Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Pitts: Finally, a ceasefire in the ‘War on Drugs’

By Leonard Pitts Jr.

The Miami Herald

First Published Apr 28 2014 07:58 am • Last Updated Apr 28 2014 07:58 am

It swallowed people up.

That’s what it really did, if you want to know the truth. It swallowed them up whole, swallowed them up by the millions.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

In the process, it hollowed out communities, broke families, stranded hope. Politicians brayed that they were being "tough on crime" — as if anyone is really in favor of crime — as they imposed ever longer and more inflexible sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. But the "War on Drugs" didn’t hurt drugs at all: Usage rose by 2,800 percent — that’s not a typo — in the 40 years after it began in 1971. The "War" also made America the biggest jailer on Earth and drained a trillion dollars — still not a typo — from the treasury.

Faced with that stunning record of costly failure, a growing coalition of observers has been demanding the obvious remedy. End the War. The Obama administration has been unwilling to go quite that far, but apparently, it is about to do the next best thing: Declare a ceasefire and send the prisoners home.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced last week that the government is embarking upon an aggressive campaign to extend clemency to drug offenders. Those whose crimes were nonviolent, who have no ties to gangs or large drug rings and who have behaved themselves while incarcerated will be invited to apply for executive lenience to cut their sentences short.

Nobody knows yet how many men that will be. Easily thousands.

Combined with last year’s announcement that the government would no longer seek harsh mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, this may prove the most transformative legacy of Barack Obama’s presidency, excluding the Affordable Care Act. It is a long overdue reform.

But it is not enough.

As journalist Matt Taibbi observes in his new book "The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap," Holder’s Justice Department has declined, essentially as a matter of policy, to prosecute the bankers who committed fraud, laundered money for drug cartels and terrorists, stole billions from their own banks, left taxpayers holding the bag, and also — not incidentally — nearly wrecked the U.S. economy. But let some nobody get caught with a joint in his pocket during a stop-and-frisk and the full weight of American justice falls on him like a safe from a tenth-story window.

For instance, a man named Scott Walker is 15 years into a sentence of life without parole on his first felony conviction for selling drugs. Meantime, thug bankers in gangs with names like Lehman Brothers and HSBC commit greater crimes, yet do zero time.


story continues below
story continues below

We have, Taibbi argues, evolved a two-track system under which crimes committed while wearing suit and tie — or pumps — are no longer considered jailable offenses. Taibbi said recently on "The Daily Show" that prosecutors have actually told him they no longer go after white-collar criminals because such people are not considered "appropriate for jail."

Who is "appropriate"? Do you even have to ask?

Black people. Brown people. Poor people of whatever hue.

Thousands of whom are apparently coming home now. One hopes there will be a mobilization — government agencies, families, churches, civic groups — to help them assimilate into life on the outside. But one also hopes we the people demand reform of the hypocritical system that put them inside to begin with.

These men and women are being freed from insane sentences that should never have been imposed, much less served. Contrary to the pledge we learned in school, it turns out we are actually one nation divided, with liberty and justice for some.

So yes, it is good to see the attorney general dismantle the War on Drugs. But while he’s at it, let him dismantle the War on Fairness, too.



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.