Let’s not, for the moment, dwell on the fact that Pamela Moses had to sit in jail for 82 days longer than she should have. Or that a journalist had to expose evidence withheld by the Tennessee Department of Correction. Or that Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich released a statement that says those 82 days were enough after she pursued a case that led Moses to be sentenced to six years and a day. Or that in the same statement in which she announced dropping criminal charges against Moses, Weirich said it was in the name of “judicial economy,” after Weirich had spent the justice system’s limited resources bringing the case to trial for something she was not guilty of and almost sending Moses to prison for six years and a day for something for which Weirich says 82 days is enough. Or that no one in the system has offered Moses an apology for accusing her of tricking an entire probation department, committing perjury and consenting to a false entry.
Instead, let us focus on something Moses talked about at her press conference today. Voting.
Moses can’t vote. Permanently. There’s a law in Tennessee (and yes, other states) that can take away a fundamental element of United States citizenship. Forever. Moses isn’t the only one.
With a criminal record, you are already vulnerable. Employment, education and housing can all be affected. Yet, on top of that, you may also not be allowed to have a voice in our nation’s direction. You can not help decide who gets to make these decisions to have this kind of double jeopardy, which I suppose is the point of permanently taking away the ability to vote from someone who actually knows the impact of these laws.
I understand why losing the ability to vote might seem a fair response to treason or murder or rape or violent sexual offenses with a minor. People who do the things we determine to be the most egregious have broken the social contract, separating themselves from citizenship. And yet, that makes it easy to see injustice in what’s happened to Pamela Moses. She didn’t commit any of those crimes.
There was something achingly beautiful and devastatingly sad about Moses coming out of her ordeal and urging her listeners to vote. She still believes in this country, in democracy, and she wants us to believe in it, too. She asked us to be her voice and to wield the power she can not.
“I am an American citizen,” she said.
She called for the reintroduction of civics in school. “Voting rights, people don’t understand the importance of them because they don’t understand that their vote matters. Their vote determines where all the money goes. If you have a mayor that wants to put money into public safety, then you’re going to have more police. But if you have a mayor that wants to put money into education, you’ll have peace.”
She noted that Tuesday is the primary, and not enough people have cast a ballot.
“My case was about voter suppression,” she said. “Since I’m free, I want people to get out and vote.”
Adrienne Johnson Martin is executive editor of MLK50: Justice Through Journalism. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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