Remember when four conservative justices and one swing vote on the United States Supreme Court invalidated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act last year, saying that it was no longer needed in a post-racial America? Perhaps that’s how things looked from their ivory tower, but on the streets of North Carolina — one of the states that used to be covered by Section 5 — the police are arresting black people who try to register voters.
“They said they would charge me for distributing literature,” (Ty) Turner told ThinkProgress when he was released a few hours later. “I asked [the policeman] for the ordinance number [being violated], because they can’t put handcuffs on you if they cannot tell you why they’re detaining you. I said, ‘Show me where it’s illegal to do this.’ But he would not do it. The officer got mad and grabbed me. Then he told me that I was resisting arrest!”
Charlotte police say they were enforcing an ordinance against flyers on cars, and that it has nothing to do with a nearby ‘Moral Mondays’ protest, but this is the first time local residents recall that particular law being used on anyone, ever.
This act of intimidation might stand out as an anomaly if not for the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, where a white police officer shot eleven times at an unarmed black youth, killing him and sparking weeks of protest. White conservatives have rallied to the shooter’s cause, particularly talk radio host Laura Ingraham, who decries all attempts to register black voters in Ferguson as “the politics of division.”
And in fact one of the most concrete effects of the 2010 tea party wave has been the complete disempowerment of black legislators in these same formerly-confederate states, along with gerrymandering that has deliberately put almost all US House Republicans in majority-white districts to ensure reelection.
It is difficult to call this anything other than a reassertion of white supremacy in American elections. Shelby County v Holder is easily the worst Supreme Court decision since the justices upheld state discrimination laws in their 1896 Plessy v Ferguson ruling, and the excuses gathered around it like a cloud of flies on manure will be understood by future historians as nothing more than Jim Crow’s second act.