Some people wonder what Reverend Jeremiah Wright meant when he talked about our government treating blacks unfairly with sentencing laws. Here is an example and something you can do about it. Should people be doing crack? Of course not. But, is it fair to treat a user of crack the same as a dealer of cocaine?
The so-called "war on drugs" has created a national disaster: 1 in 9 young Black men in America are now behind bars.1 It's not because they commit more crime but largely because of unfair sentencing rules that treat 5 grams of crack cocaine, the kind found in poor Black communities, the same as 500 grams of powder cocaine2, the kind found in White and wealthier communities. These sentencing laws are destroying communities across the country and have done almost nothing to reduce the level of drug use and crime.
Senator Joe Biden is one of the original creators of these laws and is now trying to fix the problem.3 But some of his colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee are standing in the way.
Join us in telling them to stand with Joe Biden and undo this disaster once and for all:
At every step in the criminal justice system, Black people are at a disadvantage -- we are more likely to be arrested, charged, and convicted, but less likely to have access to good legal representation, and get out of prison on parole.4 While there's no denying that the presence of crack has a hugely negative impact in Black communities across the country, it's clear that the overly harsh crack sentencing laws have done more to feed the broken system than improve our communities.
You have to be convicted of moving roughly $500,000 worth of cocaine to trigger a 5-year sentence.5 For crack? About $500 worth.6 These laws punish the lowest-level dealers, while providing a loophole that helps those running the trade escape harsh sentences.
Recently, attention has turned to these ill-conceived policies as prisons burst at the seams with non-violent drug offenders. The U.S. Sentencing Commission, which provides sentencing guidelines for judges, has petitioned Congress numerous times to change the sentencing laws.7 Senator Biden was actually one of the original architects of the disparity, but now he's working to undo the damage with a new bill in Congress (Senate bill 1711). The new law will completely eliminate the sentencing disparity and end the mandatory minimum for crack possession, while increasing funding for drug treatment programs and providing additional resources for investigating and prosecuting major cocaine kingpins.8
But of course, there are foes of this plan. Others want to see the disparity reduced to 20-to-1 or 10-to-1, but not eliminated. As Bill Piper of the Drug Policy Alliance recently said, that "would be like amending the Constitution's three-fifths clause to make African-Americans fourth-fifths citizens or desegregating 60 percent of public establishments instead of all of them."9 Senators on the Judiciary Committee need to hear that there is strong support for a full elimination of the disparity.
1. "1 in 100 U.S. Adults Behind Bars, New Study Says," New York Times, 02-28-08
2. "Crack/Cocaine Sentencing Disparity," Drug Policy Alliance
3. "Legislative Proposals for Reform of the Crack/Cocaine Disparity," Drug Policy Alliance, 09-07-07
4. "Annotated Bibliography: Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System," Sentencing Project
5. "Cocaine Price/Purity Analysis of STRIDE Data," Drug Enforcement Agency
6. "Cocaine Addiction," Dual Diagnosis Treatment Center
7. "BIDEN Calls for an End to Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity," Biden for Senate, 02-13-08
8. See reference 3.
9. "Congress to Hold Historic Hearing Tuesday on Draconian 100-to-1 Crack/Powder Sentencing Disparity," Drug Policy Alliance, 02-25-08
"Race and the Drug War," Drug Policy Alliance
"Federal Crack Cocaine Sentencing," The Sentencing Project