James Walker: Felons? The right to vote is a right

The Constitution of the United States of America makes it very clear: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

Those are powerful words and most Americans believe as citizens, their power and influence lies in the truth those words bear.

And yet, the right to walk into a voting station and exercise that right has left a bloody trail of resistance throughout this country’s history.

Whether it was a contest of wills for women or a blood-fest for blacks and other minorities, the right to get to the polls has been and continues to be a political slugfest.

Now, another group is demanding its constitutional right to have their say.

As part of efforts to revamp the criminal justice system, Connecticut lawmakers are arm wrestling with advocates of prisoner’s rights over legislation that would, among other measures, give convicted felons on parole the right to vote and also grant voting rights to convicts behind bars.

But why this is a conversation, let alone a serious debate, is beyond me.

I am not sure about anyone else but it is issues such as this that always leave me questioning my humanity when it comes to the men and women behind bars. I do not sit on the shoulders of compassion when it comes to dealing with them.

And I admit, I am not sure if it is not out of anger for the chaos they bring and what they destroy. Something unnerving just goes through me when they start talking about their “rights.”

Beyond the basics of the right to be treated humanely and respectfully and not be harmed or abused while they serve their time, I could care less about their rights.

And I would like to tell them why because maybe they have spent so many long hours staring at the ceiling, they have forgotten.

Felons commit the most heinous crimes in our nation such as murder, aggravated assault or battery, manslaughter and arson among others. Many of them are rapists, murderers, robbers and terrorists.

They are the baddest of the bad and in too many cases, they don’t mind bringing the blood.

But since they and their supporters want to talk about rights, by all means, let’s do so because we, the people of the United States of America, have rights, too.

We reserve the right to walk freely in the streets and not be shot, murdered or harmed.

We reserve the right to open businesses and not have those businesses broken into, or robbed at gunpoint where workers and customers are killed or maimed.

We have the right to hold public functions and not be blown apart and have lives tragically altered.

We reserve the right not to have our homes broken into and our belongings stolen and our families terrorized.

We reserve the right not to have the children of America kidnapped, tortured, thrown off bridges and severely burned and abused.

I could go on and on and on but I think felons get the message.

All of those “rights” — and a lot more — felons took away from people to satisfy their own warped sense of right and wrong in their time of presumed need.

All of those “rights” they took and left families, loves ones and businesses hemorrhaging from the loss and their indifference.

And now, they and their advocates want to play patty cake with lawmakers and legislation to get back their “rights.”

But to me, just like the sound of the opening and closing of a cell door will probably never leave a convict’s mind, so it is true that long after the prison sentence is over, their misdeed will continue to resonate in the lives of their victims.

And lawmakers and advocates should not forget that as felons talk about their “rights.”

Instead, they should be reminded the right to vote is exactly that; a right — and the rights of felons have been taken away due to their egregious acts against humanity.

Glenda Armstrong, president of the Greater Danbury NAACP, disagrees because every prisoner is not on equal footing and she stands by the Constitution.

“It takes away the one right that makes us equal,” she said. “They lose the right to be a person but they don’t lose the right to be a citizen,” she said.

Armstrong said allowing felons to get in the habit of voting while behind bars is critical because it will help their transition back into society be easier and seamless.

“It keeps them in tune with their communities,” she said.

But unlike the advocates who stand on being humane, I never forget that where there is a crime, there is a victim and most victims will always be the ones the law leaves behind.

As the judicial system evolves to become more fair, there are an estimated 6.1 million people nationwide with a felony conviction who are barred from the voting polls.

According to a report in the CTMirror, Gus Marks-Hamilton, a field organizer with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Smart Justice Campaign, estimates there are 4,600 Numeggers on parole who are working and paying taxes but denied their right to vote.

Once again, I don’t know why this is a conversation or debate.

The last time I read it, the definition of freedom is “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.”

If the laws of this country turned the key and unlocked the door to freedom, then those felons should be granted the same rights that every citizen enjoys with that freedom. Under our laws, they have paid their debt to society and earned their right to head back to the polls.

So I will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them and demand their voting rights and every other right that was taken away be restored. Otherwise, they are not truly free.

I know this column will hit a lot of raw nerves but I am not politically correct, nor do I want to be. Somebody has get off those shoulders of compassion and look at the other side.Laws have no mercy for victims because the mercy and compassion is saved for those who committed the act.That is why my humanity is always challenged when it comes to the rights of felons and their talk of being disenfranchised. The sun doesn’t shine on them for a reason. And I believe certain rights are given up by the people who take those same rights away from others.If felons behind bars want the right to vote, as far as I am concerned, they should have to earn it by serving their time and becoming free. And if they never will be free, that is the price they pay.Because they decided — for whatever reason — that three hots and a cot was worth the crime they committed.And in doing so, forgot that freedom is where the real power lies.And that is on them.Felons? The right to vote is a right. James Walker is the New Haven Register’s senior editor and a statewide columnist for Hearst Connecticut newspapers. He can be reached at 203-680-9389 or james.walker@hearstmediact.com. @thelieonroars on Twitter Honey You Should Never Shop on Amazon Without Using This Trick – Here’s Why

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