Human and civil rights violations often occur in many parts of the United States as illustrated by recent voting and marriage laws passed in State Legislatures, miscarriages of justice occurring through verdicts rendered in our judicial system, bias and discrimination taking place at the corporate level and bullying in our schools. When they take place, these violations have a serious negative impact upon community race relationships, can cause civil disobedience and strife and sometimes even threaten our ability to keep law and order. What avenues are open to us to prevent their future occurrence?
An Assessment of our Current Race Relationships Based Upon Sixty Years of Observation
I am not an expert in race relations but grew up with the civil rights movement in full swing and saw what happened over the past sixty years both in Florida and the nation at large. The best way I know to resolve civil rights problems such as those described is to prevent them from happening in the first place by eliminating the underlying causes, but that is not always possible and when it is possible it does not happen overnight.The American civil rights movement has brought us much progress in race relationships through the efforts of Dr Martin Luther King, the American Civil Liberties Union, the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by the United States Congress signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson and the well documented efforts of countless others.But even though our country has elected its first black President, in point of fact our various racial groups if given a choice still seem to prefer to mingle with members of their own race most of the time. This self-imposed distancing of the races from one another when and where it occurs undermines mutual understanding and respect, provides the opportunity for misunderstandings to arise and sometimes becomes the match that ignites civil disobedience when perceived violations of human rights occur.Protests and demonstrations taking place as a result of voter suppression laws, marriage inequality and alleged miscarriages of justice arising from unpopular jury verdicts illustrate my point.My focus will be primarily on the voter suppression laws in operation during the 2012 Presidential election.
Human and civil rights violations illustrated by voting laws passed in State LegislaturesWhen laws such as those listed below become law with the deliberate but sub-rosa intent to lower the percentage of minority voters going to the polls and casting ballots because the party passing such legislation receives much less support from those voters than the opposition party receives, it is a deliberate impairment of racial harmony and an obvious attempt on the part of the political party in office to keep power at all costs even by violating human and civil rights.The laws and practices mentioned are reminiscent of laws enacted by so-called “banana republics”. When those laws don’t have the intended result and the election is lost by the party passing them what’s next?A military junta? It is outrageous for a political party in the United States to stoop to that level. If a political party cannot get a majority vote in a lawful and ethical way then it has no right to win election. Consider these tactics for a moment all of which have been recently used in trying to win elections.
- Make registering to vote more difficult.
- Impose restrictive and burdensome identification requirements as a pre-requisite to registering to vote and casting your ballot.
- Prohibit same day registration on the date of the general election.
- Reduce the number of early voting days to a minimum.
- Eliminate early voting on Sunday – a day on which many voters of color prefer to cast their ballots.
- Make voting as inconvenient as possible for those who do not normally vote for you.
- Deliberately distribute fliers in Spanish misstating the date of the election and showing it held on a date later than the date for which it had been scheduled.
- Put many more voting machines in favored precincts than you place in precincts dominated by the opposing party to assure long lines and delays in voting in precincts dominated by the opposing party and make sure only short lines exist in the precincts dominated by the party in power.
- Shorten the hours the polls stay open.
Where these discriminatory attempts to suppress minority rights exist the next time a situation develops that those minorities consider discriminatory – such as a miscarriage of justice in a court trial – it will ignite and mobilize civil rights advocates, initiate litigation, cause public protests and bring about petitions to the government officials for the redress of grievances.Is creating the need for such action to keep and exercise rights to which we are all clearly entitled in the best interests of racial harmony? Is it in the national interest to allow such practices to continue? Let the reader be the judge of the appropriateness of such action.It is extremely disappointing, that even after decades of effort – legal, judicial, public and private, personal and corporate to give equal opportunities and set up a level playing field for all we are still trying to dig ourselves out from under the quagmire created by the attitude of people who are frozen in time and unwilling to see the need to change their attitude.
We must continue to educate our children to understand the underpinnings and great importance of the American civil rights movement, its causes and the sacrificed lives that brought it about. And we must instill in them the need to firmly commit to legal equality for all: black – white (or any other race or color), lesbian – gay – bisexual – transgender, or straight, male – female, young – old, and the disabled without regard to religious doctrine or political ideology.Respect for our racial and cultural differences in all age groups seems key to overcoming the lingering remnants of bigotry and hate that sometimes still disrupts racial harmony and social integration. Old habits die-hard. In this case let’s hope they die sooner than later.
About The Author
Douglas M. Midgley, J.D. is the Author of this article and the retired Public Defender of the Twentieth Judicial Circuit of Florida encompassing Lee, Charlotte, Collier, Hendry and Glades counties located on Florida’s southwest coast. He took office at age 29 on July 1, 1969 standing for election at four year intervals, and retired from that office thirty years later on June 30, 1999. He no longer practices law and has placed his Florida Bar license on inactive status. To have the opportunity to read more of Doug’s articles please visit: http://doug21740.blogspot.com.