There’s no mistaking that racial issues are front and center as voters deliberate over who they’ll support in the upcoming historic presidential election. With roughly 30 million Black Americans eligible to vote come November, the Black ballot will have a major impact on which candidate will reside in the White House in January. Every vote matters, but some demos tend to exercise their right more.
According to Pew Research Center, women lead men in voter turnout across all races. Still, the reported 10 percent gap between Black female and male voters (64% vs. 54%) in the 2016 presidential election marks the largest gender disparity in any racial group. It also means the Black male ballot holds significant value this fall. With just less than 60 days until the election, and so much at stake, #TheBlackBallot rounded up five political issues Black men can effectively address at the polls on Election Day.
In the middle of a pandemic and civil unrest, Black men continue to be brutally attacked and murdered at the hands of police. At the same time, more Black men are still disproportionately imprisoned (33 percent, which is nearly triple their 12 percent share of the U.S. adult population) than any other ethnic group.
Improving the criminal justice system will need to happen at all levels: local, state, and federal. Activists want to see a decrease in the prison population, starting with revisiting prison time that doesn’t fit the crime, like in marijuana cases. Local leaders are also pushing for reallocating police funding to social programs to, for example, reduce recidivism. Some formerly incarcerated people still suffer from the system because of their records, which may impact their ability to getting food, housing assistance, employment as well as the right to vote in some states.
Joe Biden promises—among other things in his criminal justice plan—to “reduce the number of people incarcerated in this country while also reducing crime.” Kamala Harris, the vice-presidential candidate for the Democratic Party, is also a Senate sponsor of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act that seeks to address many forms of police violations, including excessive force and racial biases in law enforcement. Donald Trump continues to plug the First Step Act he signed into law in 2018, promising to, in part, “address the risks and needs of each prisoner to promote rehabilitation.”
In lockstep with criminal justice reform is marijuana legalization. Related charges and sentences tend to be harsher on Black men. Advocacy groups like NORML have called on Trump and Biden to take an open position in support of the matter, though neither has yet. “The criminalization of marijuana financially burdens taxpayers, encroaches upon civil liberties, engenders disrespect for the law, impedes legitimate scientific research into the plant’s medicinal properties, and disproportionately impacts communities of color,” Erik Altieri, executive director of NORML, said in a recent interview.
However, now that Congress is back in session, the House of Representatives will vote on the MORE (Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement) Act. The bill would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act list, allowing the marijuana industry to be lawful nationally and resulting in fewer arrests. It would also loosen a number of the restraints on people with federal cannabis convictions and establishes “a trust fund to support various programs and services for individuals and businesses in communities impacted by the war on drugs.”
If the bill passes the House and Senate, Trump could sign it into law before Election Day. The credit will be shared along both party lines since Trump would be signing a bill sponsored by Sen. Harris.
The industrial hemp and marijuana drug industry is valued at more than $800 million.
3 Increased Economic Opportunities
Black men want access to higher-quality jobs, especially in mainstream job markets. A study found that Blacks were the last hired during economic growth periods and the first fired in recessions. “Black men prioritize the economy (just like most voters),” sociologist Rashawn Ray said in a recent study. “There is a lack of high-quality jobs in geographic areas where most Black men live. The work deficits in cities such as Detroit, Cleveland, and Baltimore are systemic—a result both of the historical legacy and current policies of redlining, restrictive covenants, and racism.”
Trump continues to tout his record of having the lowest Black unemployment rates in decades and doing more for African Americans than any other president (a claim has been widely debunked). Biden’s presidential agenda includes creating wealth in the Black community. “Through his policies from education to housing, Joe will ensure that Black families can build and sustain wealth for themselves and their communities,” Ray added.
4 Reentry Programs and Vocational Training
On average, 700,000 people are released from prison each year. Studies have found that prisoner reentry is an important policy issue that impacts Black men more than any other racial and ethnic group. Black men who reenter overwhelming lack crucial family support, education and experience shelter and food insecurity. They also deal more with systemic racism, stigmas and stereotypes that add more stress to their reentry process. A report found that African American men, especially those with children, were committed to successfully reintegrating and want redemption, employment, health care and social support.
Biden is pushing his “Preventing Crime And Providing Opportunities For All” initiative as one of the ways to address this issue. Biden’s plan says he wants to, “Get people who should be supported with social services – instead of in our prisons – connected to the help they need.” Part of Trump’s First Step Act also aims to address this. A portion of the president’s 2020 budget provides “$234 million for the Department of Justice to support reentry programs, inmate education, and occupational training programs.”
5 (Mental) Health Care
The effects of police brutality on the mental health of those in the Black community have long been ignored. According to an NAACP report, police killings of unarmed Black Americans are responsible for more than 50 million additional days of poor mental health per year. It also found that fatal police violence is the sixth leading cause of death for men ages 25 to 29 across all racial groups.
In recent months activist groups like Black Men Matter, a movement centered on family, mental health and empowerment, are beginning to normalize the conversation. “Black men are hurting,” said Sabrina David, a member of the movement, during a recent interview. “We have to empower them. We have to give them the tools, and we have to give them permission to heal.”
Part of Biden’s health care plan for communities of color aims to achieve “mental health parity and expanding access to mental health care. As vice president, Biden was a champion for efforts to implement the federal mental health parity law, improve access to mental health care, and eliminate the stigma around mental health. As President, he will redouble these efforts to ensure enforcement of mental health parity laws and expand funding for mental health services.” Trump has not specifically outlined a healthcare plan for communities of color. However, he is still pushing an overhaul of the Obama-era Affordable Care Act, which could leave more than 23 million Americans without health insurance.