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Why Are Two Black Civil Rights Orgs Endorsing a Bill With Two New Mandatory Minimums?

Why Are Two Black Civil Rights Orgs Endorsing a Bill With Two New Mandatory Minimums?

“On behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 200 national organizations to promote and protect the rights of all persons in the United States, we wish to express our support for the recently introduced Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (S.2123).” — The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, October 19, 2015

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Yesterday we learned that Black Lives Matter and Campaign Zero activists convinced the Democratic National Committee to hold a town hall on their issues.  That’s a good thing, because some legacy civil rights groups would appear to be supporting federal policy related to racial justice that gives bad policy cover.  Yesterday mandatory minimum loving Senator and Senate Judiciary Chair confirmed that the NAACP and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights endorses legislation with two new mandatory penalties.

wade4
Wade Henderson

Today in Washington, the nation’s top police chiefs, including New York’s Bill Bratton and Los Angeles Chief Charlie Beck, will meet with President Obama and participate in a roundtable on justice reform.  Yesterday several of America’s top cops and prosecutors spoke against mandatory minimum penalties.  The U.S. is number one in the world in incarceration with 2.2 million behind bars, primarily because of mandatory sentencing.

“We’ve talked about the disparities and impact that mandatory sentences have had on black and brown communities, the difference in sentencing when it comes to crack versus powder cocaine,” said Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland yesterday at the launch of a new group featuring top cops.

Study after study has verified that mandatory minimum sentences have done two things:

1. Spiked incarceration in the U.S. and made us number one in the world in locking people up.
2. Been applied to Blacks more than whites by prosecutors.

Yet two major Black civil rights groups are supported legislation in the Senate containing two new mandatory minimum penalties.  The bill, S.2123, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, has a new mandatory penalty for domestic violence and another for terrorism.

mmSince mandatory minimums have been applied to Black defendants disproportionately, one wonders: Why are and civil rights group who claims they care about racial justice support the bill?

In a October 19, letter of support for S. 2123, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, Wade Henderson, President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, writes, “on behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 200 national organizations to promote and protect the rights of all persons in the United States, we wish to express our support for the recently introduced Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (S.2123).”

Later, in the same letter, Henderson writes, “the United States adopted “tough on crime” policies and mandatory minimum sentences. As a result, our prison population has skyrocketed…” and “in addition, mandatory minimums prevent judges from taking into account an individual’s background and the circumstances of his/her offenses when determining his/her sentence, and they have a disproportionate impact on African Americans and Latinos”  and “Several reports have suggested that mandatory minimum sentences are a major contributor to the growing federal prison population.”

But the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is endorsing the bill anyway.

On Monday, October 19, the NAACP voiced support for the bill as well.  Hilary Shelton, Director, NAACP Washington Bureau & Senior Vice President for Policy and Advocacy, testified at a Senate Judiciary hearing on S. 2123.

“Racial disparities and racism remain prevalent in our nation’s criminal justice system,” Shelton told Senators and a room full of advocates on Monday.  He added, “in 2010, African Americans offenders accounted for 27.3% of all drug offenders, 30.3% convicted of a statute carrying a mandatory minimum penalty, and 40.4% subject to a mandatory minimum penalty at sentencing,” as he pointed out the racial disparities regarding the way in which mandatory minimums are applied.

But the NAACP supports the legislation even though they publicly acknowledged that mandatory sentences are racially applied.  The NAACP cites the bi-partisan effort in Congress for justice reform.  But no one has cited verifiable reductions in incarceration or cost savings in any of the justice bills currently in Congress.

The NAACP appears to be more focused on bipartisanship than factual legislative substance. Will the safety valve provisions reduce incarceration?  If so by how much? Does the carve out for white collar crimes over 15 years matter? Is the juvenile expungement provision relevant when it impacts less than 33 people in the federal system?

“By its very bipartisan nature the legislation speaks to the overwhelming severity of the problem, and the acknowledgement, by all, that something must be done,” said Shelton on Monday. “The NAACP feels that S. 2123, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 is a good start, of which we are especially encouraged by the bi-partisan nature of the bill.”