Here is a trivia question: If A, a black man vs B, a white man was caught with drugs on their person who would receive the most time for the crime ? This question is asked because America’s criminal justice system fails to provide equality in the sentencing of African Americans; specifically, drug related offenses.
Between 2011 and 2016, federal courts imposed prison sentences on black men that were nineteen percent longer than those imposed on white men for similarly situated crimes (Racial Disparity). This trend began as an effect of “The War on drugs” campaign that was started in the 70s that was blatantly used to target blacks. President Richard Nixon started this campaign to eliminate drug abuse. What this really did was give authorities probable cause to harass and discriminate against minorities.
Though the law applies to all men, regardless of race, the War on Drugs’ underlying intentions were to lock up African American men. “Although rates of drug use and selling are comparable across racial lines, people of color are far more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, prosecuted, convicted and incarcerated for drug law violations than whites are (Race and The Drug War).” This crucial and biased aspect of America’s criminal justice system is what helps keep America from progressing forward.
Plenty could be said about the system but the indisputable truth is, African Americans sentenced for drug related offenses are given harsher sentences than Caucasians. Notably, in 1971, President Richard Nixon declared “War on drugs.” The War on Drugs was, or was supposed to be intent on eliminating illegal drug use, trade and distribution. President Nixon enforced these new policies with a heavy hand. To show America that he meant war, President Nixon “dramatically increased the size and presence of federal drug control agencies, and pushed through measures such as mandatory sentencing and no-knock warrants.” This could have been a very effective system if it did not have one major flaw: Racism. Some believe President Nixon had hidden motives when he started the War on Drugs movement; although he wanted to clean up the streets, he also wanted to put blacks in jail while doing it.
The War on Drugs distraction provided the perfect front. It would be seen by many as this fair and revolutionary policy that would eliminate drugs on the streets. The War on Drugs movement had its many supporters but it also had its many non-supporters.
Those who supported either did not know of the hidden motives behind the movement or didn’t care. Those against the movement saw the blatant and obvious target that President Nixon put on the backs of minorities, specifically African Americans. Although there were no obvious discrepancies in black and white, intentions were clear.
Nixon gave police everywhere the right to discriminate against African Americans and the statistics showed. Between 1980 and 2015, the number of people incarcerated in America increased from roughly 500,000 to over 2.2 million and in 2014, African Americans constituted 2.3 million or thirty-four percent of the total 6.
8 million correctional population ( NAACP Criminal Justice Fact Sheet). These numbers are absurd considering that African Americans only account for about twelve percent of the U.S population. These numbers are a direct result of the War on Drugs movement.
After African Americans are arrested for crimes they are immediately put into the system where they face racial disparities like no other. The government first targets them by giving rules about which drugs are legal and which drugs are not. They use no justifiable logic whatsoever.
The reason why some drugs are legal and other drugs are not, is not based on anything scientific, simply based on what group of people associated with the drugs. Caucasians associate more with alcohol and tobacco so those are the drugs that the government protect and legalize. Marijuana is more closely associated with minorities so the government tries its hardest to keep it banned. Even though tobacco causes over 400,000 deaths every year and alcohol at a little over 80,000, the government still keeps these drugs legal compared to marijuana which has had no reported deaths. Statistics even show that of marijuana users, blacks get arrested for it at a higher rate than whites.
“Of the 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010, 88% were for simply having marijuana. Nationwide, the arrest data revealed one consistent trend: significant racial bias.
Despite roughly equal usage rates, Blacks are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana (The War On Marijuana In Black and White ).” One thing that is consistent in the criminal justice system is its ability to discriminate against African Americans. Even with banned drugs African Americans face more disparities. Cocaine and crack are both drugs that are banned in the United States though the drug that most closely aligns with African Americans is the drug that generally gets the worst punishment. “Since the 1980s, federal penalties for crack were 100 times harsher than those for powder cocaine ( Race and The Drug War ).” This is only because those sentenced for crack were mostly black.
Even within those that use crack African Americans were disproportionately sentenced to much lengthier terms for crack cocaine than whites. African Americans and whites use drugs at similar rates, yet the imprisonment rate of African Americans for drug charges is almost 6 times that of whites ( NAACP Criminal Justice Fact Sheet ). At all turns the government tries to treat African Americans unfairly. The discrimination starts with the police officers. All throughout America they purposely target black males and the giver rewards them. The discrimination is like a virus that has infected the entire criminal justice system. A study from between 2011 and 2016 even found that Federal courts imposed prison sentences on black men that were nineteen percent longer than those imposed on similarly situated white men.
There has to be a stop. Someone needs to say enough is enough. The government can not keep ignoring the situation like it does not exist. Racial and sentencing disparities exist and need to be addressed. As an illustration, a man by the name of Bernard Noble has a very interesting case to say the least. This man was sentenced to thirteen years in prison for being in possession of drugs.
The catch is he was only in possession of about two joints of marijuana. By now guesses could be made that this is a indeed an African American man. This man is important because his particular case epitomizes what is wrong what America’s criminal justice system. Noble was pulled over in his car by police officers one day when they asked him to step out of his vehicle.
They performed a search and found marijuana. The reports says that they only found an equivalent of two joints. Because Noble had two previous convictions of marijuana and cocaine in the past, under Louisiana law prosecutors were able to sentence him to the maximum of 13 years in prison without parole, and that exactly what they did. News reports had a field day with this story.
Many believed it was completely outrageous that a little bag of marijuana could get a black man so much time in prison; it made no sense. On the other hand, a man named Adam White was sentenced to 10 years in jail for almost the same crime as Noble except, White’s crime was a little more severe. Adam White was pulled over at a traffic stop for speeding.
There police escorted White from his vehicle and performed a search. They found almost 15 ounces of cocaine in the car alongside a loaded 9mm pistol. Police then obtained a search warrant to search White’s home and found more than 7 pounds of cocaine in his home, alongside another weapon and $13,000 in cash. Reports say if sold the value of the cocaine found was almost $200,000. Why was white only sentenced to 10 years in jail for all of these offenses ? That is right, he is a white man. Bernard Noble on the other hand was sentenced to 13 years for a bag of marijuana. Why ? Because of two previous marijuana and cocaine convictions almost seven years earlier. It makes no sense that the criminal justice system could keep getting away with this.
There is no reason, other than skin color as to why Nobles sentence should be 3 years longer than White’s. It is inhumane and unjustifiable. On the positive side, there are a lot of cases where black men have been a victim of sentencing disparity.
Though this problem is not as popular as it should be there are movements and organizations working tirelessly to help this problem. Organizations like The Sentencing Project, the NAACP and the Black Lives Matter movement have all contributed to the cause by either protesting, using propaganda and more importantly spreading awareness to the situation at hand. The Sentencing Project is an example of an organization that has been around for a long time attempting to end a crisis; one that correlates with the problem in the criminal justice system. The Sentencing Project has been spreading awareness towards the opioid crisis. The opioid crisis is in a way connected to the problem African Americans face in the criminal justice system because solving one, in return could help the other. .
The Sentencing Project narrows there solution to four steps: step 1, end overprescribing of opioids. Step 2, expand access to treatment for drug use disorder. Step 3, reduce overdose deaths and step 4, the one that is probably most important, put an end to the Drug War. With the War on Drugs gone harsh drug laws that once governed America would be no more.
It would practically remove the targets off of the backs of African Americans. The Black lives matter movement is also working with the Sentencing Project directly targeting sentencing disparities. They spread awareness by leading protest and getting the community involved in the problem.
The NAACP is also playing a huge role in the fight against sentencing and racial disparities. The NAACP helps spread awareness for the cause by writing articles and providing interesting fact sheets that get the community involved. There are many organizations and movements out that are helping the cause. The fight for equality in the criminal justice system is far from over Ultimately, African Americans have been fighting for equal rights In America since literally the founding of this “great” country. Even when, in black and white, African Americans have equal rights, there is a catch. Racism in the criminal justice system is a problem and it quickly needs to be fixed. The War on Drugs started the targeting and the unfair sentences.
It caused African American numbers in the system to skyrocket. It caused drug sentences to be at an all time high, for blacks that is. Now after the Drug War, African Americans are experiencing racial disparities in the criminal justice system at an all time high. Blacks are getting sent to prison at much greater rates than Caucasians. So much greater that imprisonment rates for black males are 3.8 to 10.5 times greater at each age group than White males and even 1.
4 to 3.1 times greater than rates for Hispanic males (Prisons and Race). So not only are blacks being imprisoned more than whites, they are also getting imprisoned more than other minorities as well. In fact, Not only are blacks getting imprisoned more they are also getting longer sentences for basically the same crime. Noble vs White is a prime example of sentencing disparities. Noble was sentenced to 13 years and no parole for a bag of marijuana compared to White who was sentenced to only 10 years for over $200,000 worth of cocaine, guns and drug money. Not only did he possess the drug but he had the intent to sell, something that was clearly missing in the Bernard Noble case.
This was a blatant example of a sentencing disparity because of skin color and it is unacceptable. That is the major problem with America now. The system does not care about African Americans so they sentence them to harsh sentences that are much longer than those of Caucasians. This is called sentencing disparity. You could partly put the blame on drug sentencing laws that enforce the punishment for the crimes but mostly it is because of racism in the government.
There are no simple, easy or quick fixes for this problem because it roots all the way back to slavery, but to start, more light has to be shed on the subject. People should not have to scroll the internet in order to know of all the injustices that are occurring within our government. It should be sent in the mail, shown on billboards, posters, signs, etc. Citizens, especially of African American decent, should not even be able to walk out of their front doors without being reminded of what is happening to black people everyday in the criminal justice system.
Even though there are groups out there that are helping, there has to be more. More people have to get involved. There has to be protest everyday when something unjust happens. Everyone who cares, the black community especially, has to get involved to let the government know, what they are doing will not be tolerated any longer.