Friday, May 1, 2009

On Mandatory Minimums and Len Bias

From the WSJ:

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration said it favors shorter jail sentences for crimes involving crack cocaine, a stance likely to spark a debate with law-enforcement officials who have opposed easing the penalties.
Under current law, a person caught with 500 grams of powder cocaine gets the mandatory minimum sentence of five years, while it takes only five grams of crack cocaine to trigger the same sentence. Critics of the law have long maintained that it unfairly targets African-American communities, where crack is more prevalent.

We are fast approaching the 23rd anniversary of Len Bias' death, and this has become the most socially impactful aspect of his legacy. I wrote this (very long) piece about Bias' life and death and the "legislative frenzy" that brought about these sentences on; I'll also explore this angle in the book I'm writing. It's just nonsensical, knowing what we know now about the hyperbole disseminated during the crack scare of the '80's--and about the futility of the all-out War on Drugs--that these disparities still exist.

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