Before his fame on the silver screen, Charles Dutton was a middle school dropout, who killed a man in a street fight at 17. Dutton claimed self-defense, the courts called it manslaughter.
But Dutton turned things around. After being released from prison, he graduated from Yale and began his acting career with roles in Rudy, Alien 3 and dozens more. Despite all his success, Dutton wasn’t allowed to vote because of his past conviction. “I was released from prison in 1976. That might surprise some of you, 1976. I was only allowed to vote until 2007.”
Tuesday, Dutton joined the NAACP in a multi-state effort calling for the automatic restoration of civil rights. Dutton says laws that keep former felons from voting are racist and that’s why he volunteered to have his face printed on billboards. “Being denied is sacrilegious. Basically I agreed to do that because; I’m a little pissed off.”
The NAACP is sponsoring the billboard campaign in Florida and several other states where former felons have to wait between two to seven years before they can ask the state to restore their rights. “In this country we believe that everybody has the right to vote and we believe in second chances,” said Benjamin Todd Jealous.
In 2007, Florida made civil rights restoration easier and tens of thousands had their voting rights restored. But in 2011, Governor Rick Scott and the state cabinet slowed the restoration process. Since then only 78 people have had their rights restored.
An estimated 500,000 Floridians are waiting to have their civil rights restored. The NAACP’s isn’t trying to change laws before this election, it’s clearly too late. The group is targeting lawmakers in hopes of passing legislation next year.