NJ NAACP: Blacks need to vote in larger numbers if they want to be heard

Richard Smith, president of the New Jersey State Conference of the NAACP, said an “older gentleman” who used to serve as a mentor of his would use an image to describe the role of African Americans in this country — a ring around the outside of a barrel.
A part of the barrel. Integral to its structure. But never actually inside.
That’s been the role of African Americans in the United States in general and in New Jersey in particular for too long, Smith said. A major component of the population. Part of life here. But not fully in on the process where decisions get made and policy gets set.
Smith, a Vineland resident, has been working to change that since he was elected to his position at the N.J. NAACP’s annual convention in 2013. He’ll be running again at the next convention in October.
“We have to energize, mobilize, get folks to the polls to vote,” he said. Smith said that when members of the African American population have a perception that they aren’t included in the governmental process, the result is simmering resentment can eventually boil over in destructive ways.
A prime example is Ferguson, Missouri, which was torn apart by riots following the fatal police shooting of a young black man last year. Though the town that was made up of 90 percent African Americans, Smith said, only one council member fit that description, as did only three of 53 officers in the police department.
Much of Smith’s and the N.J. NAACP’s work has dealt with what he describes as systemic discrimination against African American and Latino citizens built into the criminal justice system.
Smith is a law enforcement officer himself — a prison guard — and said he has no inherent problem with police. He dislikes the attitude prevalent in some African American and Latino neighborhoods that it’s taboo to cooperate with police, which he described as a “sick, no-snitch mentality.”
Still, he maintains that there’s an inescapable element of racial profiling in a country where African Americans are three times more like to get arrested for a marijuana offense than their white counterparts despite statistical evidence indicating that usage rates are about the same; where three fourths of people in prison are African American or Latino; and where one in four African American males is prohibited from voting because of a criminal record.
Recently passed measures the NAACP supported include a “ban the box” law that prohibited employers from asking about an applicant’s criminal record until an initial interview, and bail bond reforms designed to prevent defendants from sitting in jail for months because they can’t afford bail.
But it’s not all about the criminal justice system.
The N.J. NAACP joined in a federal lawsuit alleging that 80 percent of applicants for Hurricane Sandy relief money were incorrectly turned down, including a disproportionately high number of minority applicants. A settlement reached last year requires New Jersey to review all rejected applications.
This post is part of our South Jersey Politics Blog

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