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Echoes of Juneteenth Haunt Us Today:
This Thursday, many African Americans will be celebrating Juneteenth, the bittersweet anniversary of June 19, 1865, when the last remaining slaves were freed.
While this 138-year-old tale might at first seem like ancient history, echoes of the Juneteenth story resonate in the struggles people of color face today. Getting rights on paper, Juneteenth reminds us, is a far cry from getting them in practice.
Today, our "tough on crime" policies – especially our draconian drug laws – disproportionately target people of color. Only 14 percent of illegal drug users are black, but blacks make up 74 percent of those sentenced for drug possession. One in three black men will be jailed at some point.
This translates directly into loss of political power. Blacks are denied the vote because of criminal records five times more often than whites. Fully 13 percent of African-American men are permanently disenfranchised, and many more have temporarily lost their voting rights. Latinos are also disproportionately affected, given that 16 percent of Latino men will enter prison in their lifetime. This leaves communities of color vastly under-represented in the political process.
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