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An ACLU oversight in the Henriquez case?

Melvin B. Miller

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has a major voting rights project. Its objective is “to ensure that all eligible voters have an opportunity to cast a ballot that will be counted … and to make sure that all votes are counted equally.” The unconstitutional removal of Carlos Henriquez from his seat in the Legislature is equivalent to a refusal to acknowledge or count the votes that elected him.

The action of the Massachusetts House provides a terrible precedent. Conservatives have resorted to numerous tactics to diminish the effect of more liberal voters. If the ACLU fails to acknowledge the injustice of the action by the Massachusetts House, how can they justifiably intervene in similar actions in Mississippi or Alabama?

The ACLU has also expressed a concern about excessive incarceration. Their policy states that “more Americans are deprived of their liberty than ever before — unfairly and unnecessarily, with no benefit to public safety.” The ACLU then points out the over-incarceration in the war on drugs as “a war on communities of color. The racial disparities are staggering.”

A report in Commonwealth Magazine for the Summer 2000 issue demonstrates the racial disparity in the prosecution of drug cases in Dorchester District Court. Non-whites with no prior drug record were treated more severely than whites with a record. It appears that the imprisonment of Henriquez is to require blacks to lead the campaign against spousal abuse, as they have done in the war on drugs.

ACLU’s silence on these matters should cause thoughtful African Americans to question the organization’s priorities.