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A very racist coincidence

THOUGHTLET: A little thought that goes a long way.

I was exploring the online Encyclopedia Britannica this morning.  I came across a blog article about the sentencing disparity for crimes involving crack cocaine.  This is apparently the type of cocaine preferred by users in poor black neighborhoods.  Sentences for possession of crack cocaine are 100 times more onerous than those for possession of the drug in powder form.  Mark J. Perry, a Britannica blogger, cites a report saying that the U.S. Senate recently “unanimously approved a measure to reduce the infamous 100-1 disparity…The new, improved disparity would be 18-1.”  In the title of his post, Mark J. Perry calls this “the most anti-Black U.S. Law on the Books…”

Does his characterization of the law make sense?  Crack cocaine is commonly alleged to be the most addictive form of the drug, but this is empirically questionable.  However, no one disputes that it’s use involves prolonged binges, ‘lost weekends’ during which the user takes one hit after another, each less effective than the one before.  High income people, though perhaps better positioned to live with the money drained away by such binges, apparently prefer the powder form (a result of better education?).  But for people who live from paycheck to paycheck (or welfare check to welfare check) it wastes resources on which they and their children depend for survival.  In richer communities, it would threaten the standard of living.  But for the poor, it threatens life itself.

Isn’t disproportionate sentencing justified by the disproportionate threat?  In higher income neighborhoods, the cocaine trade is like robbery.  For the low income users of crack cocaine, it’s more like murder.  If the trade is more life-threatening to blacks because they are more likely to be poor, which policy is racist- one that ignores the difference or one that imposes heavier (and therefore more deterrent) sentences that take account of it?  If there were a virus that gave whites a mild cold but killed blacks, would we object if the resources to treat it were disproportionately targeted at the black community?

It’s either stupid or malicious simply to ignore this reasoning.  Given recent events on the health care front it’s no surprise to see that the U.S. Senate currently consists of too many people who behave as if they are one or the other.  It reminds me of the way so many of them are willing to ignore the fact that the location of abortion mills disproportionately targets black babies.  Just a coincidence, right?  I’ll say- a very racist coincidence.


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