Saturday, July 31, 2010

Civil death' hunting down blacks in US

A felony conviction has deprived one out of every seven African Americans of the right to vote, a Washington D.C. research and advocacy organization has found.

The Setencing Project has found that despite section 2 of the US Voting Rights Act, which clearly stipulates that any "voting qualification that results in a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color" is illegal, reality tells a different story.

The operative word here is "results." Congress also made it clear in a 1982 amendment that the Voting Rights Act does not require proof of intentional discrimination. And that is seems to be exactly what is happening to black voters.

Forty-eight states,(all except Maine and Vermont,) deny convicted felons the right to vote.

It is a modern version of the old concept of "civil death" for those convicted of serious crimes. In some states, such as Massachusetts, the ban lasts for the duration of the prison sentence. More often, however, it extends for years longer -- through the parole period.

In Virginia, 20 percent of African Americans cannot vote because of past felony convictions, compared with 6.8 percent of Virginia residents as a whole.

In Texas, a similar scenario can be found with 9.3 percent of the black population barred from voting compared to 3.3 percent of Texans as a whole.

In New York, 80 percent of those who have lost the right to vote are either black or Hispanic.

The impact of this discriminatory voting law on the black community is disproportionate in every state; that is hardly surprising given that one in nine black men aged 20 to 34 is in prison. Even so, the numbers are startling, with disturbing implications for civic life in a democracy.

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. More than two million people, nearly half of them black, are behind bars and many of the felony convictions are the result of relatively minor drug offenses.

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