Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Too little, too late

Yes, Eric Holder, the (in)justice system is broken when it comes to drug offenses. Mandatory minimums and disparate sentencing guidelines are a large part of the problem. Yes, our prisons today are overcrowded. Yes, it costs millions of dollars for us to lock up more people, per capita, than any other nation in the world. Yes, it would cost a whole hell of a lot less to fund adequate drug treatment programs.

But there's a bigger problem, Mr. Holder. And no matter how many of these speeches you give to legal groups and no matter how many interviews you give, you can't escape the biggest contributor to this failed war on drugs.

Eric Holder has been Attorney General since President Obama took office in 2009. Prisons were overflowing then. Black men convicted of possession of crack were receiving sentences up to 100 times more severe than while folk convicted of possession of the same amount of power cocaine. The drug was was unsustainable when he took office.

But it's only now - over four years later - that Mr. Holder says that something has to be done. For almost four years the Obama administration has been giving local law enforcement agencies money hand-over-fist for them to create SWAT teams and acquire military equipment.

Mr. Holder, you had the power four years ago to move our country toward a more rational drug policy. For the past four years you have done nothing to get us away from a broken law enforcement model.

You have a vast phalanx of federal prosecutors doing your beck and call across the country. But it's only now that you come forward and announce that federal prosecutors will be given word to file cases in such a way as to avoid non-violent offenders from getting caught in the mandatory minimum trap.

And therein lies the problem. You, Eric Holder, are the chief law enforcement officer in the United States. You have the authority to tell prosecutors in the field how to charge certain offenses. At any time during the past four years you could have sent out a memo to your minions instructing them not to overcharge those accused of drug crimes. You could have let the US Attorneys across the country know that probation or diversion were more appropriate means of handling non-violent drug offenders.

But you didn't do that. For four years you have sat on your hands and watched as our government has systematically incarcerated young black men at an alarming rate. You sat and did nothing to stop young men from being sentenced to exorbitant terms behind bars because of the color of their skin.

And now, only after the shitstorm caused by Edward Snowden's exposure of the extent of the NSA's domestic surveillance program you stand up before the American Bar Association - most of whose membership knows nothing about the workings of the criminal (in)justice system - and announced that our current model is broken beyond repair.

I'm just amazed he could do it with a straight face.

P.S. I would love to include quotes from Mr. Holder's prepared remarks, but my laptop is so disgusted with Mr. Holder's performance that it freezes up anytime I pull up the text.

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