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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.

Updated: 1-10-2021

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.”

Updated: 3-31-2021

Black Executives Press Companies To Battle GOP State Voting Laws

Delta CEO also takes tougher position on new Georgia law, drawing retort from state’s governor.

Dozens of prominent Black executives called on corporations to fight Republican-led legislation they say would limit voting access for Black voters in numerous states, and Delta Air Lines Inc.’s CEO publicly clashed with Georgia’s governor over a similar law passed there last week.

The efforts by Black business leaders, as well as new statements from Delta, Coca-Cola Co. and other companies on Wednesday, come after civil-rights advocates had for days said Georgia-based corporations hadn’t done enough to push back against that new state voting law.

Opponents say the new voting rules will make it harder for voters in underrepresented communities to cast ballots, while backers say the rules are needed to preserve election integrity.

Though Delta, Coca-Cola and other corporations with headquarters in Atlanta had said they had worked behind the scenes to lobby Georgia lawmakers to make changes to the legislation, they had largely refrained from publicly criticizing it—prompting boycott calls from some voting-rights activists.

In a Wednesday appearance on CNBC, Coca-Cola Chief Executive James Quincey said the company had always opposed the legislation, which he called unacceptable. Private efforts to lobby hadn’t worked, he said, “and so we’re being more forceful in our public position.”

The 72 Black executives, who include Merck & Co. CEO Kenneth Frazier, former American Express Co. CEO Kenneth Chenault, and Mellody Hobson, Starbucks Corp. chairwoman and co-CEO of Ariel Investments LLC, signed an open letter published in a full-page New York Times ad on Wednesday. In it, they pushed companies and business leaders across the country to sway legislative debate.

“This is a nonpartisan issue, this is a moral issue,” Mr. Chenault said in an interview. Mr. Frazier said that as dozens of other states consider similar legislation, companies must act. “This is not a Georgia issue,” he said.

Ursula Burns, former CEO of Xerox Holdings Corp. and another signatory to the letter, said she had reached out to board colleagues at Exxon Mobil Corp. and Uber Technologies Inc., where she is a board member, to ask what action they plan to take. She said she expected other board directors at other companies to do the same. “People are going to have to respond,” she said. “Companies are going to have to say something.”

Republican legislators in Georgia have said new rules are needed, in part to assure the public that voting is fair and to ease concerns there might have been fraud this past election season. No court or legislative body has found evidence of widespread voter fraud.

Despite pressure from then-President Donald Trump to overturn the results, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state and other Republican officials also affirmed the integrity of the state’s 2020 presidential election after conducting two statewide recounts and a partial audit of mail-in votes in one county.

On Wednesday, Delta CEO Ed Bastian issued a memo to employees more sharply criticizing the new Georgia law than the company had in previous statements. After he had time to fully understand the legislation’s provisions and speak to Black community leaders and employees, he said, it became evident the law would make it harder for many voters, particularly Black voters, to exercise their right to vote. “That is wrong,” he wrote.

“I need to make it crystal clear that the final bill is unacceptable and does not match Delta’s values,” he added in the memo.

Mr. Bastian also criticized lawmakers who had pushed for Georgia’s law. “The entire rationale for the bill was based on a lie,” he said, calling allegations of widespread voter fraud “simply not true.”

Mr. Kemp, who signed the bill into law last week, took issue with Mr. Bastian’s memo, saying that his office had consulted regularly with Delta and that the company had made no objections. “At no point did Delta share any opposition to expanding early voting, strengthening voter ID measures, increasing the use of secure drop boxes statewide, and making it easier for local election officials to administer elections—which is exactly what this bill does,” he said.

Mr. Kemp added: “The last time I flew Delta, I had to present my photo ID. Today’s statement by Delta CEO Ed Bastian stands in stark contrast to our conversations with the company, ignores the content of the new law, and unfortunately continues to spread the same false attacks being repeated by partisan activists.”

It isn’t the first time Delta has clashed with Georgia officials over a political stance it has taken. In 2018, after Delta ended a promotional discount for members of the National Rifle Association, Georgia Republicans removed a proposed sales-tax exemption on jet fuel that would have benefited Delta from tax legislation.

The Georgia law, which was passed by both chambers along party lines, is far less extensive than numerous bills that were initially proposed by the state’s GOP legislators. The law requires absentee voters to request ballots by providing their driver’s license number, the last four digits of their Social Security number or a copy of some other accepted form of identification.

They also have to provide this information when they mail in their ballots. Currently, people sign an absentee-ballot application and sign an inside envelope containing the ballot when they mail it in.

The law also places new limits on how parties and voting groups mail out absentee-ballot request forms, and limits the number of ballot drop boxes to one per county except for large counties, which can set up one box for every 100,000 registered voters.

Microsoft Corp. , which recently announced expansion plans in Georgia’s capital, also released a statement Wednesday objecting to Georgia’s law and calling for corporate peers to take action in other states considering similar legislation.

The company said restrictions on voting drop boxes in Fulton County, where most Georgia-based Microsoft employees live, would likely cause an 80% reduction in drop boxes. Microsoft’s president, Brad Smith, had previously tweeted opposition to what he described as efforts in Georgia to “restrict fair and secure elections.”

Others also added their voices, including Kent Walker, senior vice president of global affairs at Alphabet Inc.’s Google, who tweeted that Google was “concerned about efforts to restrict voting at a local level.” The company has said it is investing more than $25 million this year to expand its offices in Atlanta.

The open letter from Black executives, titled “Memo to Corporate America: The Fierce Urgency is Now,” didn’t call out specific companies. Instead, it cited the blood shed during the civil-rights movement, saying that Americans had “marched, suffered imprisonment and were even killed to ensure each of us has the right to vote.”

In interviews, some of the signatories to the open letter compared the lack of stronger corporate opposition to Georgia’s voting legislation to last summer, when George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis police custody prompted an outpouring of company statements of support and commitments to the Black community.

“We have to rely on allies. It shouldn’t be one Black person in the room,” said Debra Lee, former chief executive of Black Entertainment Television, who signed the letter. “Everyone has to speak up.”

The law’s passage by the GOP-majority legislature followed key election losses by Republicans in the recent election season. In November, then-President Trump lost Georgia to Democrat Joe Biden by about 12,000 votes out of five million cast, making him the first Republican presidential candidate to lose the state since 1992.

In January, Georgia’s two GOP senators lost seats to Democrats, victories that gave Democrats 50 seats in the U.S. Senate and effective control, as Vice President Kamala Harris has the tie-breaking vote. The losses infuriated many Republican voters and politicians, and Mr. Trump repeatedly said, without providing evidence, that voting had been fraudulent.

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