Beam: ‘Squeaky wheels getting grease’

By By Jim Beam / American Press

Reaction to both the George Zimmerman

trial and the U.S. Supreme Court’s voting rights ruling have proved that

the loudest

protests are the ones most likely to get attention. And public

officials couldn’t wait to play to those audiences that like

to stir things up.

Authorities in Sanford, Fla., were reluctant to charge Zimmerman after the death of Trayvon Martin, but public pressure forced

them to put him on trial. And when Zimmerman was found not guilty, the furor continued. Civil rights groups demanded that

Zimmerman be charged under federal statutes.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was

more than willing to oblige by saying he would pursue an investigation

into the killing.

The NAACP launched a petition drive in mid-July aimed at pushing

Holder and his Justice Department to keep its civil rights

division working on the case.

Most legal experts say there is little

likelihood that civil rights charges against Zimmerman would be

successful, but that

doesn’t mean much. The pressure is still out there for Holder’s

office to second guess the country’s justice system that set

Zimmerman free.

While that issue is still on a front

burner, Holder decided to do an end-run around the Supreme Court. The

high court threw

out that portion of the Voting Rights Act that said all or parts

of 15 states, mainly in the South, had to have Justice Department

approval before they could change election laws.

Chief Justice John Roberts stated the

court’s reasoning in simple, understandable terms. He said the

conditions that originally

justified Justice Department pre-clearance had changed, and

Congress needs to take that into consideration. In other words,

some of those states have proved they don’t discriminate and

deserve to be removed from that requirement.

Doug Chalmers, an Atlanta-area attorney, represented Sandy Springs, Ga., which was successful in getting the city released

from the pre-clearance requirement. He explained why the court ruled as it did.

“The Voting Rights Act was a very

valuable piece of legislation in correcting one of the great injustices

in American history,”

Chalmers told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “But as often

happens, it was applied far too broadly long after it was needed

and created a great backlash.”

Roberts told Congress to fix the law, which it failed to do on two previous occasions. Now, there appears to be a serious

effort under way to do just that. Whether anything can be accomplished is hard to determine because of a divided Congress.

However, members of both major political parties are at least talking about doing something.

Meanwhile, Holder has decided to strike out on his own. He told the National Urban League “we cannot allow the slow unraveling

of the progress that so many, throughout history, have sacrificed so much to achieve.”

Texas is his first target. Holder wants

to put pre-clearance back into the picture. He said his department’s

first move would

be to ask a federal court in San Antonio to require advance

approval for voting changes in Texas for a 10-year period. A court

panel has been looking since 2011 at congressional and state

election districts in Texas to determine if they discriminate.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, D-Texas, cut to the chase when he said, “This decision has nothing to do with protecting voting rights

and everything to do with advancing a partisan political agenda.”

Unfortunately, some states are playing

right into Holder’s hands. Texas, for example, has had some of its

election districts

rejected by the courts since 1970 because they discriminated

against voters. The North Carolina Senate wants to shorten early

voting days by one week, and that is seen as another way to

restrict voting since Democrats vote earlier than others. It’s

difficult to understand why both states are pressing their luck

when they are ahead at the moment.

What is the bottom line in all of this?

For starters, the justice system has

spoken in the Zimmerman case, and the Supreme Court has ruled on the

Voting Rights Act.

Those who don’t like the way either situation turned out have

every right to complain and protest, but political leaders shouldn’t

fuel their discontent by playing politics with both issues. We

know we are going to get protests from people like the Revs.

Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, whose very existence depends on

stirring up unrest, but we expect better from our elected and

appointed officials.

Then, as I have heard so many times in

recent weeks, “It’s the damn news media.” People are fed up with TV

networks and others

in the media business who thrive on these hot-button issues. They

keep them alive day and night for the ratings. And writers

stir the tensions when they use inflammatory words like “gutting

the (voting rights) law’s crown jewel.”

The Zimmerman jury has rendered its

verdict, and the Supreme Court has issued its ruling. Congress is also

trying to fix the

Voting Rights Law as the chief justice said it should. Maybe it

will succeed, and maybe it won’t. But that’s the way the justice

and legislative systems are supposed to work, and they did their

job in both instances. Is there no end to these protests?

When is enough enough?

Most Americans breathed a sigh of relief last week when the media turned its attention to the birth of England’s Prince George.

We finally got a well-deserved break after weeks of tension and turmoil. Let’s hope it lasts for a while.

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Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or