Ayanna Pressley Tells Pundits 'Don't Dare' Make Inmate Voting Rights About the Boston Marathon Bomber

Illustration for article titled Ayanna Pressley Tells Pundits 'Don't Dare' Make Inmate Voting Rights About the Boston Marathon Bomber
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Democratic Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley ain’t here to play: “Don’t dare invoke one of the darkest days of terrorism in MY city to stoke fear and derail a meaningful conversation,” she said.


Pressley is calling out “pundits,” media reporters and social influencers who are misleading discussions about restoring voting rights to convicts, Boston.com reports.

Sen. Bernie Sanders and others have been campaigning in favor of giving prisoners voting rights, an important topic especially when one considers the lengths to which some have gone to make sure the poor and people of color can’t vote. Recently a Harvard University student asked Sanders specifically about allowing convicts “like the Boston Marathon bomber” to vote, and Sanders responded with the nuance the topic deserved, according to Boston.com:

“I think the right to vote is inherent to our democracy,” Sanders said. “Yes, even for terrible people. Because once you start chipping away, you say, ‘Well that guy committed a terrible crime, not going to let him vote,’ or, ‘That person did that, not going to let that person vote.’ You’re running down a slippery slope. So I believe that people commit crimes, they pay the price. When they get out of jail, I believe they certainly should have the right to vote.[...]”

Pressley, however, is making it clear that the conversation around felon voting rights is not about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was sentenced to death for the April 2013 attack that killed three people and injured many others.

On Thursday, Pressley laid out on Twitter why she is firmly against using that tragedy to sensationalize the issue—especially when millions of incarcerated people have not committed violent crimes.

“Pundits, if you want to talk about re-enfranchising folks let’s talk. Did you know in my state there wasn’t a law on the books that explicitly banned those incarcerated from voting until 2001? That law was a fearful response to those on the inside at MCI Norfolk ORGANIZING.”


When inmates at MCI Norfolk, the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Norfolk, Mass., started forming a political action committee, suddenly prisoners had their rights stripped.


“They were calling for a more just system and humane treatment of those incarcerated,” Pressley continued. “They were reaching for the ballot to fight modern-day slavery. As a nation we are facing a mass incarceration crisis that destroys families and communities.

“Don’t dare invoke one of the darkest days of terrorism in MY city,” she clapped back, “to stoke fear and derail a meaningful conversation about fundamental rights & what justice looks like for the 1000s of black & brown folks who are stripped of their liberty & civic participation for minor offenses.”


Ayanna Pressley said what she said, she wrote what she wrote, and she means it.

Correction: Sept. 21, 2019, 12:03 p.m. ET: This story has been edited to remove unattributed text and to add fuller sourcing.


Several points that should be brought up instead:

2 US states already allow incarcerated people to vote, regardless of their criminal convictions: Vermont and Maine. Those two states also happen to be the #1 and #2 whitest states. It’s not a coincidence.

Just as opponents try to frame this in the least sympathetic way, we can and should do the opposite: parents in prison still deserve a say in who runs the schools that their children go to.

Which brings up another important: voting is good rehabilitation for incarcerated people. It helps them think about the future of themselves, their families and the community they will return to. It engages communal, big picture thinking.