Hearing highlights voting rights issues

By: Cierra Duncan
Defender

The National Commission on Voting Rights recently held an open hearing in Houston to give the public an opportunity to speak on their voting experiences.

The commission is currently holding hearings, and will document speakers’ testimonies to help create election reform efforts that can help end voter discrimination.

The forum was held at Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law. A panel of state voting rights leaders heard testimony on such issues as young voter disenfranchisement, suppression and administration problems such as record maintenance.

“Voting rights is not the denial of the rights of anyone,” said Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. “It is the opening of doors of opportunity for all.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee speaks on the importance of voting rights. (Photo: Cierra Duncan)

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee speaks on the importance of voting rights. (Photo: Cierra Duncan)

“The Voting Rights Act safeguarded the rights of Americans to vote and stood as an obstacle to many of the more egregious attempts by certain states, including Texas, to gain the system by passing discriminatory changes in their election laws and administration policies.”

She added that the Voting Rights Act is needed more than ever to prevent disenfranchisement.

Cynthia Spooner, a Houston resident, said she has lived in Texas for the past 10 years. She has voted in six other states but said Texas is the only place where she encountered challenges. She tried three times before she successfully received a voter’s registration card and has been challenged at least eight times while trying to vote in Harris County.

“I have lived my life believing that I’m not here on a hall pass,” Spooner said. “I want every right that my parents fought for and that everyone deserves. It’s not just about my rights. It’s about the rights of the whole community.”

In addition to the Thurgood Marshall School of Law, supporting organizations included the Texas State Conference of the NAACP, Houston Area Urban League and 100 Black Men of America, Houston Metropolitan Chapter.
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The above article was published in Volume 83, Number 23 (April 10, 2014) of the Defender newspaper in Houston, TX. (http://defendernetwork.com/)

Jackson Lee calls for end to violence

by Cierra Duncan
Defender

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee asked Houstonians to unite to help prevent the gun violence taking a toll on area young people.

“It is time that law enforcement and the community take immediate action to stop these senseless crimes on our youth with these guns,” she said during a press conference held in Third Ward.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee is joined by youths in calling for an end to gun violence.

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee is joined by youths in calling for an end to gun violence.

Jackson Lee encouraged the community to come together in support of a strategy that addresses the causes and effects of youth violence. “We must begin discussing common-sense steps we can take right now to combat gun violence,” she said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, an average of 13 young people between the ages of 10 and 24 are victims of homicide every day. Jackson Lee said such statistics are “shocking” and “unacceptable.”

“What is further disturbing is the fact that homicide is the leading cause of death for African-Americans between ages 10 and 24, and the second leading cause of death for Hispanic-Americans,” she said.

Jackson Lee recently introduced HR 65, the Child Gun Safety and Gun Access Prevention Act, and has co-sponsored other gun safety legislation while in Congress.

If passed, HR 65 will prevent children’s access to firearms. It will also do the following:
• Increase youth gun safety by raising the age of handgun eligibility to 21 and prohibit youth from processing semiautomatic assault weapons.
• Increase punishment for youth possession of handguns and semiautomatic assault weapons and for the transfer of such weapons to youth.
• Require gun storage and safety devices for all firearms.
• Make adults responsible for death and injury caused by child access to firearms.
• Require that a child be accompanied by an adult during a gun show.
• Authorize the attorney general to provide grants that enable law enforcement agencies to develop and sponsor gun safety classes for parents and children.
• Allow each school district to provide or participate in student firearms safety.

Jackson Lee said communities must take on the challenge of changing the violent culture among young people, a task that won’t happen overnight.

“We collectively fail our children when we fail to teach them to resolve their problems in a nonviolent manner,” she said. “While we can act now and pass legislation to ameliorate some causes of the youth violence epidemic, this problem is larger than our laws. We must work tirelessly to create an environment in this country that lifts the psychological burden of violence off the shoulders of our kids.”
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The above article was published in Volume 83, Number 4 (November 21, 2013) of the Defender newspaper in Houston, TX.

The online version is available at http://issuu.com/defendermediagroup/docs/11.21.2013_e-full.