Monday, December 17, 2007

Cocaine Sentencing Is Cracked

It is unfortunate that it took the Supreme Court to do what the Congress should have done a long time ago and that is to allow Federal judges to consider the disparity between powder cocaine and crack when sentencing offenders. Rather than showing leadership and courage, the Congress even with a Democratic majority refused to act on the huge disparity in sentencing for crack versus powder cocaine for fear of appearing soft on crime. Once again political expediency outweighed moral conviction and the Congress failed to act. I don’t know about you but the Democratic majority was long on promises and has been short on delivery.

It took the US Sentencing Commission to right a wrong that has sent thousands of blacks to prison for possessing crack for sentences that would require someone with powder to have 100 times as much to receive the same sentence. Needless to say the majority of crack users are black and the majority of powder users are white. Everyone in Washington knew the system was broke and even after years of protests by the ACLU and other civil rights organization, no one in the Congress would show any backbone and right the wrong. What we have in Washington are professional politicians who are more concerned about getting re-elected than they are about doing what is right for the country. I’m sorry but I am having a hard time believing that the answer is electing more of the same, to me having experience in how things are done in Washington is not a real selling point.

In their decision to allow the judge’s discretion in sentencing, the Supreme Court began the process of removing more racial barriers in the criminal justice system. In what has become an almost comical situation, Judge Thomas, the only black on the Court was one of the dissenting votes. And he wonders why he gets no love from other blacks. Maybe because he doesn’t represent the black people he was selected to represent. Mr. Thomas you do not have the luxury of saying I am a Supreme Court Justice that just happens to be black, no sir you filled a spot vacated by a man who represented those who did not have a voice in this country. Now for you to come along with that black conservative crap of I want to be just another Justice who happens to be black is ludicrous. Black people need you on the Court to represent their interests, I believe that the whites you want to represent have enough representation, look around you sir when you are in the chambers and count the number of blacks there with you. I can understand his not wanting to be limited to being a color, but until we have equal protection under the law sir, you are representing not just a color but a people, a people who have long been denied and continue to be denied equal protection. The fact that this case even came before the Court should be evidence enough of that fact. Your denying this fact does not make it go away.

Now the Commission has the opportunity to complete the process they have begun when they vote whether to make the sentence reductions retroactive, this would affect some 19,000 inmates who could see their sentences shortened. The commission in the past has made similar reductions in penalties for drugs primarily used by whites and have made those reductions retroactive. It would only be fair to do likewise in this case.

In previous years, the sentencing commission reduced penalties for crimes involving marijuana, LSD and OxyContin, which are primarily committed by whites, and made those decisions retroactive.[1]

True to their script, the Bush administration is opposing making the sentences retroactive, the thought of blacks being released from prison early is obviously scaring the hell out of the wing-nuts. Citing that there would be a rise in violent crime with the early releases, they are once again using the justice system to promote their racial animosity towards blacks. The problem with their logic is that these are not inmates who have committed violent crimes, these are primarily crack users and low-level dealers. Make no mistake if they were violent criminals their original sentence would have been enhanced to reflect that. This was the same logic used when the original sentencing disparity was first passed, because crack users were more violent than powder users they require stiffer penalties. It was false then and it continues to be false today. It isn’t that they are more violent, it is that their skins are darker.

Making the guidelines retroactive is opposed by the Bush administration. A senior Justice Department official warned Tuesday that retroactive guidelines could have a disastrous effect on crime-riddled communities that are not ready to receive crack offenders who could be released early from prison as a result.

"Areas that already are seeing an increase in violent crime -- this is going to affect those areas dramatically," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the commission had not formally acted.[2]

While I applaud the recent movement on this issue, it is still up to Congress to permanently fix this problem, by removing the current sentencing guidelines that provide harsher penalties for one form of a drug versus another form. There is no scientific or rational basis for the disparity, it is racist at its core and must be removed. Senator Joe Biden has introduced legislation to do just that and must be applauded and supported, even though it was his bill that created the Drug Czar.

UPDATE: The Sentencing Commission voted to make the sentencing recommendations retroactive.

[2] Ibid.

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