March 11, 2004
A scheme unraveled
There is an ethnic arrogance in Boston that continues
to sully the city’s reputation across the nation. The recent
decision of the federal court to overturn the redistricting plan
for Boston only adds to the city’s stigma.
It is a requirement of the U.S. Constitution to redraw congressional
districts after every decennial Census to assure that they are
of equal size. The state Legislature established a Joint Special
Committee on redistricting and reapportionment. This Joint Committee
determined that the population size of each House district for
the 160 seat state Legislature would have to be between 37,698
and 41,666 persons.
The problem was that the 2000 Census disclosed that for the first
time so-called minorities became the majority population of Boston.
Under the Federal Voting Rights Act, districts have to be drawn
to provide racial minorities with equal opportunity "to participate
in the political process and to elect representatives of their
There are primarily two strategies to disenfranchise African Americans
in the redistricting process. One is to assign a small group of
black voters to majority white districts where the black vote
will be indecisive. Another strategy is called "packing."
By assigning an overwhelming number of black voters to a few districts,
the number of districts in which the black vote would be significant
The objective of incumbents is to preserve their districts in
any redistricting plan. However, that objective cannot take precedence
over the Voting Rights Act. The districts of Marie St. Fleur and
Shirley Owens-Hicks were clearly packed with 93 and 98 percent
minority populations. Byron Rushing’s district is majority
white (56 percent) so it is unlikely that another black rep would
be elected there once Rushing steps down.
This was a great victory for Boston’s African Americans.
It is important to note that it never would have happened without
a challenge by the Black Political Task Force, Boston Vote and
¿Oiste? Their efforts would not have been successful without
the astute legal assistance of Foley Hoag and the Lawyer’s
Committee for Civil Rights.
A more equitable redistricting plan will soon be in place. Unless
blacks and Latinos resolve to register and vote, this whole effort
will be little more than an academic exercise.
A sullied image
Every year for the past 35 years the NAACP has held its Image
Awards Gala. The objective is "… to honor individuals
who are committed to being the best in their field and are committed
to advancing the participation of people of color." The best
from five nominees in 35 categories is chosen.
This year the NAACP ran into an unusual problem because one of
the artists nominated was R. Kelly, the chart-topping r &
b star. He was nominated even though he was indicted for child
pornography. While it is true that under our system of laws an
individual is innocent until proven guilty, videos of the incident
tend to support the allegations if the identity of his sex partner
is established to be a minor.
It is clearly inappropriate for the venerable NAACP to honor anyone
facing such serious charges of moral turpitude, regardless of
their musical talent. NAACP president Kwesi Mfume plans to prevent
such embarrassments in the future by having the NAACP take complete
control of the nominating process. Mfume plans "… to
insure that they [nominations] reflect the standards for which
the award was created."