Despite dwindling approval numbers, President Obama has done a very good job in keeping most of his campaign promises. Most political centrists who are independent of right-wing and left-wing talking points would agree. The historic passage of health care reform, credit card reform, equal and fair pay, tobacco reform and Wall Street reform legislation in a two-year period is extraordinary and unprecedented. But, if you listen to all of the cable chatter, especially from a right-wing perspective, you would not know about these magnificent accomplishments.
I found it extremely funny that neither the right-wing, left-wing nor African-American media outlets have mentioned anything about the historic passage of The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 to reverse the sentencing disparity relative to crack-cocaine. Finally, a public policy that Democrats and Republicans actually agreed was necessary and just and not one word has been mentioned. For those whose hearts are centered on the poor, downtrodden and the oppressed, one has to wonder whether a good narrative that directly affects the African-American community has been intentionally been left out of the news cycle because of racial dynamics or because it is too positive.
On Wednesday afternoon, the House voted to reduce racial inequity that has historically existed relative to the sentencing of people caught with crack cocaine versus powder cocaine. To be charged with a felony, crack users needed to possess only 5 grams of the drug to be sentenced with the same charge that powder cocaine users needed to be caught with (500 grams).
For years, this 100-1 ratio landed many young African-Americans across the country in prison industrial complexes at a much higher rate than Caucasians caught with cocaine in the suburbs. According to research by the Human Rights Watch, “Blacks comprise 62.7 percent and whites 36.7 percent of all drug offenders admitted to state prison, although there are five times more white users than black. Moreover, black men are admitted to state prison on drug charges at a rate that is 13.4 times greater than that of white men.” And, statistics continue to show that there are more Black men (between the ages of 20 and 29) under the control of the nation’s criminal justice system than the total number in college.
Although a 1-1 ratio of crack cocaine and powder cocaine would have been ideal, it brings joy to know that lawmakers put aside ideological differences and political posturing to pass a law that has been needed for a very long time. The 18-1 ratio, which means 28 grams of crack cocaine to 500 grams of powder cocaine, is the primary tenet of the Fair Sentencing Act and is a major step forward toward social justice- a virtue that appears to have dissipated away in recent years.
Some critics and legislators believe that the reduction in crack-cocaine sentencing will actually hurt minorities and will result in a growth of apathy toward the culture of drug consumption and distribution. Although I agree that there will logically be some growth of apathy, one cannot forfeit institutionalized racist practices based on the attitudes of individuals who will always find a way to make quick cash even if it harms their community.
By all means, this legislation is not the panacea for all injustices relative to drug trafficking and consumption. Additional steps such as mentoring and accountability, education-based incentives, spiritual restoration and rehabilitation and job programs for former inmates are sorely needed. But, this week, I am filled with a fair amount of jubilation. This country should begin focusing more on public policies that lead to equal opportunities, rights and access exclusive of wealth class, race or any other anthropogenic divisions. And, if President Obama continues to refocus on the “least of these” as represented with this legislation and as he repeatedly promised during his campaign, then he truly will have a transformational presidency that transcends time.
Anthony Jerrod is a bestselling author, speaker, and public policy expert.