Friday, November 11, 2011

Black Mis-leadership & Racist Drug Laws

This article originally appeared in the Howard University newspaper, The Hilltop.

Many of us have come to the conclusion that the criminal justice system does not operate in the best interest of Black people, but fewer people realize the role that Black leadership has played in the perpetuation of the injustice.

For example, in the 1980s the Republican and Democratic Parties were in a race to prove how "tough on crime" they could be. Under the leadership of Tip O'Neal, the Democrats helped to push the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 that established a 100:1 ratio for sentences related to crack cocaine as opposed to those related to powder cocaine.

Never mind the fact that there is virtually no chemical difference between powder and crack cocaine, this law meant that people caught in possession of crack cocaine served much harsher mandatory minimum sentences than those found with the powder version. This anti-Black, uh, I mean, anti-crime hysteria reached such a fever pitch that Mickey Leland, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Harlem congressman Charles Rangel co-sponsored the legislation.

Oh it doesn't end there. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 extended a person's sentence even after release from prison by eliminating student loans for anyone with a drug conviction. So, not only were Blacks more likely to be arrested, they were also less likely to be granted an opportunity to attempt to improve the quality of their lives afterwards.

According to legal scholar Michelle Alexander, only six CBC members voted against it. A few years later in 1994, Kweisi Mfume, chair of the CBC, voted for legislation that codified the "three strikes" laws--which disproportionately affects Blacks convicted of non-violent crimes--at the federal level. Confused?

It's simple: Many of our Black elected officials actually contributed to the modern day re-enslavement of our people in the prison system.

I went to the CBC weekend one time. That's it. Once was enough. After looking at a proud display that showed their sponsors included the largest transnational corporations in the US, I decided I'd never come back.

It's time for a new Black leadership that is independent, visionary, and militant to step forward from this generation, one that doesn't simply maintain the status quo, and one that is not afraid to openly advocate for the interests of their people without regard for political judgment or consequences. The white left has the occupy movement. Where is our movement?

The new Black leadership should organize for 1) an equal 1:1 sentencing ratio for crack and powder cocaine offenses and an end to "three strikes" laws at the federal and state level, 2) the decriminalization of marijuana and consequently an end to stop-and-frisk policies that target Blacks, 3) reparations for newly released people for time spent in prison because of harsh racist drug laws and 4) the Black community and world to question the very existence of prisons in human society.

Next generation to the front of the line!

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