather providing safeguards for our minorities as well.
Voting suppression is reminiscent of the “Jim Crow” South when it was acceptable to require African Americans to pay a “poll tax” in order to vote. Or, enforcing “grandfather clauses”—such as if your grandfather could not vote, neither could you. (For African-Americans who were former slaves, their grandparents were not allowed to vote!) And perhaps, worst of all, there were the impossible to pass literacy tests.
Today, in Georgia, the Secretary of State, Brian Kemp (R), who also happens to be running against the African-American, Stacey Abrams (D), for governor—used his office to put 53,000 voter registrations on hold. At least three-quarters of these potential voters are African-Americans.
Kemp (R) has further raised the issue of fraud against the Democrats accusing them of hacking into the state’s voter registration system without any evidence whatsoever. Governor Rick Scott (R) in his Senatorial bid has also cried foul, calling out “radical liberals” for spoiling the electoral process, especially in Broward and Palm Beach Counties. Such sentiments have been echoed by the President, when Trump cried foul about Hilary Clinton for rigging the 2016 election and the popular vote, utterly false claims seeming to misdirect from his own questionable machinations.
Why in 2018 are we still dealing with voter suppression? It is unconscionable.
Yet, not all was bad news from the mid-terms. There were some important positive take-aways as well.
Florida voted to allow former felons the right to vote with the exception of murderers and child abusers. More women were elected to the House of Representatives than at any other time in our history. At least 92 women were elected to the 435-member US House of Representatives and at least 10 women were elected as US Senators. (This will mean 23 women will now serve as US Senators out of 100 members.) In all, there will be 115 women serving in our representative democracy. (With some races still being decided, including more women.)
What is more, the first Native American women were elected to the US Congress, Sharice Davids (D-Kansas), Ho-Chunk Nation, and Debra Haaland (D-New Mexico), Laguna Pueblo People. The first Muslim-American women were also elected to the House of Representatives, Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota), a Somali-born refugee, and Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan), Palestinian-American. For the first time in US history an openly gay person will serve as governor of a state, Jared Polis of Colorado. Additionally, the youngest woman to serve in the US House of Representatives was elected, Latina, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) at 29 years old.
In sum, it is important to be hopeful about our elections. At the same time, we need to be wary of political strategies which are undermining our democracy and limiting our right to vote. Trump’s latest call for removing the 14thAmendment from the Constitution is just the most recent political installment of this drama. In other words, newly born new immigrants (so-called illegals) should not get the same rights according to the Trump administration.
It is time we all fight for our rights as Americans. It is time we call out our election officials for their false claims. It is time we take charge of our electoral process once more.
And if necessary, it is time we ask our elections be monitored by international observers like the United Nations to make them free and fair for all.
The Right to Vote Is the Foundation of Lawful Government—No Consent = No Government
By Kary Love
One of the great things about being a small-town country lawyer is you get to meet so many “ordinary” Americans going about their business, raising their kids, volunteering in their communities and working day after day to make a better tomorrow. One of the troublesome things about being a country lawyer is you encounter the contrast between those ordinary people and their so-called “leaders” and “law enforcers.” Though many of the latter reflect the good qualities of “ordinary” Americans, many, if not most, as taught by experiments in psychology, abandon their moral codes and embrace the psychopathology of those granted governmental power.
Power is dangerous. Unless constrained by law, there is no difference between the power of a police officer to shoot an unarmed person and that of a mafia enforcer. The sole difference is the police officer is only empowered to kill in accordance with the law. If he kills, like a mafia hit man, outside the law, then he is, too, an “outlaw.” So too, the FBI, the CIA, the US Army and every other governmental agent authorized to kill. Either it is done in accord with the law or it is illegal, possibly criminal. “Law enforcers” voluntarily swear an oath to the Constitution not to deprive persons of life, liberty or property without due process of law. Those who live up to it may rightly be considered heroes. Those who do not may rightly be considered Mafioso. I don’t make the law, but I have been trained to understand and interpret it.
In that training, I have learned American law has a principled foundation. It is known as the Declaration of Independence (DOI) passed by Congress July 4, 1776, it is the law that established America, and it remains in force to this day. Because America was going to “secede” from the British Empire, possibly to engage in “revolution” and war against the “mother country,” the American revolutionaries thought they had a duty to state the principles of law that justified such otherwise “treasonous” action.
The main justification was declared to be the fact that the English government was not based on the “consent” of the American people and was therefore “illegitimate” (which means unlawful). Not legal. How could the Americans claim that?
Simple. Americans’ did not have the right to vote for representatives in Parliament. Thus, the Americans argued, laws passed by Parliament were not lawful in America because they did not “have the Consent of the Governed.” The DOI declared government “derives its just powers from the consent of the governed.” Without such consent government powers cannot be exercised “justly.” It that event the DOI continued, “it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it” (government).
The foundation of America is the idea that true representation of the people, meaningful consent to the laws its government passes, must be obtained by the government or it risks being “illegitimate” or a government of “outlaws.” This consent, in a republic such as the American, is derived from periodic votes of the people electing “representatives” or agents of the people representing the peoples’ input to lawmaking—since having direct votes was not technologically possible at the time—election of representatives (not “rulers”) was deemed prudent. But, should voting not be representative, consent would not exist, and government would be of questionable legitimacy.
Sadly, voting is apparently becoming less and less reflective of the consent of the people.
Keith Sellars, one of the 12 Alamance County, NC residents prosecuted for voting in 2016, tellingly wrote at Counterpunch:
For me it’s important that we call this what it is: voter suppression. Other policies — including a proposed voter ID constitutional amendment, polling site closures and early voting restrictions, and partisan and racial gerrymandering — hope to do the same.
One in three black men in the United States has been charged with a felony. In North Carolina, black men are incarcerated at four times the rate of white men. And here, as in most states, that can mean harsh restrictions on your right to vote. So even if we think these laws are unfair, the opportunity to influence them is taken from our hands.
As reported in the Guardian:
The two most recent Republican presidents have entered office despite receiving fewer votes than their opponent in a national election, thanks to the electoral college, which systematically over-represents small states. (California gets one electoral vote per 712,000 people; Wyoming gets one per 195,000.) With the presidency in hand in the run-up to the 2020 census, minority rule will be further entrenched by adding a citizenship question to the census. This will result in systematic undercounting of the population in heavily Democratic areas, which will in turn further reduce their influence as legislatures draw maps based on the data.
Then there’s the Senate. Because of its bias toward smaller, rural states, a resident of Wyoming has 66 times the voting power in Senate elections as one in California. Thus, in 2016, the Democratic party got 51.4 million votes for its Senate candidates. The Republicans got 40 million. And despite losing by more than 11 million votes, the Republicans won a supermajority (22 of 36) of the seats up for election, holding their majority in the chamber.
The hideously malapportioned Senate and electoral college permit the last piece of the minority rule puzzle to snap into place: the supreme court. In 2016, after losing the contest for the presidency and the Senate by millions of votes, the Republicans were able to install two supreme court justices. There may be more.
In fact, when the Senate confirmed Trump’s first nominee, Neil Gorsuch, it was a watershed moment in American history. For the first time, a president who lost the popular vote had a supreme court nominee confirmed by senators who received fewer votes – nearly 22 million fewer – than the senators that voted against him. And by now, it will not surprise you to discover that the senators who voted for the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh represent 38 million fewer people than the ones who voted no.
I am just a small-town country lawyer. But I am also an American. I have been honored to work with many ordinary Americans to build their communities, support the education of their children, raise money for charity, and I have learned they have a wisdom and a decency far beyond that of those who claim to be their “rulers.” I have witnessed their capacity for judgment as they sat on juries, small township Boards, and in private organizations doing good in their communities. The record of their success at self-governance is manifest all around us every day. I thank them for their service!
I have also witnessed the creeping suppression of their right to vote, and to have their vote counted and respected. It may not be my place to warn those who think they rule, who think they are above the law, and who believe they have power to disregard the “consent of the governed,” and so I do not. The Declaration of Independence does that. The dust bin of history is replete with the bones of failed governments that tried to rule without the consent of the people. “With a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence” the Declaration launched a government based on the consent of the people. Those who would undermine it, by imperiling the right to vote, do the work of another power that shall not be named.
Kary Love is a Michigan attorney who has defended nuclear resisters, including some desperado nuns, in court for decades and will on occasion use blunt force satire or actual legal arguments to make a point.
KEEPING RACISM ALIVE AT THE POLLS
By Robert C. Koehler
There’s almost no such thing as voter fraud, even though the Trump administration — and Republicans in general — affect to be so afraid of it they’ve had to develop a system guaranteed to purge voters from the rolls in enormous numbers.
They’re keeping America safe!
This, you might say, is the elephant in the room, politely unacknowledged even when the Republican system, very much embraced by the Trump administration, is critically analyzed. It’s called the Interstate Crosscheck System, developed by Kris Kobach, Kansas secretary of state and Republican candidate for governor, and its flaws are unavoidably — indeed, grotesquely — obvious.
But before that matters, I think it’s crucial to establish the fact that voter fraud — bad citizens, or worse yet, illegals, voting twice, indeed, driving from one state to another (Georgia to Illinois, say) in order to do their part to swing a national election — is itself a complete fraud. However, trumpeting the fear of such non-existent behavior is absolutely brilliant.
It’s the current manifestation of minority vote suppression. It’s the new racism.
All this is made clear in investigative journalist Greg Palast’s irreverent new documentary, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, which takes on Crosscheck and present-day vote suppression, no holds barred, linking modern racism with the old-fashioned kind. In the process, the film lets us know the real value of the right to vote, from the point of view of those who had to fight and die to attain it.
Here, for instance, is author Linda Blackmon Lowery describing her experience on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965 — Bloody Sunday: “When we got to the top of the bridge, then you could really see what was on the other side. And there were white people sitting on their cars with their Confederate flags and their banners. ‘Die nigger.’ ‘Go home, coon.’”
Suddenly she heard a popping noise, as teargas canisters went off all around her. “You couldn’t breathe, you couldn’t see. I ran into this big old thing of teargas. (A police officer) was running behind me with a billy club. (She makes a hand gesture describing being clubbed from behind.) When I woke up they had me on a stretcher, putting me in the back of a hearse. I just jumped up and before anybody could catch me I was heading across that bridge.”
A short while later, the film shows a protester holding a sign: “My vote has been paid for in blood.”
And this begins to create the context for discussing Crosscheck, part of today’s oh so politically correct racist gaming of democracy, which is — let’s be frank — an incredible inconvenience to people in power. It was then and it still is now. What’s a rich, powerful white person supposed to do?
Crosscheck is part of the answer. Kobach’s system is simplicity itself. In order to protect America from the horror of millions of people voting twice (risking prison time for committing this federal offense), Crosscheck collects the names on the voting rolls of all participating states, which at this point is 27, mostly under Republican legislative control, and conducts a computer search for matches, or quasi-matches. Those matches — all the Fred Jacksons, all the Jose Garcias, etc., etc. — become potential double voters. Note: The matching names are first and last only, with middle initials ignored. Allegedly, Crosscheck also compares birth dates, though such data is often missing from voter rosters.
A list of the matches are sent to the participating secretaries of state and state election boards, which can then purge their rolls of these folks. According to Palast, these states have so far removed 1,067,046 voters, not counting Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s recent “purge-frenzy,” removing 591,000 voters’ names in the current election cycle.
Here’s the thing. Most of the matched names belong to people of color. “Jackson, Rodriguez, Garcia, Lee, Kim — these are primarily minority names,” Palast explained. “It doesn’t take a genius to figure out this system is unbelievably racially biased.”
In the documentary, Palast points out that 90 percent of Washingtons, for instance, are black. In some states, “20 percent of minority voters . . . are on the Crosscheck list.”
So, as the Washington Post reported a year ago, the Crosscheck method is so utterly slipshod that way-y-y-y over 99 percent of the name matches the system reports to participating states “were unlikely to have anything to do with even attempted voter fraud.” But because of Crosscheck, a huge number of voters, mostly men and women of color, who tend to vote Democratic, will either be denied their right to vote or forced to vote provisionally, which usually means they won’t have their vote counted.
I repeat: There is virtually no such thing as voter fraud — certainly nothing at a level that could actually impact an election. As the Brennan Center for Justice pointed out last year, in its report “The Truth About Voter Fraud”: It is more likely that an American “will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.”
But keeping Americans of color — those who have truly paid with their blood for the right to vote — away from the polls by the millions, does indeed impact our elections. Look at who got “elected” president!
Palast, hardly content simply to expose this outrage in book and film, has teamed with Jesse Jackson and the two, with the pro bono help of the New York law firm Mirer, Mazzocchi and Julien, have filed suit, under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, with every Crosscheck state to get the names — the million-plus names — of registered voters purged from the rolls. The public, after all, has a right to hold the state accountable for the games it plays.
Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.
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