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; http://www.acslaw.org/node/2859).
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.