a bird and a bottle

Ditching the Drug War
March 27, 2007, 3:36 pm
Filed under: 2008, civil rights, criminal justice, drug war, law, news & views, politics

The War on Drugs is one of the most obviously racist American policies (and there are lots to choose from). There have been peeps recently about getting rid of one of the worst laws — the federal crack/cocaine sentencing disparity — but from what I can tell, they seem to have stalled.

But at least we haven’t stopped making noise. Arianna Huffington, writing on AlterNet today, calls for the 2008 presidential candidates (particularly the dems) to take up this issue. So far, not a single candidate has. Not Edwards. Not Obama. Not Clinton, who lives down the road from Bedford Hills, NY’s women’s maximum security facility, in which 48% of the incarcerated women were convicted of non-violent drug offenses, almost 80% are black or latino, and many are mothers. Only Kucinich has anything to say on the issue (and gets it pretty much right).

The racism inherent in Drug War policies is blatant:

ccording to a 2006 report by the American Civil Liberties Union, African Americans make up an estimated 15% of drug users, but they account for 37% of those arrested on drug charges, 59% of those convicted and 74% of all drug offenders sentenced to prison. Or consider this: The U.S. has 260,000 people in state prisons on nonviolent drug charges; 183,200 (more than 70%) of them are black or Latino.

As Huffington points out, these statistics are nothing new. They’ve been thrown around for years. (Bill) Clinton knew them when he let 8 years of his presidency slide by without doing a single thing to stop the Drug War. Oh, except, Huffington notes, for the op-ed piece five days before the end of his second term. Way to go, Bill (he was a progressive president?).

And Bush? Huffington says that she was told to expect results:

I remember in 1999 asking Dan Bartlett, then the campaign spokesman for candidate George W. Bush, about Bush’s position on the outrageous disparity between the sentences meted out for possession of crack cocaine and those given for possession of powder cocaine — a disparity that has helped fill U.S. prisons with black low-level drug users (80% of sentenced crack defendants are black). Federal sentencing guidelines dictate that judges impose the same five-year prison sentence for possession of five grams of crack or 500 grams of powder cocaine.

“The different sentencing for crack cocaine and powder cocaine is something that there’s no doubt needs to be addressed,” Bartlett told me. But in the more than six years since Bush and Bartlett moved into the White House, the problem has gone unaddressed. No doubt about it.

Like so much else in the Bush administration, the President has failed on this. Huffington seems to have hope that he might still take action. i think that hope is misplaced. Especially given the fact that Bush came out a couple of months ago against reforming the crack/cocaine sentencing disparity.

So if none of the Democratic leaders are taking action here, and the President isn’t either, who is doing anything to end the drug war?

The injustice is so egregious that a conservative senator, Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), is now leading the charge in Congress to ease crack sentences. “I believe that as a matter of law enforcement and good public policy, crack cocaine sentences are too heavy and can’t be justified,” he said. “People don’t want us to be soft on crime, but I think we ought to make the law more rational.”

This is the same Jeff Sessions who recently called for better support for men and women re-entering society after incarceration.

It gives me a funny knot in my stomach to realize that a conservative Republican from Alabama, who is about as bad as it gets on the feminist issues I care about, is beating the hell out of my Democratic hopefuls on the criminal justice issues I care about.


6 Comments so far
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As Peter points out, none of the liberal blogs are covering this. Why is that? This should be an important issue and it should be in the liberal blogosphere and it isn’t. I am so sick of drug-related issues being promoted by drug policy reformers while other liberal organizations completely ignore this issue.

Comment by Tanya

I could not agree more with any criticism of the drug war. Any at all – you criticize, I agree, I don’t even have to know what about in particular. Believe me. And this is something I also find hugely important, and yet I hope no Democrat pipes up now, because that Democrat will get Willie Hortoned into the dirt by the majority of morons come general election time. In fact, even in the primary. Dennis Kucinich can say anything he wants because he has nothing to lose. Or win. That Republican guy has some guts, but his party’s reputation for toughness on crime can afford for him to say something that’s actually true. I want a Democrat to win who will do something, and because of that I want him to shut up about it now. Yeah – him, because I don’t think it will be her.

Comment by Phoebe Love

Well, I know that I didn’t cover it because it’s not my strength, so I couldn’t come up with original posts about it. But once I saw the posts on this blog, I started linking to them and adding my own thoughts. If Amanda and Ezra are anything like me, which they’re probably not, the best thing to do is just whore the criminal justice posts on their blogs’ comment threads.

I think Steve Gilliard once complained that white liberals didn’t talk at all about prison reform, but I’m not sure, and unlike Ezra and Amanda, he’s someone I’ve never read regularly, so I don’t know how to bring issues to his attention.

Comment by Alon Levy

to phoebe – sadly, i think you’re right. if any of the dems have a shot at raising the issue, maybe it’d be obama who could get away with it as a civil rights issue.

but cheers to you bean, and all the rest of the blogs for keeping it on our radar. even if it’s not a campaign issue, if we keep it on the candidates’ radar perhaps we’ve got a shot at a democratic prez doing some bi-partisan work with mr. sessions after the election. to keep informed (at least in NY), check out the correctional association of NY – http://www.correctionalassociation.org.

Comment by maxwell

Good points all. It’s heartening to see that there’s interest in this.

Also, the Correctional Association is a great organizaiton, and they have a designated Women in Prison Project. Full disclosure: I interned with them this fall. but i don’t think that detracts from the heartiness of my endorsement of their work.

Comment by bean

Yes! to all the comments.
I would add another layer of irony in relation to the Dems refusal to touch this issue: the Conservative Republicans do it largely out of their Christian faith. Dems have worked so hard to flaunt their faith and have done so little to advance the social justice values (once) associated with it.
A message to (newly) faithful politicians: For God’s sake, start prison reform now.

Comment by professorplum

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