Thursday, November 8, 2018

when incremental change is not incremental

After Tuesday's elections, ACLU Deputy National Political Director Udi Ofer tweeted,
When I saw that, I was happy. I understood that people convicted of murder and sex offenses were not included but I was happy that so many others with felony convictions would be able to vote in Florida. After all, of the over 6 million Americans disenfranchised because of felony voting restrictions, almost a quarter are in Florida. 

Then I read the multi-part Twitter thread from Joshua Hoe, host of the Decarceration Nation podcast.

He begins:
1. Look @johnlegend @VanJones68 @UdiACLU @ClintSmithIII @JFormanJr I am not trying to be the Grinch here...It is AMAZING that 1.4 MILLION of my brothers and sisters in incarceration can vote again. I understand the racial legacy & it is a Great day! 
Imagine the joy of those who have been prevented from voting! Now they can vote against candidates who would work against their interests. Now they can vote for those who will work for them.

Now they have a voice.
2. However, the WAY this was done is extremely problematic, it turned Triage into throwing people under the bus and then driving the bus over them until they were [erased]. Don't believe me, listen to the people saying ALL formerly incarcerated folks were re-enfranchised today
The celebration of re-enfranchisement made no mention of those left behind. Those who still do not have the right to vote in Florida are not seen as worthy of notice. 
3. I suspect, the people in Florida sentenced to murder and sex offense charges are wondering if they even get to be considered to have carceral citizenship now (to quote @reubenjmiller)
Udi Ofer trumpeted the end of "150 years of a Jim Crow law that deprived the vote" but it is not ended at all.

Joshua Hoe continues:
4. This objection isn't an attack on incrementalism, it is about HOW we create models FOR incrementalism. 
Explain to me a pathway back to the franchise for people convicted of murder or any sex offense after Amendment 4? An amendment just for these folks? No way that happens
Those convicted of certain felonies would not be included. As usual. Except not as usual.
5. Many of you oppose the #FirstStepAct but at least I can tell you the pathway to expanding it after it is passed.  
After Amendment 4 there is no path to expansion that makes political sense.
How many in your community would sign petitions demanding that rapists and murderers be allowed to vote...because that is the way those petitions would be represented by the opposition and the press would be unable to resist those juicy headlines.
Fewer allies, indeed. We have all seen that Those People are easy to ignore, easy to use as the pawn in criminal justice reform efforts.

A politician can work toward reform more effectively if she can demonstrate that she is still tough on crime. That demonstration is made much simpler when laws provide easy categories to separate the acceptable from the unacceptable: violent vs. nonviolent, murderers and sex offenders vs. everyone else.

As long as the reformers have a pawn to sacrifice, reformers can claim incremental successes. As long as those convicted of murders and sex offenses are kept occupied with problems finding housing and employment, they are vulnerable to criminal justice reformers willing to sacrifice them and their families.

As long as they cannot vote, they have no voice.

Florida's Amendment 4 is not a legislative bill that can be easily changed later when the political environment will allow it. This is not something that can be fixed by sliding a wording change into a maintenance bill when constituents are distracted by more urgent headlines.
7. So, moving forward, I am only suggesting  
a) Triage can make sense but ritual sacrifice is a dangerous model
b) We need to remember that these folks need help, & have NO  allies to unite with to gain rights back now
c) We should call on all the new voters to come back & help
8. I will now shut up and go back to talking about other more positive things.  
I am not trying to rain on the parade, I am trying to suggest the job is not finished and that there were dangers in this approach. [My emphasis.]
The dangers in this approach stem directly from the existence of the sex offender registry. The registry does the sorting for legislators and reformers who need to prove they are tough on crime. Need a dog to kick? Look to the registry.

The registry provides a list of people to fear.

As long as the registry exists, no amount of data will convince the general public that registrants are not to be feared. After all, if there is a list, there must be a reason, right? Why would there be a list if those people are not dangerous?

As long as the registry exists, legislators will find more crimes to add to that category. Do not underestimate the need for legislators to prove that they hate a despised category of criminal.

Abolishing the registry removes the easy categorization it provides, the easy demonization it encourages.

Joshua Hoe is correct. Criminal justice reformers must choose their methods more carefully.

It isn't incremental if no increments remain. 

Abolish the registry.

1 comment:

Ethan Edwards said...

I'd guess the good way to think of it is that there was no way in hell sex offenders were getting their vote back until the registry was scaled back or limited in some way, and the political winds are not favorable to that.

So maybe we should just be thankful on behalf of some other people that their situation improved, even if it does nothing for sex offenders. The cases look similar but politically are not similar, I guess.

I personally think everyone ought to be able to vote, even people on death row. Otherwise there's this incentive for people in power to convict people they suspect will support their political opponents if they could vote.