Clearly, race is still divisive in America. It probably will still be on Doomsday.
The disparity in crime and punishment is cruel. Blacks are four times as likely than whites to be arrested on charges of marijuana possession. Blacks are six times more likely than whites to be incarcerated.
Black joblessness remains high at 12.6 percent. But among black young people between 18 and 29, the rate is an unconscionable 20.9 percent.
The rage to punish is one of the many dark sides of America.
A 22-year-old black youth with no criminal record was sentenced to 45 years in prison for four sales of an eighth of an ounce of cocaine. Another black youth, 25, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for selling four grams of cocaine. It was his first offense.
Such sentencing is not just outrageous. It’s inhuman.
Discriminatory sentencing accounts for swelling prison rolls. Among vengeful sentencing and asinine laws are: mandatory minimum sentencing laws, tying the hands of judges; three-strikes-and-you’re-out laws that imprison people for life even if the third felony is stealing a golf bag; and statutes that prohibit early release for good behavior.
Congress and state legislatures enacted tough-on-crime laws. Actually, they were to get tough on blacks. Politicians passed these harsh laws because they did not want to go before voters appearing to be “soft on crime.”
Michelle Alexander, an Ohio State University law professor who has written passionately about the “New Jim Crow,” laments “the millions of lives that have been wasted in the drug war and deeply misguided policies that have caused more harm and suffering than they have prevented.”
This bogus war began in 1971 when President Nixon declared drug abuse “public enemy No. 1.” Its cost has been in the trillions on federal and state levels.
Moreover, it has led to racial profiling: police target black citizens and black neighborhoods. A federal district court in New York last week ruled unconstitutional stop-and-frisk. Judge Shira Sheindlin found that the practice was racially discriminatory, violating the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
Again in actuality, stop-and-frisk laws targeted blacks. Whites where ignored.
Pot should be legalized. Smoking a joint is harmless. The real drugs are cigarettes and alcohol.
President Obama ought to be out front on this issue. He is term-limited so need not worry about alienating voters. But he opposes state legalization and shuts medical clinics dispensing pot.
America must get rid of its puritanical notion that pot is a drug and should be banned. Washington state and Colorado legalized pot last fall. Above all, it’s a tax windfall. Washington calculates it will reap $560 million annually for legalization of pot.
The drug war must be ended if the nation is ever to achieve some degree of sanity about drugs. The solution is simple: legalize, tax and regulate the sale of marijuana. Replacing prohibition with taxation and regulation would save $8 billion a year for the states and feds.
As Truthout online has noted: marijuana is the linchpin of the drug war. Legalizing it will sound the death knell for this devastating crime against humanity.”
Jake Highton is an emeritus journalism professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.