Monday, December 30, 2013

Important Stories to Close Out the Year

As 2013 draws to a close, two important events have occurred in December that bear mentioning as the world prepares to usher in 2014.  In connection with America's epic failure, the War on Drugs:

First, A Divided Federal Court Rules Crack Cocaine Sentencing Reforms Do No Apply to Those Already in Prison:
In a blow to those sentenced under grossly unfair crack cocaine versus powder cocaine sentencing requirements, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in early December that the new sentencing regime ushered in under the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act does not apply retroactively to those currently sitting in prison.  From the NAACP release: "[A] sharply divided Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA), which reduced the unfair, unjustified, and racially discriminatory crack cocaine/powder cocaine sentencing ratio from 100-to-1 to 18-to-1, does not apply to thousands of individuals who are currently incarcerated pursuant to sentences imposed under the discredited 100-to-1 regime.  Seven judges concluded that the FSA should apply to those serving sentences under the 100-to-1 federal sentencing structure, and ten judges declared that it should not."

"'We are deeply disappointed in the outcome of this case. Thousands of people, the majority of whom are African-American, are still serving time under an unfair drug sentencing regime that has destroyed individuals, families and communities. Today’s decision demonstrates that those who are working to eliminate the impermissible role of race in criminal prosecutions and sentences still have much more work to do. We will continue to press this issue in the court,' said Sherrilyn A. Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., a leading civil rights law firm and a separate entity from the NAACP."

President Obama, Congress, Federal Courts, and the United States Supreme Court must act immediately to  begin commuting the sentences of those individuals imprisoned under the grossly unfair 100:1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.

Second, President Obama Commutes the Sentences of Eight Crack Cocaine Offenders:
President Obama, recognizing that thousands of inmates are jailed under patently unfair sentencing policies in connection with crack cocaine and powder cocaine sentences, began what can fairly be hoped for as the beginning of righting past wrongs, commuted the sentences of eight crack cocaine offenders who have served prison time for more than 15 years, and would be out of prison, had they been sentenced under powder cocaine guidelines.

Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010 which, according to The Root, "reduced the disparity in sentencing between offenses for crack and powder cocaine from 100:1 to 18:1. The 100:1 ratio meant that people involved in offenses for crack cocaine faced longer sentences that those involving the same amount of powder cocaine."  The New York Times reports that President Obama released the following statement: 

"'This law began to right a decades-old injustice, but for thousands of inmates, it came too late,' the president said in a release given to the media. 'If they had been sentenced under the current law, many of them would have already served their time and paid their debt to society.  Instead, because of a disparity in the law that is now recognized as unjust, they remain in prison, separated from their families and their communities, at a cost of millions of taxpayer dollars each year.'"

Let's hope for much more of the same in 2014.


  1. Professor Carol Swain explains that the tougher sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine were put into place at the urging of the Congressional Black Caucus:

    An inconvenient fact given the charges of racism attached to the sentencing disparities.

  2. This notion that strict drug laws have done more harm than good in black America is widely-accepted. Black elected officials have been instrumental in reforming strict sentencing laws in recent years.

    What's less well-known is that early on, many African-American leaders championed those mandatory minimum sentences and other tough-on-crime policies. These efforts could be seen at the federal and state levels, as well as across black communities such as Harlem.

    "African-Americans are portrayed as passive victims to this, as the prison boom just washed over their communities, as if they were just completely victimized," said Vanessa Barker, author of 'The Politics of Imprisonment.' "I find that stance dehumanizing, I also find that stance empirically, historically inaccurate."

    Barker and others argue that in the 1960s, residents of black neighborhoods felt constantly under threat from addicts and others associated with the drug trade, and their calls for increased safety measures resonated at community meetings, in the pages of black newspapers like 'The Amsterdam News,' and in churches. ...

    Black support for the drug war didn't just grow in New York. At the federal level, members of the newly-formed Congressional Black Caucus met with President Richard Nixon, urging him to ramp up the drug war as fast as possible. But the drug epidemic was especially bad in New York, and especially in black neighborhoods.

    "The silent black majority of Harlem and New York City felt constantly accosted by drug addicts, by pushers, by crime," said Michael Javen Fortner, a political scientist and historian from Rutgers University who recently wrote on the issue.