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Only Smart for Some

The Other Side of the Tracks commentary from Socially Speaking by Perry Redd

A Socially Speaking Commentary from Perry Redd

A Socially Speaking Commentary from Perry Redd

Oh snap!  You ought to be suspicious…a Republican is introducing a bill to bring about fairness—in the justice arena, no less!  We’ve been watching poor and Black Americans sentenced to lengthy terms for little of nothing  for the past 40 years, and now our country’s legislature has grown a conscience?  Yeah, I am suspicious.

The bill is titled the Smarter Sentencing Act. Smarter Sentencing Act?  Smarter for whom? Why is this law now so important to conservatives? We’ve been banging the drum of unfair sentencing ever since the federal mandatory minimum sentencing scheme went into play back in the late 80’s. Now, Bernard Kerick, former New York City Police Commissioner is championing repeal of Federal mandatory minimum sentences.  He also called for getting rid of the conviction on the record after the sentence is finished. Why now?  He did an interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer where he posited this call.

S 1410, a bill introduced recently by U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, would remove the threat of mandatory prison sentences for low-level drug offenders. You can already guess, those people were mostly poor and Black. The Smarter Sentencing Act, co-sponsored by Rep. Bobby Scott, a Virginia Democrat, would allow judges to make sentencing decisions in cases where the defendants did not use violence and were not major dealers.  This is what they call, judicial discretion.  Oh, I’m suspicious about that too…but I’ll tell you why later.

I have to expose that Kerick didn’t champion these positions while he was on the other side of the fence.  Now that he’s completed a 3-year sentence for ethics violations, he now comes down on the right side of the moral arc of justice?  Please! Funny how walking in one’s shoes, cause people to understand a bunion!

Over the summer, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder acted executively to change the policies used by the nation’s 93 U.S. attorneys in prosecuting drug cases. Holder also sought to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences — in many cases 10 or 20 years — for low-level, nonviolent drug dealers (I know a little something about that).  We all know that had not Barack Obama been elected president, this would’ve never had happened.

I am of the mind that the only reason that conservatives have made a left turn, is because Attorney General Eric Holder is locking up more criminals—white collar criminals—than any administration has in recent history.  These are their people.  Whether for voting law violations, insider trading, hiding of income assets or embezzlement, these are Americans who most likely support Republicans and conservative value systems.  Republicans need these people to “get back in the game.”  As the rules currently stand, Americans are iced out of the American Dream—on both the front and back end.

Nearly 47 percent of the nation’s 219,000 federal prisoners are doing time for drug offenses, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The next highest category — for weapons offenses, explosives and arson — accounts for just 16 percent of inmates.  What’s wrong with this picture?  What’s wrong is that we hear loud, raucous conservative voices hollering for “criminals to be locked up.”  The thing is, that next highest category– weapons offenses, explosives and arson—are chiefly white males; in other words, they’ve been getting away with murder for years…or at least, weapons offenses, explosives and arson.

Just to think, back in 1980, there were only 24,000 federal prisoners.  After the death of Len Bias—the college basketball superstar who died suddenly of a cocaine overdose just as he was about to turn pro—change the course of history…and millions of Black lives. 

Sure, it’s time for the laws to change, but change it for the true reason: economics and making right the wrongs you’ve committed. Since 1980, the cost to maintain the federal prison population has grown by 1,700 percent, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The Bureau of Prisons report that it costs nearly $30,000 to house a federal prisoner every year.  That’s college tuition man!

There are currently 1.57 million Americans in state and federal prisons, an increase of more than 500 percent since the late 1970s, at a cost of $80 billion annually. How is that a contribution to society?  Sure, people must pay for their crimes, but what’s ironic is that while this 1.57 million are doing time, they’re getting virtually no redeemable skills that will aid their return to society (and yes, 98% of them will return to society).

In 2010, more than 7 in 100 black men ages 30 to 34 years old were behind bars. This is no coincidence.  This is a documented tool of colonial oppression: take the older boys and men out of the oppressed class, and one can then bend the will of the women and children. This system of mandatory minimums have hampered four generations of Black Americans—by design.

The federal system alone holds 219,000 inmates, 40% above its capacity, thanks to strict sentencing guidelines and mandatory minimum sentences. Of these inmates, nearly half are in prison for drug-related crimes.  I am of the mind that recreational drugs should be legal; not to say that drug testing and bars from employment for drug use don’t have merit, but people ought to have to live with the consequences of their use, and it not be a crime.

Is scaling back mandatory minimum sentencing smarter sentencing?  I’d say its righteous and common sense sentencing, but we also need to understand why it is and who its for. Its only happening because of economics and it’s definitely not for making reparations to the millions Blacks these laws have harmed over the past four decades.  It’s only smart for some.


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