In defense of harsher sentencing for crack

(versus powder cocaine)

It isn’t the least bit about race. Crack cocaine dealers have the same access to information about mandatory minimum sentences as anyone else, and if they choose to pursue a life of drug dealing, they can just as well switch to dealing powder cocaine. If a disproportionate number of blacks happen to continue choosing to deal one over the other, we’ll have to conclude either ignorance or stupidity.

Here’s why longer sentences for crack dealers is good: they deal in public. On street corners. Probably on the corner of a street where I used to live. One day I actually exited my building to see a body — someone who had been shot in the head on the (suspected) drug corner. That could’ve been anyone. In fact, it’s much more likely to be someone completely uninvolved because it’s in public.

I don’t really care if a drug dealer is going to someone’s upper east side apartment to deliver powder cocaine. Or their high rise office building. That’s a private transaction that has no bearing on me, and even if that drug user loses his job, his children probably won’t be the state’s problem. He’s probably not going to rob anyone. All that will happen is that he’ll get to go to an expensive rehab a few times. Not the same as when a highly addictive drug is popular among the poor: that increases everyone’s problems — the taxpayer (in the form of welfare, emergency room fees for the uninsured, food stamps, extra policing), the neighbor (armed robbery, burglaries), and even the random person walking in the street (muggings, gun violence/turf wars).

Mostly, I’m just tired of hearing this differential in sentencing trotted out as an example of racism in the legal system. Even if we ignore every point I just made, it still remains true that there was significant support from black leadership to enact these stricter sentencing laws.

2 thoughts on “In defense of harsher sentencing for crack

  1. Thanks for linking to the timeline we created documenting black support for the drug war. It’s an important part of the history of America’s 40 year war on drugs. But so too is the well-documented racism in the system of criminal justice that surrounded the creation and enforcement of America’s drug laws. Arrest rates, sentencing practices, mandatory minimum guidelines for various types of drugs – they all produced radically different outcomes for blacks involved in drug use or dealing when compared with whites involved with the same behaviors. Trying to talk about the drug war without talking about racial bias simply doesn’t work factually.

    –Brian Mann, lead producer, Prison Time Media Project


    1. Thanks for the comment. My point is only that racially different outcomes do not prove racist intent of policy, and that these very policies (such as sentencing/mandatory minimum guidelines) were championed by black leadership. That is, they weren’t crafted by whites with the specific intention of targeting blacks, as seems to be the common misconception.


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