by Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union
It’s been 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr. transformed the United States by bringing the promise of the Constitution and the civil liberties it secures to millions of Americans.
The progress since then is undeniable. Indeed, perhaps the best view of how far we’ve come is from a chair in the Oval Office. The challenges that remain in the African-American community, however, are equally undeniable.
Incarceration rates for African-Americans are as many as five times that of white Americans and the death penalty is handed down more than half the time to people of color. Economic disparities are just as striking. Poverty rates for African-Americans are double those of whites; average income levels are two-thirds those of whites; and college attendance rates are about half those of whites.
The intersection of race and politics also continues to produce disturbing results.
There has been almost no meaningful conversation about race in Election 2012. That’s why the ACLU Liberty Watch 2012 campaign just released an update to its candidate report card with a focus on two issues central to racial equality: racial profiling and voter suppression.
The report card shows that most of the major GOP candidates, including Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, earn zero out of four possible “torches” on both issues, with only Ron Paul earning two torches in the racial profiling category.
President Obama earns four torches for his efforts against voter suppression but two torches in the racial profiling category. Libertarian Gary Johnson earns four torches in the racial profiling category and Buddy Roemer earned four torches for his views against voter suppression.
Just as alarming as the report card results, we also continue to hear rhetoric that appeals to our very worst instincts and seems to be a continuation of the GOP’s notorious “southern strategy.”
- Many of the candidates invoke the concept of “states’ rights” in the 10th Amendment to support efforts to undermine Constitutional rights, such as access to the ballot, as well as contraception and reproductive rights.
- Paul has not adequately answered deeply disturbing questions about racist comments in newsletters published under his name in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
- Gingrich continues to make veiled racist references to “food stamp recipients” and ending poverty by putting kids to work in poor “urban” areas. And Santorum said he didn’t want to “make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.”
Martin Luther King Jr. said “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” For too many of the presidential candidates, the arc is broken.
ANTHONY D. ROMERO is the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, the nation’s premier defender of liberty and individual freedom. ACLU Liberty Watch 2012 is the voice for the Constitution in the this year’s presidential election. We’re watching the issues, the candidates and the media to hold them accountable to the Constitution and our civil liberties. Because words matter. Because our rights matter. Because we’re choosing a president, not our liberties.