NAACP Stance on Boston City Council Redistricting
An Open Letter to Chairman Linehan and Members of the City Council,
From: The Redistricting Coalition of Color: Chinese Progressive Association, MassVOTE, NAACP, Oiste? and Project Hip-‐Hop
Date: June 12, 2012
“Stop the Packing and Cracking in Boston”
Chairmen and Members of the Redistricting Committee:
There is no greater right in a democracy than the right to fair and equal representation. We submit this opinion on behalf of a redistricting coalition involving organizations and leaders from Boston’s communities of color, including the 100 year-‐old NAACP, Oiste?, MassVOTE, the Chinese Progressive Association and others.
The city council is currently developing and debating map proposals for the 9 city council districts. According to the 2010 census, the population of Boston is 617,598 and therefore the nine city council districts must have 68,622 people with a deviation of no more than 5%. While the numbers are simple, where the lines are drawn is wrought with history, shame, neighborhood interests and politics.
The coalition of color advises that our councilors use this redistricting opportunity to avoid the mistakes of Massachusetts’ and Boston’s checkered past. In 1812, Governor Elbridge Gerry signed a bill redistricting the Commonwealth into districts that favored the Republican Party over the Federalists. As history tells, one of the odd-‐shaped districts resembled a salamander and hence the term “Gerrymander” was born. Between 1866 and 1898, twenty-‐four Blacks were elected to political office in Boston. However, Black voting districts were gerrymandered in 1898 in Boston to make the election of a Black representative impossible. The most egregious acts of gerrymandering are the “cracking” of communities of interest, which essentially divides them in order to deny them a sufficiently large voting bloc in any particular district, and the “packing” of minorities into one or two single dense districts that limits their legitimate influence on neighboring districts. The common and destructive techniques of cracking and packing not only protect those already in power but make it nearly impossible for underserved, ignored, and disenfranchised communities to have an influential voice or any collective political power.
There have been numerous political fights, court cases and laws to combat this abuse of power. The successful lawsuit of 2001 that resulted in the conviction of Massachusetts House Speaker Thomas Finneran is a recent reminder that courts no longer tolerate the political games that disenfranchise communities of interest. The reality is district lines historically are drawn according to race, politics, power and greed. We are at a crossroads, and the council is urged to choose real change over the status quo.
According to the 2010 census, Blacks, Latinos and Asians now account for 53% of the population of Boston, which has strengthened the majority-minority status of the city. According to the demographic data for each current district, four are majority-minority, but oddly of the nine district council seats only two are represented by people of color. This is due in large part to the packing of Blacks and other minorities in District 4 and in the 30-year history of diluting the voting strength of Chinatown and the South End in District 2.
There are currently four submitted map proposals being offered at the City Council. None of the map proposals address the ridiculous and illegal packing of people of color in District 4. As currently configured, District 4 is approximately 90% people of color (defined as Black, Hispanic, and Asian). In separate map proposals from Councilors Murphy and Yancey, District 4 would increase to 96% people of color. This represents a clear violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and dilutes minority voting strength. District 4 should be unpacked to allow for greater opportunity in neighboring Districts 3 and 5. This can be done without affecting the protected class status of African Americans in District 4, keeping the district safely majority Black.
District 2, which had the most closely contested District Council election in recent memory in 2011, is the focus of many of the map proposals. District 2 contains many communities including the historically politically dominant neighborhood of South Boston, as well as Chinatown and the South End. Redistricting Chairman Linehan of South Boston, who narrowly won reelection, attempted to deliberately crack Chinatown in his first map proposal. This was such an obvious violation of the voting rights law that was immediately panned by the community, nearly all of the councilors and Mayor Menino. Now, the cracking is more subtle but the goal remains to split the South End. This neighborhood has fought for years to be whole in a single district. Based on voting history and community alliances, the South End and Chinatown share a connection as communities of interest. By removing South End precincts, as Linehan’s map proposes, the shared interests of the South End and Chinatown would be dwarfed by South Boston. Currently, the joint map proposal offered by Councilors Tito Jackson and Matt O’Malley makes an honest attempt to keep these communities together.
In 2012, there exists the real opportunity to protect and propel the political voice of people of color in Boston. If districts are drawn to allow for fair and proportional representation, according to traditional neighborhood allegiances and racial make-up, there can be four strong, majority city-council districts representing people of color based on voting age population. Voting age population must be taken into strong consideration for any redistricting proposal, as it is only voters who determine their councilor. A fairly redistricted Boston can be accomplished, while respecting traditional neighborhood allegiances and not pitting incumbent councilors against each other. To illustrate this simple ideal the NAACP along with other community advocacy organizations developed the attached map which does not crack District 2 and also unpacks District 4. This is a real opportunity to show our democracy in action by empowering groups that have historically been denied fair representation. If the 14th Amendment, along with the 1965 Voting Rights Act, is properly applied and communities of interest are taken into account, (aka the Law) this change can be realized. The redistricting coalition strong urges the Boston City Council to do what is both morally right and legally binding, as opposed to what is politically expedient.
Political Action Chair
NAACP – Boston Branch
Alejandra St. Guillen