Data Show Racial Disparity in Crack Sentencing

Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act to make punishments for crack and cocaine more equal.

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Pasco says there isn't a racial component on the law enforcement side. "Law enforcement officers aren't trained to go out and arrest people commensurate with their percentage in the population. They're trained and sworn to arrest people that they find committing crimes. We don't sentence people," Pasco stated. Jasmine Tyler of the Drug Policy Alliance, an organization that promotes policy alternatives to the War on Drugs, disagrees. "What we know from public health data is that two-thirds of crack users are actually white or Latino," says Tyler, the DPA's Deputy Director of National Affairs. The disproportionate representation of African-Americans among crack-related offenders, she says, is a result of law enforcement officers targeting African-American communities.

Even putting the racial component aside, Tyler believes that the penalty disparity is arbitrary. "I don't believe that there is any reason to maintain any disparity in the penalty structure," she says. "Crack and powder cocaine have similar pharmacological and physiological effects on the body, as major studies have shown us. We don't punish people differently for DUIs involving liquor and beer. The idea is laughable." Other advocacy organizations, such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Sentencing Project, have also pushed for eliminating the sentencing disparity altogether.

Speaking in support of the bill on Thursday, Texas Republican Rep. Ron Paul said he believes that the new act does not go far enough. "It's called the Fair Sentencing Act," said Paul. "I'd like to rename it, though. I'd like to call it the 'Slightly Fairer Resentencing Act.'" [See who gives the most to Ron Paul.]

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