Civil Rights Groups Warn Of A Grim Future For Black Voters Without Court Intervention
Black voters had record turnout in Georgia’s Senate runoff despite disenfranchisement attempts. Civil Rights Groups Warn Of A Grim Future For Black Voters Without Court Intervention
A new lawsuit says court intervention is necessary to prevent future meddling.
A defining feature of Georgia’s Senate runoff election on Tuesday will likely be record-high turnout of Black voters, fueled by expansive voter mobilization work to elect the first Black Democratic senator from a former Confederate state.
What makes that triumph more salient is that it happened as the president of the United States was actively trying to cancel out thousands of votes from majority-Black Georgia counties from the November election.
“Georgia has a long history of Black voter suppression and intimidation — tactics that were at play again in the November and runoff election,” said NAACP Legal Defense Fund president Sherillyn Ifill in a statement. “Despite these challenges, Black voters were not deterred and demonstrated resilience and determination in absentee voting, early voting and on election day.”
A recent lawsuit by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) documents all the ways in which Trump’s quest to overturn the presidential election could have had an adverse impact on the Black vote.
While many of Trump’s challenges to the presidential outcome have already been defeated, LDF is continuing with its lawsuit against Trump and the Republican National Committee, alleging that voter suppression tactics remain an urgent future threat. The group is asking for revived court supervision of the Republican Party to ensure compliance with voting laws.
“It is time for the relentless lies and attacks that are setting the stage for future voter suppression to end,” said Ifill in a separate statement.
The complaint by LDF is a catalog of the ways Trump’s quest to overturn the presidential election targeted cities and counties with large Black populations:
In Wisconsin, the Trump campaign initiated recounts in the two counties that contain cities with the state’s largest percentage of Black voters — Madison and Milwaukee.
In Michigan, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani claimed without evidence that 300,000 ballots cast from Detroit were “illegitimate,” and encouraged two Republican members of the Wayne County canvassing board to vote against certifying the votes, despite the fact that Biden won — which legal experts have said may constitute a felony violation of the Voting Rights Act.
In Georgia, Trump pressured Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to overturn the state’s election results (which showed Biden won) by singling out Fulton County, which includes the state’s largest Black voting population in Atlanta, as a place where thousands of votes should be thrown out under false allegations of voter fraud.
The lawsuit lists a much larger compendium of alleged infractions committed by Trump in conjunction with the RNC and claims these are violations of the Voting Rights Act and the Ku Klux Klan Act, which prohibits anyone from conspiring “to prevent by force, intimidation, or threat, any citizen who is lawfully entitled to vote, from giving his support or advocacy in a legal manner, toward or in favor of the election of any lawfully qualified person as an elector for President or Vice President.”
The defendants have not yet filed a response to the suit and did not respond to requests for comment.
In the lead-up to the 2020 election, voting rights advocates feared that Trump supporters and Republican operatives could be a menace to Black and other non-white voters, given the expiration of a longstanding court consent decree that monitored the GOP for voter harassment activities. It turned out that it wasn’t voters who would be the target of such intimidation tactics, but rather election administrators and officials themselves.
This intimidation has led to a conspiracy to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters, and Black voters in particular, according to the LDF lawsuit, which is asking a federal court to enter the GOP into another consent decree so that courts can monitor Republican campaign activities for future elections. LDF lawyers and many voting rights activists warn that if the Republican Party is not leashed again by federal courts, the kind of schemes employed this year will become normalized.
The call Trump recently made to Georgia’s Raffensperger pressuring and threatening him to “find” a few thousand votes to overturn the state’s already-certified presidential election outcome adds fuel to the claim that Trump’s efforts are disenfranchising Black voters.
In the call, Trump repeatedly singled out Fulton County, which has a majority-Black voting population, as a place where massive voter fraud was happening, without providing any proof, according to the transcript provided by The Washington Post.
In the call, Trump told Raffensperger that Fulton County officials were shredding ballots and that there were “at least a couple of hundred thousand of forged signatures” in urging the secretary of state to disqualify the county’s ballots.
When Raffensperger told Trump that they did look into Cobb County — the only place where there were reports of problems with signature verification — Trump said that he “didn’t want Cobb County,” which is 62.4% white, but rather that he “wanted Fulton County,” despite no reported problems with signatures there.
In a press conference Tuesday, Gabriel Sterling, Raffensperger’s voting system implementation manager who was also on the call, systematically debunked every single allegation of voter impropriety made by Trump about Fulton County and Georgia in general.
Kemp has also rebuffed Trump’s overtures to change the state’s results, which led to Trump publicly disparaging him as well.
The charade has placed voting rights activists in Georgia in the uncomfortable position of rooting for Raffensperger and Kemp even though the two GOP officials were, up to this point, seen as architects and enforcers of several state voting rules that activists believe have been used as tools for suppressing Black votes.
As Georgia Secretary of State in 2018, Kemp oversaw the purging and “freezing” of thousands of voter registration records, along with the rejection of absentee ballots, which disproportionately affected Black voters — all done during Kemp’s own run for governor, which he won against Stacey Abrams that year. The eligibility of many of those voters has been the subject of legal battles in the years since, with some voters reinstated before Tuesday’s runoff.
For now, the LDF lawsuit is focused on the endangerment to Black voters posed by the Trump campaign in coordination with the RNC, and the precedent it sets for future elections. It points to the “Army for Trump” volunteer network, and “Trump Victory” operation — which merges the Trump campaign and RNC field and fundraising efforts through a shared office and staff — as evidence of concerted efforts to intimidate and coerce election officials, their staff and volunteers.
The lawsuit notes that the “Trump Victory” operation has also been recruiting poll watchers for the Georgia run-off election despite the fact that Trump is not on the ticket.
“The 2020 presidential election highlighted, and its aftermath continues to highlight, how, absent injunctive relief, the RNC and the rest of the Defendants will continue to violate the [Voting Rights Act],” reads the complaint.
Last October, RNC National Press Secretary Mandi Merritt told CityLab that its poll watcher operation was not about intimidation but rather “to document potential fraud or irregularities.” Since then, there has been “no evidence of widespread voter fraud,” said Ifill, whose LDF organization has been tracking for irregularities.
This observation was echoed by Trump’s own former Attorney General Bill Barr and election officials across the U.S. “This was the most secure election in American history,” Ifill added in a press statement.
Still, Trump and the RNC have continued to cite frivolous claims of fraud as a reason why Georgia should revisit its presidential election results. Because of this, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People joined the LDF suit in December, after a Trump elector filed a lawsuit in the Fulton County Superior Court asking it to block the state’s electoral process. (The NAACP is a separate organization from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.)
“This is a racist attack on Black voters,” said NAACP president Derrick Johnson in a press statement. “President Trump’s desperate and futile attempts to invalidate and falsify votes cast by Georgia voters add to a growing list of criminal acts that must be addressed.”
It’s not clear whether Trump will himself be prosecuted for attempting to disenfranchise voters, especially given the controversial call to Raffensperger, which some lawyers say was itself an act of voter fraud. Regardless, placing the Republican Party back under court supervision, as the LDF lawsuit asks a federal judge to do, would at least make it more difficult for these activities to happen again in the future.
The Double Standard For Policing Capitol Rioters And BLM Protesters
In June, Black Lives Matter demonstrators were met with a massive show of force from police and federal officers. The Trump insurrection that stormed the Capitol didn’t receive similar treatment.
The world watched in shock as an unruly mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in an effort to overturn the results of the presidential election. The inability of the U.S. Capitol Police to stop the riot led to a catastrophic breach in national security and a reckoning over law enforcement in Washington, D.C.
Horrified onlookers including President-elect Joe Biden could not help but notice the striking contrast between the police response to Trump’s insurrection and the hard fist that met Black Lives Matter protests in June.
During largely peaceful protests on June 1, D.C. police officers arrested 289 people, with federal officers tear-gassing demonstrators in Lafayette Square to clear the way for Trump’s infamous Bible photo-op at St. John’s Episcopal Church.
By comparison, local police in Washington, D.C., who secured the Capitol grounds on Wednesday and enforced the 6 p.m. citywide curfew have made only 68 arrests as of Thursday morning.
Other scenes illustrated the chasm in the police response: A TikTok clip appeared to show Capitol Police opening barricades for pro-Trump agitators. One officer in riot gear helped a Trump supporter down the steps. Even as police fired tear gas and flash grenades into the churning crowd, others gave departing Trump supporters directions to their cars or hotels.
This reporter overheard a Capitol Police officer apologize, unprompted, to would-be insurrectionists as they left the still-chaotic scene at the Capitol grounds: “Sorry about all of this. Thanks for your patience.”
“The dichotomy in treatment is plain to see,” D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine said in an interview. For the BLM protests, Trump “made a huge deal of calling in real tough guys” from other government agencies “to absolutely intimidate and be a force against rioters and looters,” Racine said. At the Capitol, police used “kid gloves” and let protesters pass, he said.
The incident shows that the system of criminal enforcement and policing isn’t fair and that Trump and his supporters are wrong to claim there is no systematic racism, Racine said.
“There is no doubt that BLM protesters would not have been treated with the respect and deference that has been shown here,” former federal prosecutor Harry Sandick said in an interview. “President Trump, and his advisers and lawyers, and those members of Congress who encouraged this, should be shamed and driven from public life for all time.”
Biden, in a speech on Thursday, called the different treatment of BLM protestors compared with the mob of Trump supporters “unacceptable.”
During a press conference Wednesday, D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee III defended the number of arrests at the Capitol. “We had to contain the situation that we were dealing with and the moment we were able to contain the situation, [police] were able to make arrests.”
Steve A. Sund, chief of the United States Capitol Police, said in a statement that his officers responded valiantly. “The violent attack on the U.S. Capitol was unlike any I have ever experienced in my 30 years in law enforcement here in Washington,” Sund said. “The actions of the USCP officers were heroic given the situation they faced.”
One viral photo seemed to crystallize the comparison between the police response to Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 and the pro-Trump insurrection in 2021. It shows steely looking military police in fatigues and armor preparing to hold the line during the BLM rally.
Most of the people who shared it yesterday got the details wrong — the photo shows the National Guard lined up on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, not the Capitol — but this viral critique isn’t exactly incorrect: It still gets at a glaring disparity in the federal law enforcement response then and now.
“These photos are a striking reminder of real double standard and institutional racism playing out not just today but over the course of our story,” Janet Murguía, president of Hispanic advocacy group UnidosUS, said Wednesday on Twitter.
“All around our nation, we have seen Black peaceful protestors attacked, charged with felonies, threatened with militarized police presence and treated inhumanely, as they exercised their first amendment rights,” Our Black Party, a political action committee and advocate, said in a statement.
“Our nation has witnessed law enforcement stand idly by while these armed men and women occupy our capitol building and we demand that they immediately act to protect and serve this country and utilize equal force to remove them now. We need our country’s leaders to not only condemn this behavior but to utilize the law to uphold justice and democracy.”
When racial justice protests erupted around the country in June, the federal government made awesome preparations for local protests. Then-Attorney General Bill Barr mobilized unmarked military police and federal law enforcement units to secure D.C. streets, while then-Secretary of Defense Mark Esper asked Ohio, Maryland, Indiana and other states to send National Guard units to lock down the city.
“The sooner you mass and dominate the battlespace, the quicker this dissipates,” Esper said during a conference call with state governors, describing peaceful protests in public squares. Barr eventually expanded his program to include other “anarchist jurisdictions.” The show of force on June 2 — the day the photo was taken at the Lincoln Memorial — prompted concerns from some military and local officials that the government had violated the Posse Comitatus Act and even the Third Amendment.
Ahead of the long-planned rallies by the Proud Boys and Trump supporters, those same precautions were not taken. The Capitol Police failed to anticipate the size and energy of the crowds, and the Pentagon pointedly sidelined the D.C. National Guard as well, “to avoid the poor optics of uniformed military personnel and Humvees once again returning to the streets of D.C.” the Washington Post reported.
But those concerns over optics only materialized after Barr hammered cities such as Chicago, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon, with preemptive law enforcement actions against the wishes of local and state leaders — and in the service of Trump’s order to protect statues and monuments.
While the Department of Homeland Security reportedly authorized sweeping intelligence measures to protect monuments, federal authorities apparently did not see the Proud Boys as the same threat category as art vandals.
D.C.’s experience with the far-right group should have proved otherwise: In November, a Proud Boys rally led to violent clashes and arrests, and during their December gathering, Proud Boys members destroyed the property of historically Black churches in the city.
At a briefing on Thursday, MPD Chief Contee defended his department’s response. “There was no intelligence that suggested that there would be a breach of the U.S. Capitol,” he said.
The fact that the mob of Trump supporters was largely white likely played a major role in the disparate enforcement approaches, says Chris Burbank, vice president of law enforcement strategy for the Center for Policing Equity, a research center based at Yale University. “There is a different response to Black and Brown people than there is to white people in policing,” he says.
“There is a tremendous disparity in how we treat people and what we as the people believe should be done with different groups when race is involved.”
In addition, the Jan. 6 event had been explicitly summoned by President Trump. “This was the President of the United States who encouraged the groups to go do this. How does that play in to the Capitol Police response, to the FBI response, to the MPD response, when it’s the president who said go do this?” Burbank says.
“I’m more disappointed in that leadership perspective than anything else, but without a doubt there was a noticeably different response, and it was felt throughout Black America.”
On Wednesday, D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department led the effort to retake the Capitol building, along with Capitol Police and with support from more than 18 local, state and federal agencies, including officers from Maryland and Virginia. The National Guard arrived, eventually, providing a backstop to other law enforcement agencies.
Perhaps the most striking disparity between the two events was the response from the White House. In June, Trump was eager to use the Insurrection Act to deploy some 10,000 troops to Washington and other cities to suppress Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
Yesterday, when an actual insurrection arrived, his message was different. To the rioters ransacking the Capitol, in a video message since deleted by Twitter and Facebook, Trump said, “I love you.”
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