On October 23rd, 2006, a then 24 year old Dorothy Webb stood outside her Mississippi home. Fearing eviction from her home for non-payment of rent, Dorothy decided to do something drastic to save the only home she had grown to love. She walked to ‘the bottom’ which was almost 9 miles away, in an attempt to make a deal with a local drug dealer to sell crack cocaine and earn a profit. “ I was truly scared because although I’ve been in the midst of the drug game as an outsider, I knew the consequences of selling drugs down south.
They put my momma away for 8 years because my brother was selling drugs out of her house and she wasn’t even involved. I knew that if they could do that to her to and she didn’t even do anything, I was in real danger of getting even more time if I got caught. But it was between eating and living or being on the streets, so I made a choice that I could live with. I wanted to live in my house with food in my mouth. ” According to Dorothy, she waited for days before she sold the drugs that she obtained from ‘the bottom‘.
“ I danced and danced around the idea in my head many days before I made my first sale, but I finally did it and it didn’t feel bad to me. By the end of it all, I had made ten sales, I had food in my mouth, and my rent was paid up so I could stay in my house,” Dorothy admits. Dorothy states that she only made those 10 sales, which was enough for her to pay rent and buy food until she was able to get back on her feet. “Almost a year after I sold the drugs, I was doin’ real good… real good. I had kept my house and I had a job and a car all in that one year.
I just kept workin’ and workin’ till one day, the police came to my house and arrested me for selling drugs to an undercover officer, and I was devastated. I mean, I know it was wrong to do so and against the law. I knew that I would get in trouble, but I never could have imagined that it would be as long as I was told. I mean c’mon! Murderers do less time than drug dealers do so where does that leave me, this one person tryin’ to live? During my sentencing, I cried until no more tears could flow.
I was facing 20 years for the 10 sales that I made in the last year. After my sentencing, I ran to Illinois to be with my family until I was caught last week on a technicality” (D, Webb, personal communication, February, 2008). Dorothy Webb remains in a St. Clair county Illinois jail awaiting transport to Mississippi where she will start serving out her sentence. Dorothy’s story is not unlike many other African American men and women whom face years of their lives behind bars for drug trafficking and other related drug charges.
Irreversible effects from drug related racial profiling and disparity should be stopped in relation to the African American community by way of rehabilitation for offenders and judicial officials. REVIEW OF LITERATURE Cocaine is a white powder substance originating from the coca plant dating as far back as the 11th century. It was used in the early 1800s to treat an assortment of common ailments ranging from hiccups to pneumonia. Presently, cocaine has been deemed very addictive and has been illegal in the United States for over 100 years. Cocaine can be snorted through the nose or used to intravenously.
Crack cocaine is a free based substance that is used for smoking. It is produced by combining baking soda and cocaine and is cooked to generate a hard, rock-like material. Because the crack cocaine has been altered, using more baking soda than cocaine, it results in being a cheaper drug that requires less to cause a ‘high’ feeling (Lu, Taylor, & Riley, 2001, p. 399). From a socio-economic standpoint, the black community, consisting of mostly the poor or working class can afford crack, while whites whom generally consist of middle class families, thus financially stable, chose cocaine as a drug of choice.
It is relatively clear that many users of crack cocaine consist of mostly individuals from the African American community. Many admit to using and selling the drug, however, evidence shows that white Americans produce an even higher population of illicit drug abusers and those whom traffic drugs as well. Although drug abuse among blacks is easily visual in ‘crack houses’ and even effortless drug sales on street corners, whites are not as flamboyant when it comes to drug use, conversely, middle America is now pressed with an overwhelming methamphetamine dilemma.
Nevertheless, many professionals concerned with the sociological aspects of drug solicitation in African American communities across the nation scrutinize the domino effect resulting from wide-spread drug quandary such as child abandonment, school dropout rates, and deteriorating homes. In fact, Kennedy states that “Law enforcement naturally and logically focuses on those communities where illegal drug use has created the most harmful and most visible effects… More generally, illegal drug use is seen as devastating African-American communities in a way that is not seen outside the inner city.
People losing jobs, kids dropping out of school, parents neglecting or abandoning their children–all of these social costs are more readily seen in the inner city than in the more affluent white communities where illegal drug use seems to be relatively benign. Even more to the point, illegal drug use in the inner city is seen as crimogenic–the inner -city user of illegal drugs is thought to be more likely to steal or commit some other crime to finance his drug use” ( 2003, p. 154).
The theoretical reasoning behind the abuse of crack cocaine in the black community has been speculated as the end result of a people in dire need, monetarily and emotionally, nonetheless, these outcomes resulting from drug infested communities do not constitute the racial disparity that is currently occurring throughout the nation, however, the issues do cause a need for probable concern . The illicit use and distribution of crack cocaine is steadily ricocheting through the African American community.
In fact, according to Angeli, “The increase in the rates of incarceration of young black males is due primarily to the focus of the ‘war on drugs’ on black drug users. For drug offenses, the African American proportion of arrests increased from 24% in 1980 to 39% in 1993, even though African Americans comprise only 13% of monthly drug users. From 1986 to 1990, the number of minority jail inmates increased more than twice as fast as the number of white inmates, and the increase in the number of arrests of minorities for drug offenses was almost ten times the increase in arrests of white drug offenders” (1997, p.
1213). It is undisputable that this jump in the number of incarceration of blacks was initiated due to the passing of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984. Under the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, congress enabled sentencing commissions to guide the legislature of punishments for crack and cocaine possession offences. Subsequently, the commission ruled that “At every quantity level federal defendants convicted of a crack cocaine offense receive the same sentences as powder cocaine defendants convicted of an offense involving 100 times as much cocaine (Angeli, 1997, p.
1212). It seems that these laws were put into place to purposely capture blacks in the system given that the Judicial system is aware that all crack possessions are in the hands of blacks by a very larger margin than any other race. This can be corroborated with current percentages contrasted to earlier figures from the1920s before these laws were enacted. Compared to the early 1900s, when African Americans only made up less than 20% of the prison population for illicit possession of alcohol and drugs, while foreign-born whites accounted for over 40%.
In 1992, 92. 6% of drug offenders were African American and 4. 7% were white and possessed pure cocaine (Elden, 2005). At present, over 1/3 of the total black male population is wedged in the judicial system involving imprisonment, parole, or probation, thus proving that race seems to be the issue in the current war on drugs. In previous combats in the war on drugs, other races were equally targeted just as contemporary matters of racial disparity.
In the early 1920s, foreign born immigrants, whom made up much of the American population then were the predominately incarcerated culprits for drug trafficking and or distribution. Contemporary legislature has made the proper amendments to finally put an end to the racial disparity regarding blacks and crack cocaine sentences. In the later part of 2007, in the case of United States v. Kimbrough, Defendant Derrick Kimbrough was initially convicted and sentenced to 168 to 210 consecutive months for three counts of conspiracy to distribute 50 grams of crack cocaine.
This decision was lessened by district courts to a total sentence of 120 months for all three charges and 60 consecutive months for possession of a firearm in connection to his arrest for the drug charges. This one case is a landmark case that will begin with the release of those whom have served a significant amount of time towards less severe charges related to crack cocaine and will lessen the amount of time given to those whom are tried and convicted of illicit drug crimes involving crack cocaine. SUGGESTIONS
Although the damage has been done, thus forever disparaging the trust of black people in today’s justice system, things can still be done in an attempt to reverse illegitimate imprisonment of blacks for miniscule drug offenses. The war on drugs should simultaneously preserve our country’s promise to liberty and justice to each individual, equally regardless of race, stature, or background. If in fact the war on drugs is to combat all forms of illicit drug use and or trafficking, subsequently, all drugs should be charged consistently relative to quantity.
Not only is the 100 to 1 ratio law unfair but it is also racially charged. It is apparent that the judicial system is aware of this racial activity that is continually produced by the members of government and courts, and have thus began to amend laws. However, regardless of these current revisions, more lenient laws should also be inserted concerning all first time offenders. For quantities less than 20 grams, no time should be served at all and incidents should be regarded as a misdemeanors, requiring community service and or fines. Amounts less than 10 pounds should result in months and not years in jail time as well.
Additionally, rehabilitation programs for drug offenders as well as court officials should be created. Just as drug rehabilitation programs for drug abusers aid in job placement programs and drug dependency, drug distributors should also have to attend similar programs that are geared towards the rehabilitation of drug dependency as a way of career. If these offenders could understand the fundamentals behind their professions, it would be probable that they would return to their communities, not as an vandals, but as a productive member of society and their community.
It may also be a good idea to implement drug addicts into their program as well, in order to reveal insight into the lives of those whom they have destroyed. If these programs could be implemented and utilized, it is very probable that there would be a significantly less amount of repeat offenders as well. Lastly, many officials believe that many members of law enforcement have very little role in the prosecution of crack cocaine holders. However, law enforcement officials are responsible for obtaining criminals. Racial disparity begins in this area first.
As stated earlier, officers logically pursue areas where drugs have the most detrimental effects, however If equal focus would be put upon all races to prohibit the distribution of drugs, eventually, all areas of drug distribution would eventually subdue, principally the methamphetamine business. CONCLUSIONS Although the end results of drug use or distribution are riveted throughout the African American community, either through school dropout rates, child abandonment or neglect, and job loss, the effects of unfair drug sentences are equivalently devastating.
More than 1/3 of the black male population have been witness to some form of the judicial prejudice through incarceration, parole, or probation, and the number is steadily increasing each year. It is more than probable that race is the intended target for these drug wars that are presently occurring, whilst this has happened previously in an earlier time. During the early 1920s, foreign-born immigrants were the targets during the first war against drugs in the United States, while African American men made up less than 20% of the total incarcerated population.
At this time, the judicial system has commenced realization of these racially charged attacks on the African American community, thus lessening the sentencing of crack cocaine offenders. This was proved in a recent landmark case, The United States v. Kimbrough. In this case, Derrick Kimbrough’s lengthy 168 to 210 consecutive month sentence was cut down to a little more than half at 120 consecutive months. Although the court system has made this advancement in this area, further innovations must also be met as well.
Progression within drug distribution rehabilitation programs should also be implemented. For instance, former drug distributors should be enrolled in some of the same programs that drug abusers undergo. These offenders should be allowed to hear the testimonies of the many lives that they have destroyed due to drug distribution and dependency as a profession. Additionally, programs should be executed, allowing each offender job placement and job training so that their likelihood of returning to that lifestyle will be greatly reduced.
Members of the courts should also be counseled as well to allow insight into the lives of the people that they convict, therefore, sentencing will be fair and relevant to each case, instead of an overall depiction of that type of society. Members of law enforcement should also take rehabilitation classes that will allow them to equally focus on all areas of society that is ridden with drugs instead of primary focus on the black community. If these measures were considered and utilized, United States would be on its way to a less racially prejudiced society.
Courtney from Study Moose
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