Mercedies 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 takes a decree from the governor or a clemency board to restore voting rights in the four states with lifetime bans. In Virginia alone, 450,000 residents are disenfranchised. In Florida, the total is an astonishing 1.5 million.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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:
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.
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.
Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States, Howard Chandler Christy
In 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 counted by the other side, which has an equally large interest in maintaining a smaller electorate of particular people.
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.
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.