Sunday, December 27, 2009; C05

How to weather a storm

Having been a police officer for 25 years, I am still amazed at how unprepared people are even when they know severe weather is approaching.

There are just two things to remember: Be prepared and stay off the roads!

Buy bread, milk and toilet paper and whatever other supplies are needed to survive for the next 24 to 48 hours, including some form of entertainment. Bond with your family.

And unless you have a job that is vital to life or need to travel because of extreme emergency, stay off the roads. Let the road crews do their jobs more efficiently. If you absolutely have to travel, prepare accordingly: Make sure your car can handle the weather; have a full tank of gas, blankets, water, kitty litter, a shovel, etc. Clear the entire car of snow and ice, not just the windows.

In bad weather, red lights and stop signs are not optional. I was almost T-boned at an intersection by someone who ran a red light; the driver told me he had to run the light to maintain momentum or he would get stuck. If you can't drive without disobeying the signals, you have no business being on the road.

On Friday night, my colleagues and I stopped and helped many motorists in the first hours of the storm. From 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., Rockville Pike, Interstate 270 and many other roads were gridlocked because of inexperienced drivers or cars that weren't equipped to handle slippery roads. As if that wasn't enough, most of the motorists I helped were coming from parties and had been drinking. The last motorist I stopped for was a woman passed out behind the wheel in the middle of Rockville Pike.

Even if you have a four-wheel-drive vehicle, the rules apply to you, too. Stay off the road unless it is an emergency, don't pass other cars unless you have to and keep your speed reasonable. Ice does not discriminate.

Michael Hartnett, Bethesda

Rectifying a voting rights wrong

Last Nov. 4, the United States elected its first African American president. At the time, I could not help but think of the Virginians who could not participate in the election. Virginia and Kentucky are the only states that do not restore voting rights to convicted felons after they have completed their sentences, unless they go through a lengthy application process through the governor.

Yet the state constitution poses no obstacle to the automatic restoration of voting rights to all or some portion of offenders who have completed their sentences. Article V, Section 12 of the constitution grants the governor authority to "remove political disabilities consequent upon conviction."

Today, about 300,000 people who have been convicted of felonies can't vote in Virginia, and they are disproportionately African American. In August 2008, even as the Northern Virginia Urban League registered more than 750 voters, we consistently met former felons who could not vote.

The Urban League is committed to helping empower African Americans and other disadvantaged people to enter the economic and social mainstream. I urge Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine to exercise his right to restore the voting rights of convicted felons who have served their sentences before he leaves office Jan. 16. He can change history in Virginia, destroying the last vestige of the Jim Crow era and putting the state in line with the rest of the nation.

Lavern J. Chatman, Alexandria

The writer is president and chief executive of the Northern Virginia Urban League.

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