Governmental eye doesn&8217;t stop discrimination

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 17, 2006

The message that came down from Capitol Hill Thursday was simple: In God We Trust (when it suits us) but by God we will never forgive the past.

Overwhelmingly, the U.S. House voted to renew the 1965 Voting Rights Act in full, rejecting the notion of easing federal oversight of elections in some states.

Nine states which were found to have voting rights issues decades ago have been under federal scrutiny since 1965. Those states are required to handle elections and election issues differently than the other 41 states.

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When the laws were instituted, the heavy hand of the federal government was needed in those states. The portion of the law dealing with the state oversight was intentionally written into the law as temporary.

Lawmakers at the time saw that eventually the country would change and the restrictions would no longer be needed.

Each time the law has come up for renewal, lawmakers consider their options for renewing or revising.

This year, just as the restrictions were about to expire, progressive conservatives had hoped to finally free the states from decades of oppressive federal oversight.

Their argument was simple: the world has changed quite a bit since the tumultuous 1960s and the laws now are unnecessarily restrictive.

Each time the issue is brought up, the ghosts (some living and some dead) from the Civil Rights Era come back from beyond.

The people who were on the frontlines of the battle for civil rights &8212; particularly in the South &8212; stand up and retell of the awful atrocities that occurred in the South.

And they were awful.

The South &8212; and other parts of the country &8212; has learned its lessons, however. Generations have passed between the time of the dark 1960s and today.

All states should be treated equally under the law and currently, under sections of the Voting Rights Act, that doesn&8217;t happen.

A few brave souls in Congress stood up and attempted to amend the act before the House voted to renew it.

Yet many in Congress seem to be determined to simply not consider any of the facts, let alone consider the possibility that the country has changed.

&8220;Any one of (the amendments) would be a weakening of the Voting Rights Act,&8221; said Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California.

Interestingly, both California and Illinois had a higher number of hate crimes than Mississippi or Louisiana in 2004, the last figures available by the FBI.

Doing a bit of math between the FBI&8217;s crime statistics for all hate crimes and the Census Bureau data, the picture of hate crimes is a bit surprising &8212; especially if you&8217;re from California or Illinois.

California had nearly one hate crime for every 22,000 people living in the state &8212; not counting the untold number of undocumented illegals in the state.

Illinois one hate crime per every 55,000 residents.

By contrast, Louisiana&8217;s numbers were one crime for every 155,000 people. Mississippi has a whopping one hate crime per 1.4 million residents.

Two of the most recent, modern day racial incidents occurred far from the South &8212; or any of the states regulated under the Voting Rights Act.

The beating of Rodney King in 1992 set off days of riots in Los Angeles.

Just a year ago, a group of whites were arrested in New York for attacking and horribly beating three black men. The New York Times reported the crime as the 125th hate crime in the city that year.

Perhaps making the correlation between the number of reported hate crime isn&8217;t germane to the debate over the Voting Rights Act restrictions, but it seems interesting to note that some of those who have voted to keep the national &8220;thumb&8221; on our states don&8217;t live in a race-free world, either.

As the old phrase says, &8220;He who lives in a glass house should never throw stones.&8221;

Kevin Cooper

is associate publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or