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The Lincoln Project hosts a "Vote Or Die" panel in Atlanta. Image via YouTube/The Lincoln Project.

2020

Lincoln Project, Black activist groups partner for ‘Vote Or Die’ panel

Lawyer Lee Merritt, YelloPain, T.I., Offset and Bakari Sellers fielded questions live in Atlanta.

Republican, Democratic and Black activist groups banded together Saturday with a lineup of prominent Black artists and activists in an effort to convince young Black men to get out to vote for Joe Biden.

The Lincoln Project, a group founded by ‘Never Trump’ Republicans, partnered with Revolt Black News, AXSD Media, the Grassroots Law Project and the Black Male Voter Project for the panel held in-person in Atlanta.

Texas-based civil rights attorney Lee Merritt, political commentator Bakari Sellers and artists T.I., Offset and YellowPain spoke to a room of Black community members in Atlanta and fielded questions from Black men.

The biggest struggles the community faces, the panel agreed, is mass-incarceration and police brutality.

“If you didn’t get killed today, you can vote tomorrow,” T.I. said. “If you live long enough to where you could go cast your ballot, I feel like you do that in honor of everyone else who didn’t make it to see that day. You do that in their honor. You don’t use them as an excuse not to. You do it in memory and in honor of them.”

Reports indicate that Biden’s campaign fears low turnout from Black and Latino voters could help had President Donald Trump a second term in office through Florida and Pennsylvania.

Speaking in South Florida Saturday, Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, appeared to dismiss concerns about turnout from minority communities when asked by reporters.

“What I am hearing in particular, when we talk about African-American and Caribbean voters in Florida, they want to know they have a president who understands the commonality between all of us,” she said. “They want a president who speaks to our higher purposes and our better angels, as opposed to speaking to hate and division.”

Despite their insistence that the Black community get out to vote for the Democratic presidential nominee, the panel did not give Biden a glowing endorsement. The entire panel agreed that Biden and Democrats helped make the criminal justice system more aggressive to Black men with the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, as Trump frequently points out.

Merritt said he doesn’t trust Democrats to end mass incarceration, but appreciates that the topic is on the table. Meanwhile, Republicans have offered messages of ‘Law and Order,’ more ‘Back the Blue.’

“Only one party has decided to repent from that stance,” Merritt said. “Only one party has said, look, we probably should end the so-called ‘War on Drugs’ that effectively turns out is really a war on Black and Brown people. Only one party platform right now says we need to end mass-incarceration, is even acknowledging it.”

The 3,500 released prisoners Trump touts under his administration are “trinkets” and “a drop in the bucket” compared to the broader prison population and the number of prisoners Barack Obama‘s administration released.

“There is no perfect candidate,” T.I. said, but Trump now represents the United States on the world stage.

“That don’t represent me,” he added. “I don’t feel properly represented, which makes me feel like I’m not a part of this thing they’re calling America, because if that’s what it is, then I’m the farthest away from that as it can get.”

Amendment 4, passed by Florida voters in 2018, allowed felons to vote once they have served their term. The Legislature and the courts interpreted that to include fines, fees and other debts due in association with felons’ punishments in a law passed last year that was upheld in the months leading up to Election Day.

The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition estimates that since Amendment 4 passed, 67,000 people with prior felony convictions were able to register to vote.

Offset, 28, said he voted for the first time this year. He recalled being told by his parole officer that he would never be able to vote after his felony charges.

“I like to do things that people say I can’t do, me personally,” Offset said. “If you tell me I can’t do this, Imma make a way, if I can, to do it.”

Added the Migos rapper: “I felt like I graduated high school or something, I did something great by being able to vote because I know most people my age don’t even care to do it or they don’t know or they just don’t understand.”

However, he described a learning curve that prevents casual voters from fully participating in an election when it comes time to vote on positions with lower campaign budgets, like school board positions.

Sellers put the blame for that disconnect largely on down ballot candidates. Young Black voters, he argued, don’t like to be talked at, but rather talked with.

“I’ve been telling a lot of times, the reason that 18 to 29-year-old Black men are checked out is because we’d rather talk at them than listen to them, and the fact that elected officials ain’t listening to Offset is an indictment of them. Brother, that ain’t on you,” he said.

Written By

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at renzo@floridapolitics.com and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.

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