African Americans have had a heavy influence in the last two presidential elections, turning out in record numbers and contributing heavily to the election and then the re-election of the first Black president of the United States of America.
This election cycle, however, has been so rife with controversy, drama, and downright debauchery of the hallowed “American way” that it has left many Black voters disenchanted with the political proceedings altogether. Many are unimpressed with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton regarding her voting history/disparaging comments and supporting legislation regarding African American youth, and her more recent email scandal. Many more will vote for her for one (or a combination) of reasons: 1) they maintain party loyalty and will vote democratic; 2) they actually support Clinton’s political platform; and/or 3) They will do anything to avoid a Donald Trump presidency.
Nevertheless, there appears to be a spreading sentiment that some African Americans will “sit this one out” and that will only do more harm than good, especially in a state like California where many of the propositions on the ballot may even be more important to Black citizens locally than the person who sits in the Oval Office.
Proposition 57, which deals with criminal sentencing and juvenile court proceedings, should be on the radar for Black voters.
Let’s start by acknowledging these 10 facts compiled by AmericanProgress.com.
People of color make up 60 percent of prisoners nationwide.
One in three Black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime.
Students of color face harsher punishment in school leading to more youth incarceration.
African American juveniles are more likely to be sentenced to adult prison.
Women of color are three times more likely to be incarcerated than White women.
The War On Drugs is waged primarily in communities of color.
Black convicts receive longer sentences than their white counterparts
Voter laws regarding felonies disproportionately affect Black men.
These startling statistics allude to why Prop. 57 is an important one. The measure allows parole consideration for persons convicted of nonviolent felonies. It also authorizes the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to award sentence credits for rehabilitation, good behavior, and educational achievements. In addition, it allows juvenile court judges to make determinations about whether juveniles age 14 years and older should be prosecuted and sentenced as adults. The measure, if passed, is expected to save the state tens of millions of dollars due to a reduction in the prison population.
In a similar vein, Prop. 62 will repeal the death penalty and replace it with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. It will apply retroactively to existing death sentences. The measure also increases the portion of life inmates’ wages that may be applied to victim restitution.
According to research from the Death Penalty Information Center, 741 individuals are on death row in California, significantly more than any other state in the nation. What is even more jarring is that the same research found that the race of victims plays a major role in determining if a defendant will be sentenced to death.
Conclusions from the study:
Although more Hispanics and African Americans are victims of murder in California, White-victim cases are the ones most likely to end in a death sentence:
• Those who kill Whites are more than three times more likely to be sentenced to die as those who kill African Americans.
• A person convicted of the same crime is more than three times more likely to be sentenced to die simply because the crime was committed in a predominantly White, rural community rather than a diverse, urban area.
Although morality comes into play anytime the death penalty is up for debate and that burning question, “Why do we kill people, who kill people, to teach people that killing people is wrong?” gets asked, this time around proponents are appealing to the fiscal impact of the law instead.
Reportedly, the death penalty has cost the state $5 billion on the execution of no more than 13 people in the last 40 years and repealing it altogether would reportedly trigger reduction in state and county criminal justice costs of around $150 million annually within a few years.
Dueling Prop. 66, also relates to the death penalty but instead seeks to speed up the executions of convicted prisoners and therefore save in the lengthy and costly process currently in place. The fiscal impact is unknown and opponents fear the measure could possible expedite the execution of innocent inmates.
Lastly, the hotly debated Proposition 64 which seeks to legalize marijuana for recreational use in California.
In 2012, Washington and Colorado became the first two states to pass laws taxing and regulating marijuana and now that nearly two years have passed since retail shops have opened their doors; there is some data to reveal the impact, fiscal and otherwise, that it has had on those states and their economies.
Both states boast a significant decrease in low-level marijuana offenses, savings in marijuana law enforcement resources, and a decrease in violent crime. Washington has collected nearly $83 million in marijuana tax revenue, while Colorado brought in $63 million in 2015. Both states report there has been no increase in the use of marijuana among youth. Washington’s reports however, still saw a higher instance of African American marijuana-related arrests, even after legalization, as compared to Whites.
When it comes to African Americans and what side of the debate they stand on, opinions vary. But the one thing that that is for certain, as is common with other drug crimes, African Americans are disproportionately affected.
Marijuana use is roughly equal among Blacks and Whites, yet Blacks are 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession. Between 2001 and 2010, there were more than eight million pot arrests in the U.S. That’s one bust every 37 seconds and hundreds of thousands ensnared in the criminal justice system. Overall, enforcing marijuana laws costs us about $3.6 billion a year, yet the war on marijuana has failed to diminish the use or availability of marijuana.
Porposition 64 legalizes marijuana under state law, for use by adults 21 or older, imposes state taxes on sales and cultivation, provides for industry licensing and establishes standards for marijuana products. The overall fiscal impact is expected to range from the high hundreds of millions to more $1 billion in revenue annually.
Although most of the viewing public can agree that this presidential campaign cycle has been nothing short of a circus at times, giving up the right to vote when so many before us have died to make it possible is not the right answer. There are worse things than a Trump presidency. So, in the words of our outgoing President Barack Obama, “Don’t boo, vote.”