• Jon B. Comstock



ACTION ITEM: Attack systemic racism. Let our State elected officials know that you support immediate reinstatement of one’s right to vote when released from prison – rather than delaying until after probation/parole expires and/or fines paid in full.

Why have black people struggled so for equality when slavery ended over 150 years ago?

Hopefully, you have asked yourself that question. The answer comes from taking purposeful steps to educate ourselves – to become aware of what the black experience living in America has truly been since the 13th Amendment attempted to end slavery.

How is it that so many neighborhoods in America are black only? Rather than being a matter of personal preference, read The Color of Law (2017) by Richard Rothstein. You will never see America’s urban landscape the same. De jure segregation – the laws and policy decisions passed by local, state and the Federal governments promoted and often mandated discriminatory patters that persist to this day. While urban areas rapidly deteriorated, the great American suburbanization of the post-World War II years was spurred on by federal subsidies for builders on the condition that no homes be sold to African Americans. This is our history.

Why with all the great social expansion programs have so many black families seemed to linger behind?

It’s not happenstance and certainly not due to racial inferiority. Read When Affirmative Action was White (2005) by Ira Katznelson. From the New Deal, through Social Security, minimum wage laws and labor market programs, see how the racist patters of program administration were leveraged by a white power structure, particularly in the South and the then-Democratic party. While white America prospered, black America was terrorized and betrayed. This is our history.

Why did it take the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to finally give our black citizens more access to the ballot than they have ever had? And how the assault on their right continues.

While white America took voting for granted, unbelievable passion was dedicated to the forces intent on depriving black Americans from being able to vote. Read Give Us The Ballot by Ari Berman and you will read a treatise on terror and intimidation. For a sense of the malign spirit at play, consider this quote from one of the longest serving U.S. Senators, Strom Thurmond, who carried several Southern states when he ran for president in 1948: “…there’s not enough troops in the army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the Nigra race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.” This is our history.

Mass incarceration (including probation/parole) is the single biggest equal rights issue facing our nation.

If you don’t know this, please read The New Jim Crow by Michele Alexander. If systemic racism in our country is to be countered, we have to truly understand that it is about much more than police abuse on the streets. We need to enact policies that will break down the inherent racism in our society. We in Arkansas can take many steps towards this goal. I suggest one of the most important would be to reinstate any person’s right to the ballot as soon as they are released from prison. Don’t make it conditional on completing probation or parole or having paid all fines and fees due. We say we want folks coming out of prison to “be law abiding citizens”. They have served their time. Let’s empower them to become active in their communities. We can begin to rewrite history with this change alone.

P.S. Participating with the communities of Fayetteville, Rogers and Bentonville in the last few days in civil protests against excessive use of force by police has been a great experience!


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© Jon Comstock  for Arkansas 2020

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