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Saturday, May 12, 2018


"Voting while black" is next

by Tom Sullivan

Edward C. Lawson. Photo by Edward C. Lawson, 2006.

Charlie Pierce begins one of his Friday posts thusly:

Jesus H. Christ on Wonder Bread, white people in this country done gone crazy. If we’re not siccing the police on our African-American fellow citizens for a) not waving, b) sleeping, or c) showing up to the Waffle House in formal dress, we’re letting people like Pat McCrory, the former governor of the newly insane state of North Carolina, and one of America’s most enthusiastic vote-suppressors, out in public without his minders again.
McCrory expressed concerns about "a small group of individuals" (i.e., the local Black Political Caucus) having outsized influence on who gets elected in Charlotte. (White billionaires with that kind of influence is just fine.) Read the rest at the link.

As Chris Rock has documented, "driving while black" is also highly suspect. What's new about these encounters is video documentation. Police harassment of black people for being black is older than dirt ... and cell phones.

For younger readers, walking while black has been terribly suspicious going back to, oh, 1975. This Supreme Court ruling is from 1983:
The Supreme Court ruled today that a state cannot give a police officer the discretion to arrest a person who fails to identify himself to the officer's satisfaction.

Voting 7 to 2, the Court struck down a California vagrancy law that required a person to ''identify himself and to account for his presence'' to a police officer. The California courts had interpreted the law to require the person to provide ''credible and reliable'' identification that was detailed enough to permit the officer to check its authenticity.

The law was challenged by a man who was arrested 15 times and convicted once for refusing to identify himself. The man, Edward Lawson, liked to walk, and was often stopped late at night in residential areas. He has no criminal record and has only been arrested under the identification law.
Lawson kept being stopped while minding his own business on public sidewalks. He finally took police to court for not minding theirs. The NYU Law Review provides a tad more detail on Edward Lawson:
San Diego police repeatedly stopped Edward Lawson, an African American disc jockey and concert promoter who lived in the city and who would periodically take walks in predominately white neighborhoods. Consistent with their training, the San Diego police would stop him and ask him to produce identification. The police arrested Lawson fifteen times between March of 1975 and January of 1977, prompting him to bring suit against the department. The police testified that they stopped him because he was in a neighborhood close to a high-crime area. Other officers explained that his presence in an isolated area aroused suspicion. Yet according to the record, Lawson never engaged in any criminal activity. It appears that he simply was attempting to enjoy an evening walk. But because the locale of his strolls was a predominately white neighborhood, his race alone caused police to regard him as "out of place" and therefore inherently suspicious.
Ten. Years. And a favorable Supreme Court ruling later, Lawson was arrested again (1993):
BEVERLY HILLS — For Edward Lawson, it was the same old story.

On Monday, as Los Angeles counted down toward the Oscars, Lawson went to visit a business associate in Beverly Hills. A few hours later, the tall African-American was in police custody, charged with a trio of misdemeanors, including failure to produce a driver's license on command.

Ironically, it was just a decade ago that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a person, even one like Lawson who wears his hair in dreadlocks, has the right to walk peacefully through any neighborhood he or she chooses, without having to produce identification or explain his or her presence to police. That landmark case bears the name of Edward Lawson, the same man who was arrested last week on a similar charge.

Lawson, 46, who lives in Venice and still has dreadlocks, believes he was arrested by Beverly Hills police simply because he is black. "There are always doubts in an intelligent mind," he says, "but it's not like this hasn't happened to me before."
Is "voting while black" next, Jeff Sessions?

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