When Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Aug. 12 that he was instructing federal prosecutors to no longer seek mandatory minimum sentences in some nonviolent drug offense cases, it marked a huge step forward.
“Too many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long, and for no truly good law enforcement reason,” Holder told the American Bar Association in San Francisco.
Holder’s announcement is really about the failure of the so-called War on Drugs. Since the 1970s, it has needlessly destroyed many lives and ravished whole communities. The federal prison population alone has expanded by 500 percent, according to the Sentencing Project. The overall prison population now exceeds 1.5 million.
Despite ridiculously long sentences for nonviolent drug crimes, illegal drugs can be found everywhere and anywhere in the United States. Holder also noted that mandatory minimum sentencing policies are racially discriminatory. Most of the individuals who keep going to jail under these sentences are black or Latino, despite the fact that whites consume illegal drugs on par with blacks and Latinos.
Equal justice also scored a huge victory when U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin recently ruled against the city’s longstanding “stop and frisk” law. Calling the policy “indirect racial profiling,” Scheindlin said it was used almost exclusively against blacks and Latinos, violating their Fifth and 14th Amendment rights to due process and equal protection.
Attorney General Holder and Judge Scheindlin moved us two steps closer to equal justice in America. We should be grateful to them for that.
Brian Gilmore is a writer for Progressive Media Project. Web site: www.progressive.org.