May 13, 2009

American Violet Blooms in the Mire of Injustice

I was never aware that Congress had a movie theatre. Nor that they show pretty damned good Hollywood flicks, until last Tuesday when I saw a Capitol Hill screening of the upcoming film American Violet, written and produced by Bill Haney and presented by the Justice Roundtable Coalition’s Crack the Disparity campaign. The film is part of the campaign’s month long lobbying of Congress to address the Crack and powder Cocaine sentencing disparity. American Violet is based on the true story of Dee, a young mother in Texas facing 25 years in jail for distributing Crack based solely upon the testimony of one unreliable police informant. Her community is systematically terrorized by the District Attorney’s “drug task force” using military tactics to cull plea bargains in order to redeem those guilty verdicts for ‘burn money’ from the Federal Government’s war on drugs. When Dee is approached by the ACLU to be lead plaintiff for a case against the DA, she accepts and begins the fight against institutionalized victimization and racism in her community.

Outside of the theatre, Crack the Disparity set the tone by giving out chocolate bars, not to keep the crowd wired, but because, as it stands, 50 grams of Crack, the weight of an average chocolate bar, will get you a first offence mandatory minimum of 10 years in jail, while possession of a whopping 5,000 grams of powder Cocaine is required for the same sentence. This disparity has disproportionately affected poor and minority communities to the point where more than 81 percent of those convicted for crack offenses in 2007 were black, although they comprise only about 25 percent of users. In fact, two thirds of all federal cases have been brought against the lowest level users, and only 8.4% against the biggest traffickers. Many people see this effect as only once removed from Jim Crow.

The racial connotation is so glaring that the US Sentencing Commission has stated that changing this rule would better reduce the sentencing gap between blacks and whites “than any other single policy change.” President Obama has proclaimed his support for trashing this misguided rule ever since his campaigning days and has listed it as an official position of his administration. Just recently, the administration joined a federal judge in urging Congress to end a racial disparity by equalizing prison sentences for dealing and using crack versus powdered cocaine.

Initially, the mandatory minimum statute for Crack possession was predicated upon what is now known to be ‘junk science’ claiming that Crack was more addictive and led to more violent crime. Now that the premise has been squashed, why are we still enforcing these policies? Namely because the right people didn’t want things to change. But a new wind is sweeping through and lifting up the voices that were once silent, such as Lanny Breuer, the new chief of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division who supports addressing the disparity and concedes that a “growing number of citizens view it as fundamentally unfair.”

With this support, change is on the way.

Take Action Here: Tell Congress to End the Crack Cocaine Sentencing Disparity
For more information on America’s failing Drug War check out DrugPolicy.org

This post was written by Leah Bush, a freelance writer, volunteer blogger for Make Social Change A Reality, and aspiring Guru whose past involvement includes the American Red Cross Hurricane Katrina Recovery Project and volunteerism in Honduras and the Dominican Republic. Questions regarding this post may be forwarded to UltraEchelon@gmail.com.

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