It seems the right will stop at nothing to intimidate and suppress those who traditionally vote Democratic. In Cleveland, a civil rights group called the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, which is a Washington-based voting advocacy group, sent a letter to Clear Channel Outdoor, the advertiser responsible for billboards intimidating minority voters, requesting that they be taken down. The billboards read “Voter Fraud is a Felony” with possible criminal penalties listed. There are dozens of these billboards conveniently placed, of course, in predominantly minority neighborhoods.
The group responsible for the billboards allegedly used census tract data to gauge demographics in order to strategically place them in predominately African-American neighborhoods. Census tracts are areas of towns, cities, suburbs, and rural areas of about 4,000 residents that loosely collide with neighborhood boundaries.
The billboards have also popped up in African-American neighborhoods in Cincinnati and Milwaukee as well. Of course, there is no name attached to this advertising endeavor — the advertiser is listed as a private family foundation.
The Lawyers’ Committee wrote to Clear Channel, saying that the signs “stigmatize the African-American community by implying that voter fraud is a more significant problem in African-American neighborhoods than elsewhere,” and that the billboards “attach an implicit threat of criminal prosecution to the civic act of voting.”
Eric Marshall, who is the manager of legal mobilization for the group, says that the signs must be removed:
“These billboards are placed in predominately African American or Latino neighborhoods only. They send a pretty strong message, and a very dissuasive message that is not good for our democracy.”
Phyllis Cleveland, a Cleveland City Councilwoman, along with State Senator Nina Turner, held a rally Thursday morning to bring attention to the billboards and demand they be removed. They, along with residents, say that the signs intimidate minority voters, felons, and students who may not know their rights.
Of course, the Chair of the Cuyahoga County Republican Party does not see the discrimination here, despite the demographics of the neighborhoods in which the billboards were placed. He says that while some political advertisements are inflammatory, that is part of having free speech. He did add, though, that he would like to see laws requiring full disclosure of who purchases billboard ads. As for these particular ads, he questioned the targeting of specific segments of the population, again, despite the fact that they are all conveniently appearing in overwhelmingly minority areas:
“It appears to not be a discriminatory effort, but a region wide effort that someone wants to get the word out about voter fraud. Raising awareness about voter fraud and keeping this election fair helps us all have confidence in the results.”
Jim Cullian, who is a Clear Channel spokesman, says that the purchaser of these ads has a contract for the signs to be posted at those locations. He says of Clear Channel’s involvement:
“The advertisement has nothing to with Clear Channel Outdoor, it was the advertiser.”
Cullian went on to say that the company understands the sensitivity of the signs and would start a dialogue with political leaders and community activists who have expressed concern about the advertisements.
He went on to say that it is not the normal practice of Clear Channel Outdoor to let signs go up without naming the sponsor, but that the group’s request for anonymity is in their contract. According to Cullian, making that concession is now being viewed as a mistake, and they will not post signs without naming the official sponsor again. He says of the ‘mistake’:
“We prefer to have that disclaimer in any ad. In our minds it is an error that it was not there.”
However, Marshall, who is with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, insists that Clear Channel should remove the signs, regardless of any contract. He says:
“Clear Channel has a choice. Contract or not, it is not right to be putting intimifating messages up in predominately minority neighborhoods.”
Marshall is right. The whole thing stinks to high heaven, and the fact that the group refuses to take responsibility for their attempts at the intimidation of minority voters seals the deal on just how incredibly racist this effort is. This election season is chock full of shameful tactics from the right to take the White House by any means necessary. Well, guess what? Some of us are not intimidated. I, for one, already voted absentee, and voted straight Democrat. Suck on that GOP.