Commentary Strange Fruit

This week, outgoing Gov. Steve Beshear announced he would restore voting rights for Kentuckians convicted of most non-violent felonies.

“The right to vote is one of the most intrinsically American privileges,” Beshear said, “and thousands of Kentuckians are living, working and paying taxes in the state but are denied this basic right.”

Sean Hardy & Jaison GardnerLaura Ellis | wfpl.org

Sean Hardy & Jaison Gardner

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth’s Sean Hardy joins us this week to talk about the importance of re-enfranchising voters. He says keeping felons from voting doesn’t fit with a rehabilitation model of punishment.

“You go in, you serve your time, you pay your debt to society, and you come back out to be a productive member of society,” he said. “Voting is part of that productive membership.”

The loss of voting rights for those convicted of non-violent felony offenses has historically affected African Americans disproportionately — thanks, in part, to disproportionate arrests and sentencing for drug crimes. But being excluded from casting ballots isn’t the only way black Americans are cut out from systems of government.

Last week, we talked about Jefferson Circuit Judge Olu Stevens, who twice in the past year dismissed all-white juries in trials with black defendants.

Stevens laid his case out on Facebook and accused Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine of looking for “all-white” juries to hear some of his office’s cases (Wine has denied that claim). Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice John Minton removed Stevens from two criminal cases before him, and the state’s highest court is expected to rule next week on whether he’ll be removed from hearing all criminal cases.

We talked this week about the activism springing up around Stevens and equality in the legal system. We’ll keep you posted as the story develops.

We also chatted with Hardy about an upcoming fundraiser for Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. It happens to be a black trivia night — and we couldn’t resist the chance to try our hand at some of his sample questions. See if you get more right answers than we did!

Laura produces Curious Louisville, Strange Fruit, and other audio news stories for WFPL.