Mandatory Minimum — Destroying the Lives of the Black Community

Ronika Gillon, NLC St. Louis

Part two of The New Leader series The Arc of Justice: Examining the Failures of the Criminal Justice System and the Hope of Progressive Reforms

The war on the BLACK community and other people of color has proven that America is not the land of the free, the land of opportunities or the land of love. Historically, since being brought to America involuntarily racial inequalities between Blacks and White America has always been an issue and many laws have been introduced and passed to continue to hinder the progressiveness of the black community. Currently, our country houses more than 2.2 million people in incarcerated this increase is more than 500 percent in 40 years. It is not the crimes rate that has caused this increase but the changes and implementation of laws such as mandatory minimum. From the 1970s until present day prisons went from 263,000 inmates to almost 2,000,000 inmates. This huge increase in numbers was due to disparities both federally and statewide. Examining facts will explain the disparities in drug sentencing, enforcement and criminalizing nonviolent criminals.

A Losing Battle “A War on Drugs, Public Enemy Number One”
In 1977 before the war on drugs began to increase to what it is today, President Jimmy Carter stated, “Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself; and where they are, they should be changed. Nowhere is this clearer than in the laws against possession of marijuana in private for personal use… Therefore, I support legislation amending Federal law to eliminate all Federal criminal penalties for the possession of up to one ounce [28g] of marijuana.” [1] Though he was not a advocate of the legalization of marijuana he also was not a proponent of the disproportionate laws that raged the war on blacks.

However, he was too late. Nixon had already declared the war on black people disguised as a war on drugs. Equipped with 1500 agents and 75 million the administration was ready to tackle this issue head on. In fact, a little over 20 percent of states had implemented mandatory minimum laws by the end of 1970s. [2] Once Reagan became President, Nixon’s initiative was increased federally with the Congress Passage in 1986 of The Anti-Drug Abuse Act establishing mandatory minimums for federal drug offenses and institutes the 100:1 powder-to-crack cocaine sentencing ratio. [3] Through this act, Blacks were sentenced to longer sentences for crack cocaine for the same amount of powder cocaine. In the end, the federal government had grown to over 5,000 agents and 1.3 billion dollars funding the war.

By 2009, because of Nixon, Reagan and other influential and prejudice individuals more than 80 percent of the prison population in jail for drug possession were Black men. [4] These laws were and still are detrimental and have exacerbated racial disparities by impeding the growth of black men and black communities, and contributing to the lack of black male figures in households, single parent homes, homeless families and even a decrease in education. America successfully destroyed the foundation of the black community by passing laws that incarcerate black males at an alarming rate as depicted in the picture above. Families are ripped apart for nonviolent crimes because of the mandatory minimums created by the federal and state government. The mandatory minimums became the new Jim Crow Laws, as discussed in Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, and these laws have prevented many from becoming productive members of society by punishing black men at a young age.

Statistics show, “sentencing policies, implicit racial bias, and socioeconomic inequity contribute to racial disparities at every level of the criminal justice system. Today, people of color make up 37 percent of the U.S. population but 67 percent of the prison population. Overall, Blacks are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, and they are more likely to face stiff sentences. Black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men and Hispanic men are more than twice as likely to be incarcerated as non-Hispanic white men.” [5] Imagine having a 1 in 3 chance of being incarcerated. Imagine knowing that the justice system that is supposed to protect and serve is instead destroying the lives of people like you.

Today’s Fair Sentencing Act and War on Drugs
After 40 years of racial disparities in relation to the mandatory minimum laws the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 was introduced and implemented by the Federal Government which eliminated the five year required minimum and increased the amount of crack required for the minimum sentence and currently, since 2000 almost 30 states have lessened their mandatory minimum sentencing laws. However, this is 40 years too late. Black homes have already been destroyed, black men have already been broken down and discriminated against and children have spent most of their lives without accessibility to see their father whenever they wanted. The government never recognized nor apologized to the families destroyed by these discriminatory laws. The government has had a hand in oppressing the black community since America was founded and they continue to oppress today.

Finally the legalization of marijuana, a drug they have punished millions of black men and women by incarcerating them, has now turned into a new business venture for upper class white business owners to capitalize off of the pains of Blacks. Blacks were profiled, incarcerated, stereotyped and criminalized for the exact same drug that whites are now making millions off of. Also, with legalization blacks are still being imprisoned and their convictions are not being overturned or removed from their record. This one conviction has destroyed many lives and still continues to prevent economic, social, physical and mental growth. As long as, the core issue of releasing those affected by theses discriminatory laws is not addressed blacks will continue to be destroyed with the war on blacks.

Ronika Gillon is an entrepreneur and 2017 NLC-St. Louis fellow dedicated to helping individuals FULLY RECHARGE their careers or business. When she’s not running her business Distinct Consulting Services LLC or working in her Corporate role she’s advocating for people of color especially African American women. Ronika is an author, coach, speaker and facilitator who’s motto is to educate, advocate and transform what you may consider the “norm”.

[1] http://www.msnbc.com/the-last-word/jimmy-carter-says-marijuana-legalization

[2] https://www.history.com/topics/the-war-on-drugs

[3] https://storage.googleapis.com/vera-web-assets/downloads/Publications/playbook-for-change-states-reconsider-mandatory-sentences/legacy_downloads/mandatory-sentences-policy-report-v3.pdf

[4] https://americanaddictioncenters.org/cocaine-treatment/differences-with-crack/

[5] https://www.sentencingproject.org/criminal-justice-facts/

The New Leader

A Journal of Generational Policy & Politics

New Leaders Council

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The New Leader

A Journal of Generational Policy & Politics