Yesterday, in addition to the court ruling on stop-and-frisk, there was other news with regards to civil rights. Speaking at a national gathering of the American Bar Association, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that he will review the criminal justice system and push for legislation that adjusts the archaic mandatory minimums for drug offenders as well as a directive for all U.S. attorneys to draft charges in non-violent drug offenses and possession cases, that do not trigger mandatory minimum sentences.
As a reader of this site, we all are aware that the criminal justice system and the so-called “war on drugs” in particular has a discriminatory impact on black and brown bodies. These changes are a continuation of the work that Holder’s Department of Justice started by adjusting the disparity in prison sentences for someone arrested with powdered cocaine versus crack. The disparity still exists but it’s it is much smaller than before President Obama took office. Progress will be slow, but progress is progress.
Attorney General Eric Holder continued his push to eliminate the racial disparities in sentencing, announcing on Monday that the Department of Justice will conduct a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system and, specifically, drug sentencing and mandatory minimums. The Black community is all too familiar with the discriminatory impact of the so-called “war on drugs,” which all too often puts Black and Latino people in prison en masse. Will the attorney general be able to put an end to this? Let’s take a look at what was presented yesterday.
Holder’s “Smart on Crime” report specified five goals: 1) To ensure finite resources are devoted to the most important law enforcement priorities, 2) To promote fairer enforcement of the laws and alleviate disparate impacts of the criminal justice system, 3) To ensure just punishments for low-level, nonviolent convictions, 4) To bolster prevention and reentry efforts to deter crime and reduce recidivism (relapses), and 5) To strengthen protections for vulnerable populations.
Yesterday’s announcement was an executive move that doesn’t need Congressional approval and the hope is that it will encourage Congressional action on mandatory minimums in the near future.
The “war on drugs” has historically operated as a war on Black and Latino bodies, guaranteeing high incarceration rates that impact all aspects of life, from unemployment, to the vicious cycle of poverty, and even voter disenfranchisement in a number of key battleground states, like Florida and Virginia.
The announcement should be met with bipartisan support and only time will tell whether Congress can come to an agreement on anything and pass it. The system is massive and broken on so many levels, and it’s gradual changes, like the one Holder announced yesterday that will get us moving in the right direction even if the road to equality is seemingly never ending.