Atlantic City is under siege. It has been that way for quite some time but it now seems that every effort is being made to economically crush and politically disfranchise the African-American community.
The latest offense is a proposed referendum to redistrict Atlantic City Council. For those residents unfamiliar with the term, "redistricting" is the process by which the city changes its divisions for representation purposes. The drawing of district or ward lines has major implications for how African-American voices are heard in the halls of local government. Redistricting has been used across the country to dilute black voting strength and make it almost impossible for the needs of the community to be met. The process is often wrought with bias, as so-called neutral redistricting efforts are used by interests outside the community to wrestle political and economic control from local residents.
One device that has been particularly harmful and the subject of many voting rights cases is the use of at-large districts. Electing local officials citywide has been used as a way to minimize black political representation and create a scenario where a black majority population is reduced to minority political representation. When wards or districts exist, it provides the community the opportunity to elect someone truly of their choosing and more likely someone representative of the demographics of the ward. It also improves the likelihood that representation on a city council will reflect the demographics of the whole city in terms of racial and ethnic diversity. At-large scenarios allow for the concentration of resources to dominate an election and produce an outcome that is contrary to the population of the city. Residents learned that years ago in Atlantic City and it's why they now have districts from which they elect council members in addition to at-large seats. It creates a balance that assures us the voices of the whole community will be heard and its needs addressed.
This latest move to disfranchise the black community insults the over 50-year fight in the country for voting rights. It is particularly insulting in this city, second only to Selma as the epicenter in the fight for voting rights. It was here in 1964, on the world famous Boardwalk, that a courageous black woman from Mississippi, Fannie Lou Hamer, led the charge for voting rights at the Democratic National Convention in Convention Hall. Just one year earlier NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers, a champion of civil rights, was assassinated in Mississippi as blacks mounted the fight for their right to vote. It is that history that should command the attention of African-Americans today and cause them to not only be outraged but unified in their efforts to fight the turning back of the clock on civil rights in Atlantic City.
It seems that everyone lays claim to Atlantic City, depletes it to the point of its implosion, and then places blame upon the residents as an excuse to reconstruct the city for their own purposes. For sometime now the people of Atlantic City haven't mattered. That much has been clear. Casino gaming was never intended to benefit the whole community and now we see the remnants of a dying industry with shuttered casinos giving the city the appearance of Roman ruins. Black people in Atlantic City have been treated as an annoyance, as "things" that are in the way of the plans of those who have their designs on this beautiful shore community. Political disfranchisement is the final step to the total subjugation of African-Americans in Atlantic City. It's time all citizens showed that black lives matter here in Atlantic City too.
I urge those who call this city home, who love the city and believe the people have a right to political representation and to be heard, to reject this stealth attack upon the whole community. It matters not who is the face of this effort but more importantly whose interest is being served. We must stand united to preserve voting rights in Atlantic City. History demands our vigilance and it is what we owe to generations before us who shed blood for not just our right to vote but our right to representation of our choice.
The Rev. Collins A. Days Sr. is pastor of the Second Baptist Church in Atlantic City.