Columbia | SIPA
Sanford, Florida is really Sanford, USA.

Benjamin Jealous, President and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). 

Jealous was the keynote speaker at the 15th Annual David N. Dinkins Leadership and Public Policy Forum: Voting Rights v. Voter Suppression, on Monday, March 26, 2012 at SIPA.

In his address, Jealous emphasized that the fight against voter suppression was not happening in a void.

"My generation is the most incarcerated in the planet and the most murdered in the planet," he said. "Though we’ve been incarcerated more than our white peers, not like this…  The disproportionate incarceration of the black community and voter suppression are exactly the same thing." 

Jealous also discussed his recent trip to Sanford, FL because of the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin and subsequent protests. He had just spent a week in the city, and described it as the tensest place he had ever seen in his life. After talking to people and hearing 12 emotional testimonials, he found that two trends emerged: 

"The first, is a deep pain of black men being killed and police not caring about it… and another broader theme of racial profiling," he said, "and it occurred to me, that Sanford, FL is really Sanford USA."

Watch Jealous’s entire address here:

After his speech, a panel was introduced by Professor Ester Fuchs, Director of the Urban and Social Policy Program at SIPA. The panelists each added their thoughts on voter suppression and racial profiling. 

Panelists left to right: Professor Fredrick C. Harris, Elinor R. Tatum, Professor Dorian T. Warren, Benjamin Jealous, Professor Theodore M. Shaw and Professor Rodolfo de la Garza. 

Professor Dorian Warren said that voter suppression was not only tied to mass incarceration, but to a range of activities being taken at the state level, that included racial profiling and racial targeting of immigrants. He added that, historically, suppressing voting rights has been about suppressing social justice and equality.

Professor Fredrick Harris, Director of Columbia University’s Center on African-American Politics and Society, also gave the audience a historical view of voter suppression, redistricting and demographic shifts, emphasizing “the importance of developing multiracial coalitions.” 

This led to a discussion between Professor Rodolfo de la Garza and Jealous on the importance of coalitions between the black community and Latino community.

"We’ve got to do more together," said de la Garza.

Columbia Law Professor Theodore M. Shaw later weighed in, saying:

"The issues with regard to African-Americans in this country, along the color lines, will remain dominant, important issues… Looking at what happened in the case of Trayvon Martin in Florida, and some people have the gall to say this isn’t about race. There is a deep racial divide, and that remains on the black/white divide even today."

Finally, Elinor Tatum, Publisher and Editor in Chief of the New York Amsterdam News, warned of the role the media is playing. She said that by scaring people the media is dividing them. 

Tatum later added a personal note, reflecting back on the evening’s main discussion points, particularly the importance of working together across minority communities:

"If we don’t work together, there will be nobody left standing. And it’s getting crucial, and it has been crucial. But I think we’re just seeing it now. From everything to this assault on voting rights to what happened to Trayvon," she said.

"I have a 17-month-old daughter, and when I found out I was having a girl, I was so happy, because I was afraid to raise a black boy in the city."

This event was live-tweeted. For more highlights from the event, click here:

- Michelle Chahine