Mark Osler says No

Friends of Justice board member Mark Osler is featured in this USA Today article on the crack-powder sentencing disparity in the federal system. 

Federal sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine, a drug created for and marketed to a poor, predominantly African-American clientele, are one hundred times higher than sentencing guidelines for powder cocaine, the drug of preference among affluent, predominantly white users.  Osler, a former federal prosecutor and Baylor law professor, thinks this disparity should be eliminated completely.  I agree.

The article highlights the failure of the Obama administration to consider a single clemency appeal.  Thus far, the administration has refused to answer questions on the subject.  Although Obama is fully aware of the racist implications of the crack-powder sentencing discrepancy, he has also failed to address that issue since becoming president.

In a 2007 address at Howard University (in which he also demonstrated a nuanced grasp of then-current Jena 6 issue) Obama signalled his opposition to the 100-1 crack-powder sentencing discrepancy.  But that speech was intended for an African-American audience and was not widely publicized.  Now that his every word becomes grist for the culture war mill, Obama is reluctant to hand the opposition a potential weapon.

And make no mistake, responding to a single clemency petition or outspoken support for eliminating the crack-powder divide would open this president to a barrage of criticism. 

I attended a gathering this morning on the creation of a church in Arlington, Texas designed for ex-offenders.   Stan Basler, a pastor and attorney who leads the United Methodist Redemption Church in Oklahoma City asked a profound question: “Have we reached the point in our culture where vindictiveness becomes a virtue?”

You betcha!

That’s why a progressive politician like Bill Clinton ramped up the machinery of mass incarceration–he didn’t want to look soft on crime.

President Obama is following the same unfortunate (some would say, cowardly) path.

This is tragic.  Consider the sad story of Donna Stites.  Unless Donna is granted clemency she will die in prison.  Donna has so much to contribute in the free world and there is no earthly reason to keep her locked up.  But, in the current punitive environment, will Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels or President Obama even consider a clemency appeal? 

I hope so.  I hope Congress finds the moral courage to eliminate the crack-powder discrepancy.  I hope President Obama breaks with the politics of mass incarceration. 

But Obama won’t do the right thing without popular support. 

Thank you, professor Osler, for adding your voice to an important conversation.

2 thoughts on “Mark Osler says No

  1. “Have we reached the point in our culture where vindictiveness becomes a virtue?”

    The answer is yes Americans you have reached such a point. It is not just vindictiveness but racially target vindictiveness that is the epitome of white American virtue. I recommend the following Alternet article describing how racial animus fuels the tendency towards harsh sentences.

  2. Until someone passionately and effectively reveals the fact that prisons are making our streets and towns more unsafe than safe, we’ll never see these laws changed. Prison is where petty thugs get graduate degrees in depraved criminality. Prosecutors and politicians keep this a secret because a maintaining a revolving door of criminals is profitable for them. These abusive crack laws are creating criminals instead of removing them from our streets.

    If cops, lawyers and politicians were trained like engineers we wouldn’t have these problems.

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