Blog of Rights

ESPN Documentary to Explore Crack Disparity’s Misguided Origins

By Ian S. Thompson, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 5:10pm

As part of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series of documentary films, they will be airing Without Bias tonight at 8pm (with additional airings on their various sister networks over the coming months).

Twenty-three years after University of Maryland basketball star Len Bias died of a drug overdose (hours after the Boston Celtics picked him in the NBA draft), ESPN will air this new documentary by Kirk Fraser. The film features interviews with his closest teammates, friends and family. For the first time, we hear firsthand accounts of what transpired during Bias' final hours from those who were with him at the time of his death.

His death sparked a national media frenzy largely focused on the drug that was suspected, mistakenly, of killing him — crack cocaine. A few weeks after Len’s death, Congress, under the leadership of former Speaker Tip O’Neill (D-Mass.), passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, establishing for the first time mandatory minimum sentences triggered by specific quantities of cocaine. Congress also established much tougher sentences for crack cocaine offenses than for those involving the powder form of the substance — creating the infamous, discriminatory 100-to-1 sentencing disparity.

Today, momentum in Congress for finally ending this injustice is stronger than at any other point since the disparity was first written into law. The House Judiciary Committee sent legislation that would eliminate the distinction between crack and powder under federal law on to the full chamber for a vote on the House floor. In the Senate, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), along with nearly a dozen colleagues, recently introduced S. 1789, the Fair Sentencing Act of 2009. The Fair Sentencing Act would also eliminate the disparity between the two forms of the same drug. If all of that wasn’t promising enough, President Obama and the Department of Justice stand strongly behind efforts to eliminate the disparity.

Without Bias chronicles how one man's meteoric rise to fame was derailed by a fatal decision that still echoes throughout sports and the criminal justice system today.

Definitely one to check out tonight at 8 p.m.! Let us know what you think of the film by leaving your thoughts and comments.

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