ACLU Calls for Reform of Racially Discriminatory Crack Cocaine Laws

March 25, 1999 12:00 am

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On the “Crack Cocaine Equitable Sentencing Act”

Thursday, March 25, 1999

WASHINGTON — The ACLU is pleased to join Congressman Rangel to announce introduction of the “”Crack Cocaine Equitable Sentencing Act.”” The ACLU has long advocated that Congress address the disparity in federal sentencing for crack cocaine and powder cocaine.

This lingering disparity creates yet another civil rights crisis in our criminal justice system. It exacerbates racially discriminatory treatment at the hands of police and prosecutors, for although 13 percent of monthly drug users are black, African Americans are 37 percent of those arrested for drug possession. We believe that Congress created the problem and it is up to Congress to solve it.

There is no reason to keep in place sentences for crack cocaine that are 100 times more severe than those for powder cocaine. Crack has not been found to be more addictive or dangerous than powder cocaine, nor is there any medical or scientific distinction between the two.

Our country should enter the new millennium as a world leader in democracy, justice and freedom — not a world leader in placing people behind bars, the dubious distinction it now holds. One in 20 Americans born this year will be imprisoned at some point in their lives, according to the Department of Justice. For blacks, that ratio jumps to one in four In California, for every black man attending the state’s universities, five are behind bars.

We are here today to bring our nation back on track, to stop the misguided policies that have led to these grim statistics. Addressing the crack/powder cocaine disparity is but one step. Mandatory minimum prison sentences for non-violent drug crimes have fueled the growth of one of our nation’s fastest growing populations — the incarcerated. The sentencing laws for crack cocaine have had a devastating impact on African-Americans: almost 90 percent of the people in prison for crack under federal drug laws are black, even though twice as many whites as blacks use crack.

Mandatory minimums — such as the crack cocaine sentencing law — have failed. They have not stopped people from using or trafficking in drugs. Mandatory minimums have taken away discretion from judges, who are often forced to sentence first-time, low-level offenders to longer prison sentences than drug kingpins.

Even our nation’s drug czar, General McCaffrey, who said “the current system is bad drug policy and bad law enforcement,” recognizes that our drug laws must be reformed. It is past time to provide prevention and treatment programs to low-level offenders, not imprisonment.

For, as General McCaffrey himself observed, “We have a failed social policy and it has to be re-evaluated. Otherwise we’re going to bankrupt ourselves. Because we can’t incarcerate away the problem.”

The ACLU urges Congress to adopt Representative Rangel’s bill.

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