ARICANGLOBE – After 55 months as U.S. attorney general, Eric Holder made what could have been a groundbreaking speech – if only he’d made it 50-some months ago and followed it up with four and half years of the persistent, wide-ranging action needed to begin undoing and unraveling the prison state.
Let’s stand Holder’s and this administration’s expressions of concern over mass incarceration alongside its actual record of exercising power. When we do, Holder looks a lot like a lying hypocrite, and the administration looks like it’s playing Black America for a nation of chumps.
Holder merely says that he’ll instruct federal prosecutors not to file drug charges that, under federal law, invoke the mandatory minimum sentences in small-scale cases where the feds see no violence or gang affiliation.
Federal prosecutors don’t have to follow these instructions – which can be quietly revoked at any time by Holder or any future attorney general. None of it affects drug prosecutions under state law.
Changing a few rules and calling for a Department of Justice study would be a good start when you have and intend to use your next seven-plus years in office to follow it up and make it stick. But more than half the Obama administration’s time is up – including 24 months when they held majorities in both the House and Senate.
Holder’s and Obama’s Pattern
Once or twice a year – generally but not always in front of Black audiences – they pretend to have newly discovered that police forces and prosecutors around the country routinely profile and stalk Black males. They publicly admit that Black and Brown people are arrested more often, charged more aggressively, sentenced more harshly and serve longer sentences than Whites. Holder uncovered the fact that the U.S. locks up too many people for too long, and that mass incarceration ravages and punishes entire communities.
What Holder and the Obama administration will NOT discover is a way to reduce the budget of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which grew 4 percent in this year of budgetary austerity. They won’t find a way to NOT open that new federal Supermax prison in Illinois, or a way to close an existing torture facility like the one in Florence, Colo.
They aren’t looking for ways to use federal law enforcement and corrections funding to encourage states to provide educational opportunities and decent medical care to the 2 million-plus in state and local prisons and jails.
After the 2010 passage of the Fair Sentencing Act, and court decisions which say its provisions ought to be retroactive back to the 1980s, President Obama could have simply commuted the sentences of those who have already served excess prison time under the old and outlawed 100-to-1 crack vs. powder cocaine penalties.
Obama’s Done Nothing
What has the Obama Justice Department actually done? It has refused to actually reduce the sentences of prisoners already serving time.
In July 2011, after resisting pressure from the families of prisoners serving unjust time, Holder announced sentence reductions would be implemented, but only retroactive to August 2010. That hasn’t happened either. Instead, the Obama Justice Department argued that the old, unfair crack vs. powder sentences just continue to apply.
The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with the Justice Department and declared that sentence reductions should go back at least to 2003 and perhaps to 1987. The Justice Department is still opposing this, and appears set to take it up to the U.S. Supreme Court – the same gang that overthrew the Voting Rights Act.
Connected With Locals
Black Agenda Report reported on a Reuters story that a pipeline exists between the National Security Agency’s surveillance and local police departments around the country through the Drug Enforcement Agency, the federal police agency explicitly created to prosecute the war on drugs. (The DEA is part of Holder’s Justice Department.)
DEA manuals, the copyrighted Reuters story says, instruct their operatives to tell local cops they must conduct “parallel investigations” to effectively launder the illegal evidence against suspects, and that they should conceal its existence from judges and prosecutors. This would be called conspiracy and perjury if anyone else but DEA and local cops did it.
Since the drug war principally targets non-Whites and non-White communities, it’s absolutely certain that disproportionate numbers of Black and Brown people have been effectively framed with this illegally acquired and laundered evidence.
The president observed that Trayvon could have been his son or even himself 35 years ago.
The attorney general shared with us that as a Black father he must carefully instruct his young sons as to how to comport themselves in the presence of aggressive cops.
But Holder and Obama are not philosophers, pastors or teachers. They are the two most powerful Black men in the U.S. They’ve been in actual power 55 months now, with a little over 40 to go. Their actions reveal their expressions of concern and feeling our pain are no more than politically expedient drive-by gestures to keep Black America in line.
The rest of our useless Black political class is quiet, too. The NAACP, the Urban League, the National Action Network and all the usual corporate-funded suspects have not said a mumbling word on the Department of Justice’s three-year fight to keep crack defendants in jail serving longer sentences.
Maybe they’re all too busy getting ready for the 50th anniversary of the historic 1963 March on Washington for Jobs, Justice and Freedom. The president is speaking there. What he says and how he looks saying it seems a lot more important than what he and his attorney general actually do.
By: Bruce A. Dixon