Thursday, June 21, 2007

Crack vs Coke--Justice Denied; Injustice Codified

As terrible as racism can be when expressed through individuals, we discover the more virulent and deadly variety embedded in public systems.

Consider sentencing policies for the use of crack cocaine versus powdered cocaine.

A year ago the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy published a "white paper" report by Nkechi Taifa that gets at this systemic, racist reality at work in our criminal justice system ("The 'Crack/Powder' Disparity: Can the International Race Convention Provide a Basis for Relief?";May 16, 2006;

Consider this helpful executive summary of the findings:

The federal criminal penalty structure for the possession and distribution of crack cocaine is one hundred times more severe than the penalty structure relating to powder cocaine. Blacks comprise the vast majority of those convicted of crack cocaine offenses while the majority of those convicted of powder cocaine offenses are white. This disparity has led to inordinately harsh sentences disproportionately meted out to African American defendants that are far more severe than sentences for comparable activity by white defendants.

Indeed, the U.S. Sentencing Commission reported that revising this one sentencing rule would do more to reduce the sentencing gap between blacks and whites "than any other single policy change," and would "dramatically improve the fairness of the federal sentencing system."

Notwithstanding widespread recognition of the inequity of the current sentencing scheme, courts have found that domestic law affords no remedy. In this white paper, Nkechi Taifa examines that failure of U.S. law to address this disparity and explores ways that principles from the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination could form a basis for relief.

People who continue to argue that racism is no longer a factor in American politics, culture, law or community relations are simply blind to a continuing reality. Systemic racism like that found in our sentencing practices remains unaddressed in our nation. The fact that these findings have been recognized for many years and that no remedial action to establish justice has been taken should be of urgent concern to everyone who desires fairness and justice in our nation.

I witness the devastating impact of this unjust system on a daily basis, as our young men and women are "harvested" from our neighborhoods and sent to prison, rather than to treatment centers. All the while, white offenders, whose drug of choice is the powdered form of the same narcotic, recieve very different treatment under the law based on race and/or economic status, power and privilege.

Isaiah 10:1-4


Justin said...

Drug addiction is a medical problem, not a criminal one. Its time we started treating it that way. We'd have a lot fewer people in prison and violence would drop rapidly if drugs no longer had the profit margins of the black market.

And you're right. Mandatory minimums for crack are racist.

K. Rex Butts said...

Is is fair to compare crack and meth when talking about prison sentenses for posession and distribution? If so, I wonder what the proportions would be for each drug. I ask this because during my undergraduate years at Harding University I worked in jail ministry. Nearly every prisoner was in jail for a crime related to drug usage. Almost always if the prisoner was African American then the problem was crack and if the prisoner was caucasion then the problem was with meth. The one common thread was that almost every prisoner came from a background of poverty which also meant a dysfunctional childhood living environment.

I also worked at a Christian based treatment facility for teenage boys with drug and alcohol problems. One thing they taught me well, which I kept in mind when at the jail, was that drug/alcohol abuse is not the problem. The drug/alcohol abuse is only a symptom of a much larger problem.

faye said...

Good post. I did not know about the mandatory minimum sentencing for crack; that is oppressive to the poor. I recall a similar issue regarding college financing. If one gets caught with pot, they will lose their loans. Rape? Nope. Do rich people take out college loans? Of course not, this law is not for them. Obviously, the issue is a little bit different, but to me, it's still a systematic oppression of the lower classes.

Mr. W said...

You can read more about the direct effects of this in Michael Eric Dyson's "Holler if You Hear Me: The Search for Tupac Shakur".

Tupac grew up in communities directly effected by this. In fact, his mother, Afeni Shakur, was a crack addict. But yeah, they talk a lot about how Crack Cocaine is the drug of the Inner City and that Powder Cocaine is the drug of the Rich Folk.

You're a good man Larry James.

Anonymous said...

A question of ignorance, not of judgment: why do blacks use crack and whites use coke?

How did the law get passed in the first place, and was there any logic to it besides targeting blacks?

not evan dando said...

Maybe drug addicts don't need rehab, but nutrition classes? (see last post)


Mr. W said...


Good Question. It is not that necessarily that Blacks use crack, as if to say it is a preference situation. It is that crack cocaine is cheaper than powder cocaine. Therefore, Powder Cocaine has an upperclass appeal to it which is why Whites (who typically have more money) use Powder cocaine more than most. Too, whites don't populate the inner cities as much and it is in the inner cities where Crack Cocaine finds it's market, because it is cheaper.

Good Question.

Matt W.

Anonymous said...

Not only is crack cocaine cheaper to buy is it cheaper to make, cut & distribute. Without giving out the ingredients, you can make this stuff in your kitchen with items you probably HAVE in your kitchen. Because of how it is made and used, it enters your bloodstream and effects you neurologically very differently than powder. You don't need as much CRACK to receive the same level of 'highness' as with the powdered version therefore you get 'more for your money' if you use crack.

Outside of that, stereotypically speaking - a powder user will have a private lawyer on hand whereas a crack user will have a Public defender.

Lakeith Amir-Sharif (Sharif) said...

Report to Congress - Federal Cocaine Sentencing Policy Report

After years of debate and at the expense of thousands upon thousands of destroyed lives, families and entire communities (mostly Black and Brown communities that is)Congress has finally mustered up the decency and political courage to address the the need to amend the racist fedreal Crack v. Cocaine sentencing guideline, commonly known as the 100 to 1 ratio.

This anti-black sentencing guideline is undeniably another example of the two tiered system of justice in America. On May 1, 2007, the U.S. Sentencing Commission proposed an amendment to the sentencing guidelines to reduce the sentencing ranges for crack cocaine offenses. The amendment went into effect on November 1, 2007, and is said to affect approximately 65-70 percent of those federal prisoners sentenced in crack cocaine cases hereafter.

While the amendment is a much needed step in the right direction, there is still an urgent need for our political leaders make this amendment retroactive so that all federal defendants sentenced prior to November 01, 2007 in crack cocaine cases receive the fairness and justice in sentencing that this country so proudly claims to be the guiding principle of its judicial system.

On November 13, 2007, the United States Sentencing Commission held a public hearing on the retroactivity issue and a decision will be made at some unknown point in the future. Due to this pending decision and the overall complexity of this amendment, I can not go into it here, but I strongly suggest that all federal prisoners hit their law library and other sources for legal information and also ask their friends, family and loved ones to review all available information on the internet at the websites of the United States Sentencing Commissions, FAMM and other such sites for further deatils on if and how this reduced sentencing amendment operates.

Making this amendment retroactive is the right thing and only thing to do, because doing so would positively affect the lives of tens of thousands of non-violent prisoners and their children, and families, who have and contiue to suffer daily as a result of their absence.

Lakeith Amir-Sharif (Sharif)
Making The Walls Transparent-Texas Chapter (MTWT-TEXAS)

Below are links to important information regarding this issue.

1)Report to Congress - Federal Cocaine Sentencing Policy

2) Letters


steve said...

There should be punishment those who supply the drugs and those who take the drugs since this may cause not only their health problems but also so many people will suffer due to single individual. This should be controlled and should check the immigration centers where large export of drug is processing.
Crack Cocaine