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Regardless of the outcome of U.S. Vice-President Al Gore's last-ditch
legal attempts to pull a victory out of Florida's electoral hat,
there's a delicious irony in the racist war on drugs that is fully
supported by the "New" Democratic Clinton-Gore regime: it came back
to haunt Gore like a bad dream.

The drug war has succeeded in criminalizing vast swaths of the U.S.
population - largely black and Latino. In Florida and a handful of
other states, that means those victims can't vote, ever. There are
about 440,000 ex-offenders in Florida, over half of them black in a
state where they constitute 15 per cent of the population, who are
excluded from voting. That means close to a third - 31 per cent - of
all African American men in Florida are disenfranchised. And in a
state where blacks voted for the Gore-Lieberman ticket by a 10 to one
ratio, it's obvious what that law did for Gore's political future.

On the face of it, it's a reverse - and perverse - incentive for
rehabilitation to deny a person's full reintegration into society
after they have paid their legal debt, which in the modern-day drug
war is already draconian and transparently directed at certain

Legacy of Slavery

Indeed, the law is a legacy of slavery, passed by Florida in 1868
specifically to deny the vote to as many blacks as possible. Other
states copied the law for the same reason. The Brennan Centre for
Justice at New York University's School of Law is suing to overturn
the felon statutes and says in a report that these laws are a bad
hangover from the Antebellum South: "When Alabama adopted such a law
in 1901, John Knox, the politician presiding over the constitutional
convention, stated that the aim of such provisions was to help
preserve white supremacy without directly challenging the
constitution of the United States."

According to the Sentencing Project, based in Washington, D.C.,
similar laws in nine states (and five more that target certain
ex-felons) deny the vote to 4 million Americans, about 2 per cent of
the adult population and 13 per cent of all adult black males in the
country. At the rate the U.S. is building prisons and criminalizing
its population, that number is bound to rise precipitously -
especially under the reign of probable president-elect George W.
Bush, whose state of Texas just set the all-time state record for
executions this year.

As journalists James Ridgeway and Laura Conaway wrote in the Village
Voice this week, many former and current felons of colour are
casualties in the war on drugs, which has quadrupled the U.S. prison
population since 1980 to nearly 2 million.

"Laws passed during this government assault have hammered away at
black and Latino communities, calling for stiffer sentences for
substances like crack cocaine, preferred by minorities, while
remaining lenient on the powder preferred by whites," Ridgeway and
Conaway write. "And though lots of these felons fit the demographics
that vote Democratic, it was the Clinton administration that put its
weight behind the effort to build more prisons to house more drug

More Than Safe Streets

So it's apparent there is something more to the law-and-order fervour
in the states, which is echoed in Canada by Stockwell Day's Canadian
Alliance, than a simple wish for safe streets. In Florida, that
fervour resulted in the mistaken disenfranchisement of up to 12,000
citizens who were wrongly identified as former felons. In fact, the
only crime the vast majority of those 12,000 had committed was to be
born black.

Add to that reality the different - and literal - roadblocks thrown
up to prevent African Americans from voting in Florida, and it's
clear something has gone terribly wrong in the world's leading

On election day a month ago, Florida highway patrolmen set up
checkstops about a mile before a polling station near Tallahassee in
a predominantly black neighbourhood. In other black precincts, people
who had voted for years were mysteriously struck from the voting
lists. Some polling stations demanded photo IDs for blacks but not
for whites. Many Haitian Americans, recent immigrants voting for the
first time, reported intimidation by electoral officials and were
denied legally required translation services.

It all adds up to a gross deformation of democracy in a country that
prides itself on showing the way for the rest of the world. And while
the immediate victim is the lost presidency of Al Gore, the Democrats
deserve their share of blame for what has to be seen as a bipartisan
effort to relegate African Americans to second-class citizenship.

Pubdate: Fri, 08 Dec 2000
Source: Montreal Gazette (CN QU)
Copyright: 2000 The Gazette, a division of Southam Inc.
Contact: letters@thegazette.southam.ca
Website: Montreal Gazette
Forum: http://forums.canada.com/~montreal
Author: Lyle Stewart