At this point in the public debate about the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, we can safely say that Bill Clinton is not the major figure responsible for mass incarceration, as I have said before. But there are some legitimate criticisms that liberals such as my colleague Jack purposefully exclude in their analyses. Yes it is true that Clinton was not directly involved in incarcerating nearly 2 million Americans by the end of the decade, but he surely enabled states to do so. And what was he more directly involved in some may ask? Maintaining the infamous 100 to 1 crack to cocaine sentencing disparity. In his own words:
“Today I reject United States Sentencing Commission proposals that would equalize penalties for crack and powder cocaine distribution by dramatically reducing the penalties for crack.”
Bill Clinton’s signing of this bill is particularly troubling when considering my series of posts on his administration. For those who are unaware about this sentencing disparity, the 100 to 1 provision from the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 required a minimum sentence of 5 years for those possessing 5 grams of crack. For powder cocaine, an offender would have to possess 500 grams to receive the same sentence. A staggering 80% of those arrested for crack violations were black. White people are more likely to use cocaine than black people. More importantly, the report by the United States Sentencing Commission was released in the 1990’s, prior to the signing of the bill, and the report specifically recommended to reduce the disparity. Similar to the complaints of black leaders I discussed in my prior post, the black community was let down again:
“Civil rights organizations had led a telephone campaign to pressure the president to veto the bill. At a rally last week in Chicago, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson said that Mr. Clinton had the chance, “with one stroke of your veto pen, to correct the most grievous racial injustice built into our legal system.””
Rightly or wrongly, it should be no surprise that some black scholars such as Michelle Alexander still continue to reflect back on the criminal justice system under the Clinton administration. Maybe black people shouldn’t always trust their gut feeling, but as I have demonstrated again and again, certain white Democratic presidents have some explaining to do on their impact and potential impact on race.