An open letter from Benjamin Todd Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP:
A bill to end major racial and ethnic disparities in drug sentencing is on the move in the Senate, and we need your help to pass it.
You may already know that there is an enormous disparity between the penalty for possession of crack cocaine and powder cocaine. According to a federal law passed in 1986, a person must possess 500 grams of powder cocaine before they are subject to the same mandatory 5-year prison sentence as an individual convicted of possessing just 5 grams of crack cocaine, despite the fact that, pharmacologically, the two drugs are identical.
This 100 to 1 ratio has had a devastating impact on African American and Hispanic communities.
Authorities estimate that more than 66% of those who use crack cocaine are white. Yet in 2006, 82% of those convicted and sentenced under federal crack cocaine laws were African American. When you add in Hispanics, the percentage climbs to above 96%
To correct this, Senator Richard Durbin (IL) has introduced S. 1789, the Fair Sentencing Act of 2009. S. 1789 may get a hearing in the US Senate as early as next Thursday. Click here to send a letter to your Senators today.
The US Sentencing Commission, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and a wide range of civil rights organizations have voiced their opposition to the crack cocaine sentencing disparities and mandatory minimum sentences. President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Attorney General Holder have all expressed their strong support for eliminating this glaring–and racially dubious–injustice.
Benjamin Todd Jealous
President and CEO
PS: For more information on our criminal justice programs, please visit the NAACP Criminal Justice Action Center.