April 27, 2019; The Root
Anchoring a narrative in fear is an old but effective strategy that can easily obfuscate the facts if someone does not step in and take the time to firmly reframe. That’s perhaps why US Representative Ayanna Pressley is getting so much press for the way she has objected to the rhetoric being used to block the voting rights of prisoners in Massachusetts.
Massachusetts, along with 47 other states, does not allow prisoners to vote. Recently, faced with a question about whether she would support the voting rights of, for instance, Dzokhar Tsarnaev, the man convicted of the Boston Marathon bombing, Pressley’s reaction was to take apart the assumptions behind the question.
Pressley, who has vowed to back the platform of the Movement for Black Lives, which includes a plank on supporting the voting rights of prisoners, objected strongly to the use of the city’s trauma to demonize all those incarcerated and essentially disenfranchise them for life. She took the issue on in a way that was both personal and informed in a series of tweets last Thursday: “Pundits, if you want to talk about re-enfranchising folks, let’s talk. Did you know in my state there wasn’t a law on the books that explicitly banned those incarcerated from voting until 2001? That law was a fearful response to those on the inside at MCI Norfolk ORGANIZING.”
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And what they were organizing was a PAC.
“They were calling for a more just system and humane treatment of those incarcerated.” Pressley continued. “They were reaching for the ballot to fight modern day slavery. As a nation we are facing a mass incarceration crisis that destroys families and communities.”
In fact, an article in the New York Times this past week points out that statistics gathered by the FBI show that the violent crime rate fell 49 percent between 1993 and 2017, while the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicate that the rate fell 74 percent over the same time period. Yet there has been only a minor and very recent reduction in the prison population. Black men are incarcerated at approximately six times the rate of white men.
“Don’t dare invoke one of the darkest days of terrorism in MY city,” wrote Pressley, “to stoke fear and derail a meaningful conversation about fundamental rights & what justice looks like for the 1000s of black & brown folks who are stripped of their liberty & civic participation for minor offenses.”—Ruth McCambridge