On Saturday, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) had a letter to the editor published in The Washington Post that challenged claims the newspaper made in a recent editorial on crack cocaine sentencing reform. The Post’s editorial cautioned Congress against fully eliminating the infamous and deeply discriminatory 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine, resorting to the same tired myths that have been thoroughly debunked in the 23 years since the law’s enactment. What I personally found so confusing about the Post editorial was that it was only this past July that the newspaper published a very strong editorial — “Cocaine Justice” — in which they praised Congress for moving forward towards fairness in our sentencing laws.
Perhaps the Post felt compelled to write their editorial because momentum for ending this longstanding injustice in our criminal justice system has never been stronger than it is today. 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. Durbin, 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.
It wouldn’t have been too long ago that an editorial like the Post’s would have sent our elected officials running for political cover. Instead, Sen. Durbin stood tall and addressed the myths head on. The New York Times explored one such myth — that of a generation of so-called “crack babies” — earlier this year. It is clear that the science and our understanding of crack and powder cocaine have greatly advanced over the previous two decades. It is both illogical and unfair to contain imposing grossly disparate sentences for what are, in effect, the exact same drugs. The simple fact that a prominent member of the U.S. Senate was willing to say as much shows just how far we have come on this issue politically, as well as scientifically.
Here’s hoping that as Congress continues to make strides towards finally eliminating this injustice The Washington Post will reconsider their current wishy-washy, myth-based position.