Jamelle Bouie

The Ex-Con Factor

AP Photo/Toby Talbot M ercedies Harris was 27 in 1990, when he was arrested for drug possession and distribution in Fairfax, Virginia. Harris had served in the Marines, but the death of his brother in 1986—killed by a hit-and-run driver—sent him down a familiar path. “I was angry and I couldn’t find the guy who did it,” Harris says. “I got into drugs to find a way to medicate myself.” Upon his release in 2003, Harris, who had earned his GED in prison, found a job and began to rebuild his life. He faced the usual practical challenges: “I couldn’t get on a lease, I had no insurance, I had no medical coverage, my driver’s license was expired.” But he found one obstacle that was especially difficult to overcome: He couldn’t vote. Virginia is one of four states—along with Florida, Iowa, and Kentucky—that strip voting rights from felons for life. The U.S. is the world’s only democracy that permits permanent disenfranchisement. While most states have some restrictions on felons voting, it...

My Final Post

AP Images/Cliff Owen
This isn’t my last piece at The American Prospect , but it is my last post—if you follow me on Twitter, you probably know, by now, that I’m leaving The Prospect to join The Daily Beast as a staff writer. I’m not the best at goodbyes, so I’ll say this: Not only am I grateful that The Prospect hired me three years ago—despite not having any journalism or professional writing experience—but working for the magazine since has been a great pleasure and privilege. And the same goes for working with everyone who makes The Prospect what it is: I honestly can’t imagine a better team of people, or a better group of friends. Starting next month, you can find my stuff at The Daily Beast (and I’m always mouthing off on Twitter . But I will still be reading The Prospect , every day, and you should too.

Discussing Trayvon Martin, Obama Embraces his Blackness

White House
When President Obama issued a pro forma statement following last week’s verdict in the Zimmerman trial, there was some disappointment—“Why didn’t he say more?” It only takes a small step back to see the answer; not only would it have been inappropriate for the president to question the decision of the jury, but given wide outrage at the ruling, it could have inflamed passions on both sides. But it isn’t out of bounds for Obama to speak on the meaning of Trayvon Martin, which he did this afternoon, during a White House press briefing. And unlike his earlier statement, this was a frank and heartfelt take on the racial issues surrounding the shooting and the trial. Which, to be honest, came as a surprise. Barack Obama’s entire political career has been about de-racializing his personal identity. Yes, he was a black senator from Illinois, but for white audiences at least, he wasn’t a black one. It’s why the Jeremiah Wright controversy was so dangerous for his candidacy—it emphasized his...

Why "Black-on-Black Crime" is a Dangerous Idea

Flickr Creative Commons
Flickr Creative Commons In writing about the myth of “black-on-black crime” this week, I’ve gotten a huge number of responses, from both sides. The disagreement, in particular, has taken the form of incredulousness. For example , here’s Rod Dreher of the The American Conservative , who says that the Zimmerman verdict has caused me to “lose my mind”: Jamelle Bouie today wrote a Daily Beast post tied to the Trayvon Martin situation, claiming that the fact that nearly all black murder victims in America are killed by blacks just goes to show that there is no such thing as black-on-black crime, and that the concept is ginned up by white people to justify their fear of black masculinity and black criminality. Bouie also says that NYC’s stop-and-frisk program is racist, and not justified by statistics — this, even though NYPD stats show that 96 percent of all shooting victims are black or Hispanic, and 97 percent of all shooters were black or Hispanic. These statistics are so clear, so...

Trayvon Martin, Blackness, and America's Fear of Crime

Flickr
I’ve written here, and elsewhere , that “black-on-black crime” as a specific phenomena isn’t a thing . Yes, the vast majority of crimes against African Americans are committed by other African Americans, and yes, black men face a higher murder rate than any other group in the country. But those facts are easily explained by residential segregation and proximity—people commit crimes against those closest to them—and the particular circumstances of many black communities, which are marred by concentrated poverty and nonexistent economic opportunities. “But what’s the big deal?”, you might ask. “Why can’t we use ‘black-on-black crime’ as a shorthand for these particular problems?” The answer isn’t difficult. Violent crime in hyper-segregated neighborhoods doesn’t happen because the residents are black. Their race isn’t incidental—the whole reason these neighborhoods exist is racial policymaking by white lawmakers—but there is nothing about blackness that makes violence more likely...

When Tea Partiers Try to Show Their "Diversity"

Jamelle Bouie / The American Prospect
Jamelle Bouie / The American Prospect Judging from the matching red t-shirts, bottled water, snack stands, and cover band playing a passable version of Marvin Gaye’s classic, “What’s Going On?”, you wouldn’t be wrong to assume there was a large and elaborate family reunion yesterday, held on the Capitol. But, in fact, it was a rally—organized by the Black American Leadership Alliance, a right-wing group with ties to white nationalists —to oppose the comprehensive immigration bill that has passed the Senate, and is fighting to survive in the House of Representatives. Two things stood out about the event. First, even in the shade—and even with fans placed strategically around the area—it was hot. I would say it was too hot to be outside in the first place, but obviously, several hundred people disagreed with me. Or at least, opposed immigration reform enough to tolerate the conditions. And second, despite its organizers and its speakers—who were predominantly African American—the large...

Is "Justice for Trayvon" Even Possible?

Elvert Barnes / Flickr
Elvert Barnes / Flickr For all the anger and disappointment that’s come with George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the killing of Trayvon Martin, it’s important to recognize that simply having this trial—regardless of the outcome—was a victory. Remember, the Martin saga began with outrage over the conduct of the Sanford, Florida police department. Zimmerman killed Martin, claimed self-defense, and was released after a night of questioning from Sanford detectives, who never challenged the claim. If not for six weeks of protests and demonstrations, which pressured Sanford police into bringing charges, Zimmerman would have walked away without having to account for his actions. If police had immediately arrested Zimmerman, there never would have been a national movement around Trayvon. It was the lack of action, as well as the circumstances—a young black man, killed by a young white one, in a small Southern town—that sparked comparisons to the long history of unpunished violence against African...

It's Not All Bad News with the GOP and Latinos

pamhule/Flickr
If comprehensive immigration reform were guaranteed to give votes to Republican politicians—and presidential candidates in particular—there would be no argument about passing it in the House of Representatives. It would be a done deal. But there’s a real question as to whether Republicans will reap any gains from passing the bill, or at least enough to outweigh their skepticism for some of its provisions. David Brooks is on the side of those who want a bill, and in his column this morning, he warns that Republicans are dooming themselves to irrelevance by opposing reform: Before Asians, Hispanics and all the other groups can be won with economic plans, they need to feel respected and understood by the G.O.P. They need to feel that Republicans respect their ethnic and cultural identity. If Republicans reject immigration reform, that will be a giant sign of disrespect, and nothing else Republicans say will even be heard. Whether this bill passes or not, this country is heading toward a...

Say Goodbye to Rand Paul's "Outreach"

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Gage Skidmore / Flickr At the Washington Examiner , Phillip Klein gives his thoughts on Kentucky Senator Rand Paul’s recent problems with his formerly neo-Confederate aide: There are a few broader points to draw here — one as it pertains to limited government philosophy and the other as it pertains to Paul’s political future. Let’s be clear. Nothing in American history has done more harm to the limited government cause than the association of state sovereignty arguments with defenses of slavery. Confederates who employed limited government arguments to argue for preserving a brutal and inhumane practice shouldn’t be deemed friends of limited government. Having an abstract argument about secession is one thing. But within the context of the Civil War, it’s clear that ultimately, the South was seceding to preserve the institution of slavery. That Paul is tolerant of neo-Confederate views — whether or not he personally holds them — undermines his drive to become a credible champion of...

If Republicans Want to Govern, They Should Try Winning Elections

Gage Skidmore/Flickr
Gage Skidmore/Flickr Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. To understand Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s renewed push for filibuster reform, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s angry reaction to the proposal—he declared that Reid’s “tombstone” would say that he “presided over the end of the Senate”—you have to look at the last four years of Senate dysfunction. Norms matter as much as rules in governing the conduct of Congress, and the most important norms change of the last decade happened at the beginning of Barack Obama’s first term, when Republicans adopted the filibuster as a routine tool of opposition. Rather than reserve the tactic for consequential or controversial pieces of legislation, Republicans—led by McConnell—invoked it on everything from judicial and executive branch nominations, to small-scale legislation with wide support, like the DREAM Act. By the second...

I'm Shocked—Shocked!—That Rand Paul Has Ties to Neo-Confederates

Gage Skidmore / Flickr
Gage Skidmore / Flickr During his 2008 presidential campaign, then Texas Representative Ron Paul faced wide criticism for his newsletters—published as far back as the 1970s—which, at various points, were racist, homophobic, and anti-semitic . One newsletter from 1992 claimed that nearly all black men in Washington D.C. are “Semi-Criminal or Entirely Criminal”—while another from 1994 claimed that gays were “maliciously” infecting people with AIDS. Paul defended himself by saying that the newsletters were produced by a ghostwriter—with his name attached, and presumably, his consent—and the controversy didn’t do much to diminish his following among a certain set of young libertarians. But for those of us less enamored with Ron Paul, it did underscore one thing: His long-time association with the reactionary far-right of American politics. Ron Paul has retired from politics, but his son—Kentucky Senator Rand Paul—is in the mix, and is clearly planning a run for the Republican presidential...

Congress Is Squandering the Opportunity of a Lifetime

Dan McKay / Flickr
Dan McKay / Flickr It’s the first Friday of the month, which means a jobs report . And this one isn’t bad. The economy added a net 195,000 jobs in June, with upwards revisions of 70,000 in April and May. Which means that, so far this year, the economy has added more than 1 million jobs. To repeat a point, this is why the 2012 election was so critical for Democrats—a Mitt Romney win would have given Republicans a chance to claim credit for the current job growth, and use the political capital to push a highly-ideological agenda. But back to the numbers. Federal government employment dropped by 5,000, a likely result of sequestration, and part of an overall decline of public employment—since 2010, the public sector has shed more than 600,000 jobs. The unemployment rate remained unchanged at 7.6 percent, with a slight drop in long-term unemployment. Still, more than four million people have been out of work for longer than six months. In other words, despite the improving economy, we’re...

Our Old History of Fights Over Voting

Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States, Howard Chandler Christy
Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States, Howard Chandler Christy I n the United States, voting rights don’t march forward as much as they ebb and flow. Often, it happens like this: The prospect of short-term political gain leads one of the two parties to make a massive push for democratic participation, which is then countered by the other side, which has an equally large interest in maintaining a smaller electorate of particular people. In the late 18th century, for instance, New Jersey was one of the few states to grant voting rights to (property-owning) women. The exact reasons for taking this path are unclear, but partisan politics had something to do with it—“As different political groups struggled to gain ascendancy during and just after the revolution, they tried to enlarge their potential constituencies, one of which was female,” writes historian Alexander Keyssar in The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States . But, he...

A Fiercely Anti-Choice Ohio GOP Redefines "Pregnancy" to Mean "Not-Pregnancy"

Wikipedia
Last night , Ohio Governor John Kasich took a little time from his weekend to sign a new $65 billion budget for the state. There are many moving parts to the law, including a $2.5 billion tax cut which—like most Republican tax cuts—is meant to help the rich at the expense of everyone else. But of those parts, the most relevant for discussion—given last week’s fiasco in the Texas Senate—are the new restrictions on all reproductive services. In addition to slashing tax burdens on the wealthiest Ohioans, the budget measure signed yesterday would allocate federal funds away from Planned Parenthood—which uses them to provide contraception and other health services, not abortion—to crisis pregnancy centers, which claim to offer support, counseling and a full range of options for women who think they may be pregnant. In reality, they are overtly anti-abortion. “[A]ccording to personal accounts compiled by the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL),” notes the...

The Senate Votes for Cloture on Comprehensive Immigration Reform

pamhule / Flickr
Early this afternoon, the Senate voted for cloture on the Gang of Eight’s comprehensive immigration reform bill, with 68 senators supporting and 32 in opposition (60 are needed to break a filibuster). Fourteen Republicans joined the 54-member Democratic caucus to move the legislation forward to a final vote, which will be held this afternoon at 4pm. This means, in essence, that immigration reform will pass the Senate. The only question is the margin. New York Senator Chuck Schumer, one of the members of the Gang of Eight, says he wants 70 votes for passage, in order to pressure House Republicans into passing the bill as well. Two things complicate that calculus. First, a large number of House Republicans are still skeptical of the need for immigration reform, and doubt the president’s motives in pushing a bill. For example, Rep. Peter Roskam, the Republican deputy whip, accused the White House of wanting immigration reform to fail, in order to run against Republicans in next year’s...

Pages