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Desmond Meade

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Escaping Jim Crow in Florida

Posted: 01/28/2012 8:26 pm

As I landed in South Carolina last night, I couldn't help but to think that I am in a state where I will be able to practice law. I began to wonder how the invisible barrier of a state line can have such a dramatic impact on fundamental principles such as civil rights and voting, how the lives of identical people in two different states could be so vastly different. It reminded me of the time when slaves would have to escape slavery by crossing state lines. How while they were slaves in one state, if they could just get to a neighboring state, they would be free men.

In Florida, my home state, I am forced to endure a lifetime ban of my civil rights because I have been convicted of a felony. In addition to not being able to practice law, I am restricted from finding safe and affordable housing, meaningful employment, and most importantly, I am prevented from voting, a process that is deeply embedded in the founding bedrock of our country.

How ironic it is that if I were to live in South Carolina, I would not have the barriers to living a productive life that I experience in Florida. The mere act of crossing into a state transforms a life of bondage into a life of freedom. Why is it that Florida insists that I spend a lifetime repaying a debt that 47 other states would say that I have already repaid? It is disheartening to know that in America, all returning citizens are not equal. But for a few states that insist on adhering to historically racist policies that were initially instituted to limit African Americans' access to the voting booth, every American would have an opportunity, after repaying their debt to society, to be restored. Every American would have the opportunity regain their rightful position of citizenship, and be allowed to enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

While citizens throughout the country will have the opportunity to participate in the greatest indication of citizenship by voting in the upcoming elections, over 1 million tax-paying Floridians will still be relegated to second-class citizenship status. Their voices are forever silenced, and they have no say so in matters that affect them and their families. Whatever happened to our mantra that "there shall be no taxation without representation?" The Declaration of Independence stated that "we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

How can these rights be forfeited for life in Florida, but enjoyed in South Carolina, New York, Alabama, and many other states? What makes a returning citizen in the 47 other states so different from those in Florida? If I am considered an American citizen in any of the 50 states and territories of the United States, then my civil rights should not be denied in a select few. If I'm an American that's free enough to vote and practice law in South Carolina, then I should be free enough to vote and practice law in Florida. Redemption and restoration should be a prevailing spirit throughout the borders of the United States. No one should have to cross a state line to be free!