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 choice."

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 is minimized.

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."




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