“When we passed the mandatory minimums, the elimination of parole, sentencing guidelines, that was was the greatest transformation of sentencing in the history of the republic. There’s no doubt about it,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) yesterday as the Senate Judiciary sent the Smarter Sentencing Act to the Senate floor.
And how. And for the Black community, that transformation has had a horrific impact on families, communities and economic viability. Isn’t it high time for Black voters to become single issue orientated around the policy of mandatory minimums after 30 years of those policies. disproportionately affecting Black males?
Yesterday, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) moved to add three mandatory minimums to the Smarter Sentencing Act as he relayed the same backwards logic that has made the U.S. the world’s number one jailer over three decades. Thirty years of historic incarceration at a cost of $63 billion per year to lock up 2.2 million people hasn’t convinced Grassley that a new policy direction may be a good idea.
But what were the Democrats doing? Eight Democrats voted to add two of Grassley’s mandatory minimums to the Smarter Sentencing Act yesterday — even though Democrats control the majority in the Senate and on the Committee. And Blacks vote for Democrats over 85% of the time? Shouldn’t Color of Change, Dream Defenders and the NAACP be taking note? Another of Grassley’s mandatory minimum amendments (on terrorism) was voice voted into the bill.
A study last year found that one in three black males born today will go to prison at some point in their life. That the criminal justice system yields much different results for blacks and whites in America is widely known fact. What if Black voters decided to take one facet of the problem — mandatory minimum sentences — and decide that any politician supporting them would not get their vote?
Just as gun control and abortion have become single issue deal breakers on the right, should criminal justice policy be a single issue deal breakers on the left for the Democratic party’s most loyal voting block? After three decades, the results are in: Mandatory minimums have spiked incarceration over the last 30 years 500%. The sentencing difference between crack cocaine and powder cocaine alone should have been a call to political action for the Black community.
Black males receive sentences 20% longer for the same crimes. From 1980 to 2008, the number of people incarcerated in America quadrupled-from roughly 500,000 to 2.3 million people. African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites.
If these aren’t reasons enough for there to be a one issue deal breaker for Black voters what is? A politician is either for or against them. No African American voter walking into a voting booth should be ignorant of where a candidate stands on mandatory minimums.
Racial minorities are more likely than white Americans to be arrested, a 2013 report by the Sentencing Project report found. Once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences. From stop-and-frisk to mandatory minimums, there is a lot African Americans could put on the political scorecard. That nothing has substantially changed over 30 years indicates political action is long overdue.
And just as criminal justice reform is being addressed — some Democrats who consistently win Black votes appear to forget these daunting statistics. Perhaps if Black voters forgot to vote for those Democrats next election it might incentivize them not to vote for another mandatory minimum. If Tea Party Republican Mike Lee can vote NO on mandatory minimums so can Democrats receiving Black support.
Huffington Post, Oct. 2013: “…police arrested black youth for drug crimes at more than twice the rate of white youth between 1980 and 2010, nationwide. Yet a 2012 study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that white high-school students were slightly more likely to have abused illegal drugs within the past month than black students of the same age. Blacks are also far more likely than whites to be stopped by the police while driving. The Sentencing Project report largely attributes the racial disparities in both traffic and drug arrests to €œimplicit racial bias” on the part of the police…”
Only three Senators on Senate Judiciary voted against all the mandatory minimum amendments yesterday: Chairman Patrick Leahy, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT). Two Democrats and one Republican. There are 10 Democrats and 8 Republicans on the Committee.