Monday, June 6, 2011

Obama and Holder: Black Leadership at Work

For the last 30 years the crack cocaine epidemic has been the staple of American injustice, from it’s infiltration of the black power base and it’s inevitable overflow into America’s backyard, to it’s subsequent deterioration of everything in it’s path. Turning loving mothers into desperate prostitutes and responsible fathers into violent criminals, its rotten seed had evolved into a menacing weed. At the height of its destruction an overwhelming cry for help was heard, particularly in the black community.

The answer to this domestically created problem-child was stiff prison sentencing for anyone caught in possession of the cooked up coke. Eventually individuals caught with crack could be sentenced up to three times as long in prison as someone caught with powder cocaine. These laws disproportionately affected black people to the point where the prison population more than doubled as a result. About a year ago this author discussed vehemently this very topic as it related to the Prison Industrial Complex and concluded that stiff prison sentences for any drug crime that is not violent is an unfair practice that only exists to fuel the corporate interests.

So for the last 25 or so years folks have been fighting tirelessly to have mandatory minimums on crack cocaine reduced to at least be on par with the powder cocaine sentences, since at the end of the day it is the same drug. The bottom line is that black people smoke crack and white people do coke and when you understand it in the context of what it means than you can no doubt embrace the Obama Administration’s courage for finally making strides toward fixing a broken system.

Last week Attorney General Eric Holder testified before the US Sentencing Commission to recommend that sentencing disparities between powder and crack cocaine be retroactively corrected, which could mean that individuals already incarcerated on the old sentencing structure could be released early. Obviously there are some stipulations to that, such as that the crime could not have involved violence. Fair enough!

For those critics who have continuously scolded the President for his supposed lack of support for the “black agenda” and the black leaders who have criticized his approach to race matters and every issue centered around the black community, this act should prove the President’s dedication to correcting some of the wrongs that have been done in Washington, not only towards black people but Americans in general.

It should not be underestimated how tremendous a victory this is for the black community, considering how many young black men have been incarcerated behind these inflated jail sentences. When I case managed ex-offenders in the NYC prison system years ago I met hundreds of intelligent, well meaning individuals, who had never hurt anyone outside of themselves, yet were rotting in jail, becoming institutionalised for having a drug addiction. 

The reason this was a courageous move on the part of the Obama Administration, aside from the obvious is that it cuts into the corporate interests profits. By reducing prison sentences to make them fair and potentially releasing prisoners early you have cut profits tremendously for companies that rely on prison labor. Although there is still quite a way to go before the criminal justice system is at a point where only people who are a danger to society are incarcerated, this administration has proved that it has not forgotten the tremendous job that it has been elected to do. The question is will a move like this finally silence the critics who think he has not done enough to support the "black agenda?"
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