Monday, March 15, 2010

Dr. Boyce Watkins: Crack Disparity Law Should Have Been Changed More Effectively

Democrats' crack-cocaine compromise is still 'racist'

Dr. Boyce Watkins, Syracuse University


When I was a teenager, a police officer explained to me how the "War on Drugs" took place in his hometown. The officer candidly described how every policeman in the city knew what boats contained drugs and when those boats would arrive in the city's major port. But he also knew that officers were not expected to show up on these boats to make arrests, and that they were not to deter the progress of the product when it hit the port. Instead, they were instructed to allow the drugs to get to the inner city, where they were given authorization to make as many arrests as necessary. In other words, his job was to arrest the small fish, not the big ones.

The misleading, ill-conceived and terribly racist set of drug policies which defined the Reagan era has been absolutely devastating for the African-American community. The existence of gang warfare in South Central Los Angeles has left hundreds of thousands of youth with post-traumatic stress disorder, as the CIA was oblivious to the fact that drugs and guns were being openly delivered to a community that no one cares about. The Anti Drug Abuse Act of 1986 was the product of America's broad-stroke reaction to increased drug use of the 1980s. The law gave a sentence 100 times greater for possession of crack cocaine (more likely to be possessed by blacks) than the one given for powder cocaine (possessed in greater proportion by whites), creating a black incarceration rate of holocaust proportions.

After sitting on the books for decades, the law was finally modified this year. Democratic Senator Dick Durbin and Republican Jeff Sessions did black people the "favor" of agreeing to reduce the sentencing disparity from 100-to-1 to 18-to-1. So, instead of getting a prison sentence that is 100 times longer for the same crime, we only get one that is 18 times longer. Gee thanks. I'm supposed to be happy about that one, huh? So, we're not good enough to demand true equality, and are instead forced to accept dysfunctional compromises with Republicans from Alabama? While some might call this political pragmatism, others might describe this outcome as the modern-day version of the Three-Fifths Compromise.


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