Kemba Smith Pradia went to Tallahassee, Fla., last week to demand the right to vote.
Back in the ’90s, when she was just Kemba Smith, she became a poster child for the excesses and inanities of the so-called War on Drugs. Pradia, then a college student in Virginia, became involved with, and terrorized by, a man who choked and punched her regularly and viciously. By the impenetrable logic of battered women, she thought it was her fault.
The boyfriend was a drug dealer. Pradia never handled drugs, never used drugs, never sold drugs. But she sometimes carried his gun in her purse. She flew to New York with drug money strapped to her body.
Eventually, she was busted. And this good girl from a good home, who had never been in trouble before, was sentenced to more than 24 years.
In the 12 years since President Bill Clinton commuted her sentence, Pradia has theoretically been a free woman. Except that she cannot vote. Having returned home to Virginia after living awhile in Indiana, she had to apply for the restoration of her voting rights. She is still waiting.
So last week, Pradia, along with actor Charles S. Dutton, joined NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous at Florida’s old state capitol building to launch a campaign demanding restoration of voting rights to former felons.
CNN reports that Florida, Virginia and nine other states embrace what might be called polices of “eternal damnation,” i.e., laws that continue to punish former felons and deny them the vote long after they have done their time, finished their parole, rejoined society.
The state’s former governor, Charlie Crist, had streamlined the process, making voting rights restoration automatic for nonviolent felons. His successor, Rick Scott, reversed that. In Florida, an ex-felon is now required to wait up to seven years before even applying to have his or her voting rights returned.
“Welcome back, Jim Crow” said the headline on a Miami Herald editorial.
Ain’t that the truth. Between policies like these, new restrictions on Sunday and early voting and, of course, Voter ID laws, the NAACP estimates that 23 million Americans stand to be disenfranchised — a disproportionate number of them African-American.
We have seen these shenanigans before: grandfather clauses; poll taxes, literacy tests. Yet African-Americans — heck, Americans in general — seem remarkably quiescent about seeing it all come around again, same old garbage in a different can.