Killing Mockingbirds In Galveston

Cornelia Banks, Leon Phillips, Steve McIntyre, Joe Compian, Mary Patrick, Amy Quiroga. The Galveston County Daily News – June 12, 2015. B4

On May 4th, the Galveston Charter Review Committee voted 6-3 to recommend to the city council that it place on the ballot in November a proposal to change the city council election system from 6-1 to 4-2-1. This vote of 6 Anglo males versus 2 African-American males and 1 Anglo female as cast 46 days before Juneteenth. The heartbreaking irony surrounding what was happening in Galveston on the eve of our Juneteenth celebration has forced us to continue speaking out.

We have been talking to our friends around the country about our concerns and have listened to their disbelief. On June 11th, we appeared at the city council meeting to advise council of our deep concern.

As you participated in our local Juneteenth celebration activities, we hope everyone relected on the current effort to diminish the voting rights of minorities in Galveston. An effort that has been rejected four times by the Department of Justice under four different presidents: H.W. Bush, Clinton, G.W. Bush, and Obama.

This excerpt from the last DOJ rejection letter on Oct. 3, 2011, demands careful consideration by the Charter Committee and a clear public explanation of the motivation and rationale for those six votes.

A voting change has a discriminatory effect if it will lead to retrogression in the ability of language or racial minorities “with respect to their effective exercise of the electoral franchise.” Beer v. United States, 425 U.S. 130, 141 (1976). The voting change at issue must be measured against the benchmark practice to determine whether the ability of minority voters to participate in the political process and elect candidates of their choice will be “augmented, diminished, or not affected by the change affecting voting.” Ibid.

Under the existing method of voting, minority voters currently have the ability to elect a candidate of choice in three of the six single-member districts. In contrast, this ability would exist only in two of four districts and in neither of the two at- large positions under the proposed system. Indeed, in the course of our investigation, the city acknowledged that the proposed method of election will decrease the number of minority ability-to-elect districts.

Intentionally diminishing the opportunity of minorities to vote and elect someone of their choice under the Voting Rights Act is crossing into dangerous territory. The fact that the Justice Department rejected Galveston’s four prior efforts to change to 4-2-1 strongly suggests the depth of the hurt, anger, and distrust that many feel as Galveston rushes toward this fifth attempt.

For decades many public school students were required to read the beloved American novel “To Kill A Mockingbird.” It was believed to be the only book ever written by Harper Lee. This past year an earlier book by Harper Lee was discovered that tells the story of the characters decades later. The new book will
be published on July 14th.

What would Atticus Finch say to those six members of the Charter Review Committee?