Potomac Fever is the blog of the Hamilton College Semester in Washington Program.
Is it just for these people to spend more time in jail just because of racist disparities in past sentencing law and practice? I don't see why they should have to serve longer terms than crack users just because crack-cocaine was viewed as the poor, black's drug-of-choice while cocaine was for rich, white people.
I think the war on drugs has been a failure and needs to be reconsidered. And I fully supported the effort to lower crack cocaine and other drug sentences, and to figure out a more effective strategy. I just thought releasing a thousand crack offenders is a little scary. I don't think the law ever had any racist intentions regardless of outcomes. The law was passed with the support of many African American groups because people saw how detrimental the crack epidemic was becoming to African Americans. The spike of crack cocaine use in the 80's was correlated with a spike in violent crimes particularly among young black men. The purpose of the War on Drugs was not to punish people, but to deter people from using so it made sense at the time to put the strictest penalties on the drug that was the most detrimental to society (crime, poverty, violence etc.) and to society's most vulnerable (I don't think anyone would argue that powder cocaine has had anywhere near the disastrous effects that crack cocaine has had on society.) Cocaine is also more potent (and most argue more addictive) than when inhaled. Regardless of the intentions, the law has lead to unequal outcomes, and needed to be re-examined. Now that it has been established that harsher penalties have not deterred use, and crack related violence has decreased, it makes sense to re-examine the sentencing times, and look for a different strategy. Do I think the 100 to 1 ratio was unfair? Absolutely. Racist? I really don't think so, at least not intentionally when you look at the history of the law. I think it's safe to say that crack has been far more detrimental to African Americans than long prison sentences for using crack, and that the long sentences were an (unsuccessful) attempt to solve the problem.
My point really was that letting 1,200 drug offenders out of jail might not be the best thing for DC. I don't think I'm really against making the new law retroactive. The sentences were far too tough for crack.
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