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September 17, 2010

Symbol and substance in crack sentencing reform

The Oakland Tribune has this lengthy and interesting new article headlined "Though largely symbolic, crack-powder cocaine law change seen as social victory."  Here are excerpts:

On Aug. 3, President Barack Obama addressed that disparity at the federal level when he signed the Fair Sentencing Act, a law that reduced the long-standing, hotly debated sentencing gap that treats powder and crack cocaine differently.  The move excited proponents of racial equality who have long argued that coming down harder on a drug chiefly found in communities of color is essentially a modern-day form of Jim Crow-era segregation and persecution.

Though the new law represents a victory for racial justice advocates, the victory may largely be symbolic. Alameda County assistant district attorney Norbert Chu points out the Fair Sentencing Act will have no impact on prosecutions under state law, which is what most police patrolling Oakland streets are there to enforce....

As for federal prosecution, street-level drug interaction is largely coincidental, U.S. attorney's office spokesman Jack Gillund said.  "While (federal) investigators may encounter street-level dealers while combating gang violence or when they are engaged in a targeted enforcement effort, they don't patrol city streets looking for drug dealers; that mission is best handled by the dedicated men and women who serve daily in local and state law enforcement agencies," Gillund wrote in an e-mail.

However, the U.S. attorney's office does prosecute both large and small cocaine-enforcement cases, and it's "impossible to predict what possible impact this change may have on the Bay Area's problems with drugs," Gillund added.

September 17, 2010 at 05:42 AM | Permalink

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