Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Signs of trouble are rising like the ghosts of Jim Crow in the heart of Cleveland’s African-American community.

Billboards, lots of billboards, looming large and menacing where black citizens live.

Across the street from a public housing development.

Near the community college.

A short walk from just about anywhere, including the home of Mayor Frank Jackson, who is black.

The billboards’ target: African-American voters who support President Barack Obama.

The billboards’ picture: a giant gavel lowering a verdict of guilty.

The billboards’ written message: VOTER FRAUD IS A FELONY — UP to 3 1/2 YRS and $10,000 FINE.

The billboards’ unwritten message: We will do anything to keep you from voting.

The plan, of course, is to intimidate an entire community of innocent Americans accustomed to withering suspicions steeped in race.

Two facts about voting in Ohio:

1) Voter fraud is a myth — just as it is everywhere else in the country.

2) Felons who have served their time are allowed to vote.

It doesn’t take much to scare ex-offenders away from the polls. Redemption may be the law, but it does not reside in the hearts of those who will go to extraordinary lengths to keep certain people down and out.

I am ever mindful of Michael Green, an African-American man in Cleveland who was falsely incarcerated for 13 years for a rape he didn’t commit. After I wrote a series about Green’s ordeal in 2002, he extracted one promise from me, kept to this day. Whenever I speak to classrooms with young black men, I share Green’s warning: Never run when a police officer shows up. No matter how innocent you are, stop in your tracks and put your hands in the air.