NAACP chief focuses on voting laws at convention

By | July 25, 2011

The NAACP plans to spend the next year fighting against a slew of voting laws that it says disenfranchise huge swaths of minority voters, the civil rights organization’s president said at the group’s convention on Monday.

Benjamin Todd Jealous said legislation promoted by what he called racist elements in the tea party has surged in 47 states as Barack Obama faces re-election in 2012, with 30 states passing some type of limitation on voting.

Jealous, the head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, likened the new legislation to Jim Crow laws, which sought to disenfranchise and segregate blacks prior to the 1960s.

Among the latest laws are mandates for a photo ID to vote, a copy of a photo ID attached to the voter registration application as well as restrictions on ex-felons’ rights to vote.

“We broke the color line in this country. That was followed by a great backlash,” said Jealous, who addressed about 1,500 people at the convention in Los Angeles. “These are the last existing legal pillars of Jim Crow.”

Jealous pointed to Wisconsin’s law that requires a photo ID at the polls, saying it will disqualify half of black and Latino voters in that state. “People too poor to own a car generally don’t have a driver’s license,” he said.

Another new law in Florida, which requires a waiting period of five to seven years before ex-felons can vote, will disqualify 250,000 black voters, as well as 250,000 others, he said.

The other key issue for the NAACP is to rescue black men and boys from high rates of incarceration, murder, and unemployment. “We must fight equally as hard to hold on to our family,” Jealous said.

Noting that there are numerous government social programs aimed at boosting black males, Jealous said the NAACP would work to defeat government policies that perpetuate a lack of opportunity for black males.

That lack of opportunity leads to more black men in prison than in college, he said. Jealous pointed to failing urban schools and the criminal justice system as two key culprits.

The death penalty disproportionately affects black men, as well as drug sentencing laws that mandate harsher terms for offenses involving crack cocaine as compared to powder cocaine, Jealous said.

More blacks are involved in crack cocaine offenses.

The disparity of funding for urban schools is another issue the NAACP will work to solve, he noted.

Another speaker, Greg Mathis, a TV judge who founded the Prisoner Empowerment Education and Respect Initiative in Detroit, said the African-American community has to change its mindset.

“Our challenge is to fight against a self-destructive, self-defeatist culture where many of our men have abandoned their responsibility to be real men,” he said.

The NAACP convention continues through Thursday.

Christina Hoag, AP