March 24, 2015

It's nice to see someone keep track of statistics on the disproportionate effects of gun violence on poorer, minority populations. Dr. Arthur Kamm extensively explains this awful phenomenon via factual data and statistics in his paper entitled Guns Government Race and Rights: The Demographics Stupid.

This paper examines the effect of our changing demography in elections, the racial and ethnic targeting of voter suppression laws, the Manchin-Toomey Senate vote vs Blue Wall States vs the State Ballot Initiative, effective deployment of capital, and, unapologetically, a consideration of obstacles in achieving this objective.

For the purpose of this article, I will focus on Dr. Kamm's suggestions for helping the South shake the domination of Republicans who absolutely do not represent the majority of the state(s)'s citizens.

The title of this piece is a play on the phrase coined by Democratic political strategist James Carville during Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential run, ‘The economy, stupid’. And regarding the attempts by activist groups to change the national political landscape on such issues as gun violence, voter discrimination, healthcare, income/wealth inequality, immigration reform and so much more, well, ‘It’s the demographics, stupid’. With this country having just observed the 50th anniversary of ‘Bloody Sunday’ in the fight for African-American voting rights, the minority vote has over the past 50 years grown into a powerful force that, in 2012, showed the ability to more than off-set the ‘Southern Strategy’ and, if fully realized, the potential to flip the South back to Democratic control (no small matter for the progression of human and civil rights), perhaps even sooner than later. emphasis mine.

Now, putting this together, what the gun violence prevention movement attempted to accomplish at the Congressional level in 2014 was a virtual impossibility. With women, African-Americans/Blacks, Latinos and Asians already heavily on the side of the political party that in large part supported gun violence prevention legislation in 2013, and with the white Democratic vote holding consistent over the past few decades, the demographic that needed to be moved would, by process of elimination, be a predominately white, predominately male, older, more well-off, population that votes Republican. Good luck with that.

Another way to view the attempt is that the white population, the demographic that more completely benefits from expanded background check legislation (the background check loophole does not explain the grossly disparate effects of gun violence afflicting African-Americans and Latinos), is the same that tends to support the political party that obstructs the cause. Any takers on trying to get those individuals to switch party lines in their vote for US House or Senate based on the gun violence issue?

It’s ‘the demographics, stupid’.

Where the Battle Needs to be Fought: The Racial and Ethnic Targeting of Voter Suppression Laws

In examining the above, is it any wonder as to why Republicans in stronghold and swing states jumped on restrictive voter laws following the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act? The following map highlights states that have enacted voter suppression laws; especially note the concentration in deep South states having a long history of racial discrimination. It was Barry Goldwater’s carrying of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina in 1964 that gave rise to his party’s successful exploitation of the Southern Strategy.
Although legal precedent dictates that states requiring voter ID provide free photo ID, those free IDs are not equally accessible to all voters. The following map (extracted from a report by the Brennan Center for Justice entitled: The Challenge of Obtaining Voter Identification) shows that in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, the areas having the greatest concentrations of rural black voters have no state driver’s license offices open more than two days a week.

States in Red have enacted Draconian voter ID laws
Additionally, many of these states’ part-time offices are in the areas having the highest concentration of black voters.
Hatched areas represent regions where few voter ID offices available, black indicates high minority population
The hatched areas outline the contiguous black belt counties in each of the states where driver’s license offices are open two days per week or less.

Although legal precedent dictates that states requiring voter ID provide free photo ID, those free IDs are not equally accessible to all voters. The following map (extracted from a report by the Brennan Center for Justice entitled: The Challenge of Obtaining Voter Identification) shows that in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, the areas having the greatest concentrations of rural black voters have no state driver’s license offices open more than two days a week. Additionally, many of these states’ part-time offices are in the areas having the highest concentration of black voters.

Again extracted from the Brennan Center report, the following map shows that in some areas in Texas with high concentrations of Hispanic voters there are few to no ID-issuing offices.

The areas in black and the cross hatched areas are hispanic/black and hard to get ID.
The crosshatched areas represent the 22 counties in the U.S.-Mexican border region with few or no ID-issuing offices.

The interrelationships between issues identified by the UN’s Committee to Eliminate Racial Discrimination (CERD) are striking. The committee’s Concluding Observations identified the following areas where our country is failing in its obligations to eliminate racial/ethnic discrimination:

  • Racial profiling and illegal surveillance
  • Racist hate speech and hate crimes
  • Disparate impact of environmental pollution
  • Right to vote
  • Criminalization of homeless
  • Discrimination and segregation in housing
  • Education
  • Right to health and access to health care
  • Gun Violence
  • Excessive use of force by law enforcement officials
  • Immigrants
  • Violence against women
  • Criminal justice system
  • Juvenile justice
  • Guantanamo Bay
  • Access to legal aid
  • Rights of Indigenous People

The above symptoms, tied to the disease of racial/ethnic discrimination, continue to exist because they are allowed to exist at the political level. Thus the need to engage in effective tactics to change the politics. That takes both money and votes. Both exist. And there is no better way to catch a politician’s attention than the potential loss of their job.

No doubt target states need to be identified, but consider the following.

Senator Richard Burr (R – NC) will be running for re-election in 2016 (a presidential year) in a swing state having almost 2.8 million registered Democrats versus 2.0 million registered Republicans and a population that is 22% African-American (versus 13% nationally). The senator has consistently opposed gun violence prevention legislation (and not surprisingly other rights issues such as access to healthcare). In the last NC Senate race (Hagan v Tillis, 2014), despite the reported nearly $1 million spent by Americans for Responsible Solutions for Hagan and the over $5 million spent by the NRA on Tillis, not once was the issue of gun violence addressed in the two televised head-to-head debates between the candidates. NC is additionally cited as having perhaps the worst voter suppression law in the country. Why not, in a derivative play, deploy capital to expand participation in our democracy by the minority poor, helping get them the documentation they need and transporting them to the polls – statistically, for every ten African-Americans helped to the polls, 9 would cast a vote against the politician who is obstructing gun violence prevention legislation (along with healthcare expansion and many others). The investment choice would seem to be a ‘no-brainer’.

Or why not deploy capital in deep South states, such as Mississippi that is 38% African-American, or Texas with its burgeoning Hispanic population, to expand minority participation in our Democracy. Although perhaps not immediately effective in 2016, such could accelerate the process of flipping the House perhaps as early as 2020, another presidential election year which is also a census year where district lines can be redrawn to overcome the Gerrymandering that has created a disproportionate representation of Republicans. North Carolina has been cited as having the 4th worst underrepresentation of Democrats in Congress; based on the percent of votes for Democratic candidates, NC should have sent 7 Republicans and 6 Democrats to the US House instead of the 10 Republicans and 3 Democrats that were elected.

Texas Demographics Chart shows Hispanics will surpass whites by 2020

Perhaps the best graphic in Kamm's article was this map that shows the proportion of the population that supports strong gun control laws. It absolutely shows that if the Democrats of these states are mobilized, we could defeat the Southern Strategy Republicans in 2016.

Blue States and Red States by population. States that either support or oppose Manchin-Toomey.

Just this past week the National Urban League released it’s report on the State of Black America – Save our Cities: Education, Jobs + Justice and declared “the state of black America in crisis”. A crisis that CEO Marc H. Morial may have significantly understated if he has not considered the staggering loss of African-American lives, totaling into the millions, tied to inequality and discriminatory practices in our country; effects that include infant deaths, teen and young adult deaths due to disproportionate violence born of social/economic disparities, a host of chronic health conditions tied to the stress of discrimination, and even decreases in brain tissue necessary to process information in disadvantaged children aged four years and younger. No apology shall be issued here for questioning the status quo and calling for a re-evaluation of tactics.

There is little doubt that, over a long enough timeframe, our country’s changing demography will bring about political change. But considering how damaging discriminatory behavior has been, and the healing that needs to take place, can that change be accelerated? Most likely. It will take the courageous decision of some key players to change focus and engage in negotiations.

If the trends we’ve seen in the past two presidential election years hold, the gun violence prevention movement will likely make political gains (to the benefit of other rights issues as well). And should that occur, no doubt there will be the usual claiming of victories based upon the hard work and financial contributions. But would that work and money really have been the driving force behind those gains?

Thanks to Dr. Arthur Kamm for his tireless research and analysis.

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