'Do Something, or Arrest Us': NAACP Demands Restoration of Voting Rights Act

Cornell West Brooks and Stephen Green
NAACP National President and CEO Cornell William Brooks was charged with trespassing by local police after refusing to leave a Congressman's district office in southwest Virginia on Monday during a sit-in with the local NAACP Youth Council.NAACP

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By Chandelis R. Duster

After holding a six-hour sit-in on the floor of a southwest Virginia congressman's district office, NAACP President Cornell Williams Brooks was arrested and charged with trespassing by local police on Monday.

About 20 activists, including Roanoke NAACP Chapter President Brenda Hale and members of the NAACP Youth Council, spent the day peacefully waiting for their voices to be heard inside Rep. Bob Goodlatte's Roanoke office.

Brooks had refused to leave until Congressman Goodlatte agreed to hold a hearing on restoring the Voting Rights Act or until the police forced them out.

“This isn’t your grandfather or grandmother 1965 voter suppression,” Brooks said. “This is multiracial, Jim Crow 2.0 voter suppression that affects young people.”

Brooks was arrested by Roanoke Police Department along with Stephen Green, national director for the NAACP Youth and College Division.

“This isn’t your grandfather or grandmother 1965 voter suppression. This is multiracial, Jim Crow 2.0 voter suppression that affects young people."

The sit-in along comes just days after the 51st anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that was signed into law on August 6 by President Lyndon Johnson. The landmark legislation required nine states—including Virginia—with a history of racial discrimination at the polls to request federal permission to change voting laws. In June 2013, the Supreme Court struck down this part of the act.

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The NAACP says this pre-clearance in the act is needed to prevent voter suppression. Without it, the organization says it allows states to easily discriminate against voters because states can enforce unfair voting laws that will keep minorities away from the polls. Brooks says the current Voting Rights Acts also makes it harder for some college students to vote.

“We’re asking him to do what he did 10 years ago,” Brooks said. “If he supported authorization before, why not support it?”

Congressman Goodlatte, who is also chairman of the House Judiciary Committee responded to the NAACP’s request in a statement, called the Voting Rights Act "alive and well" and said that while the Supreme Court struck down part of the act, "the Court left in place other important tools... including the section that allows federal judges to place jurisdictions under a preclearance regime if those jurisdictions act in an unconstitutional and discriminatory manner. So, strong remedies against unconstitutional voting discrimination remain in place today."

"We will continue to monitor this very important issue to ensure that the voting rights of all Americans are protected,” the statement added.

Brooks says Congressman Goodlatte is wrong.

“How can you support a gutted and weakened voting rights act? How can he say what we have now, is enough?” Brooks said. “Do what common sense, conscious, and the constitution dictates – he should support what he did when it was strong.”

Congressman Goodlatte has not agreed to hold another hearing. Before his arrest today, Brooks said that the effort to have voter’s rights restored doesn’t stop with a sit-in and will escalate.

“We believe the American voters will win, but how quickly will that victory be secured?” Brooks said. ”We are a in a post-millennium civil rights movement. We can’t do the same ole, same ole for status quo.”