Action Alert

BILL TO END 100:1 CRACK / POWDER COCAINE SENTENCING DISPARITY WILL SOON GO BEFORE THE FULL HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

October 23, 2009

THE NEW AGENCY WOULD ADDRESS THE FLAWS IN THE CURRENT REGULATORY SYSTEM OVERSEEING AND HELPING TO ENFORCE MORTGAGE, LENDING AND OTHER FINANCIAL SERVICES PROTECTION LAWS

NAACP-supported legislation to end the 100:1 crack / powder cocaine sentencing disparity passed the House Judiciary Committee with a favorable recommendation and is on its way to consideration by the full House of Representatives.  Specifically, H.R. 3245, the “Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2009”, which was originally introduced with bi-partisan support by Congressman Robert “Bobby” Scott (VA) was agreed to on Wednesday, July 29 2009 by a vote of 16 yeas to 9 nays.

In the Senate, S. 1789, the “Fair Sentencing Act of 2009” was introduced by Senator Richard Durbin (IL) and 10 of his colleagues, including high ranking members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Currently, as a result of federal law passed in 1986, there is a huge (100 to 1) disparity between the penalty for possession of crack cocaine and powder cocaine.  Specifically, a person must possess 500 grams of powder cocaine before they are subject to the same mandatory prison sentence (5 years) as an individual who is convicted of possessing just 5 grams of crack cocaine (despite the fact that pharmacologically, these two drugs are identical).  One of the effects of this law is that small-scale crack cocaine users are punished much more severely than powder cocaine users and their suppliers.

Everyone seems to agree that crack cocaine use is higher among Caucasians than any other group:  most authorities estimate that more than 66% of those who use crack cocaine are white.  Yet in 2006, 82% of those convicted and sentenced under federal crack cocaine laws were African American.  When you add in Hispanics, the percentage climbs to above 96%.  Since enactment of this law, the 100 to 1 ratio has had a devastating and disproportionate impact on the African American and Hispanic communities. The fact that this law carries a mandatory minimum jail sentence also means that people of color are being put in prisons at much higher rates than their Caucasian counterparts, and the judges have no discretion to mitigate the sentence for first-time or nonviolent offenders or in special circumstances.

Opposition to the crack cocaine sentencing disparity and mandatory minimum sentences has been voiced by people as diverse as the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and a host of civil rights leaders. Furthermore, President Obama, Vice President Biden and Attorney General Holder have all expressed their strong support for eliminating this glaring, and racially dubious, injustice. 

IN THE IMMEDIATE FUTURE, WE MUST ENCOURAGE ALL OF OUR ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES IN THE US HOUSE AND SENATE TO SUPPORT LEGISLATION TO ELIMINATE THE CRACK / POWDER COCAINE SENTENCING DISPARITY.

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