According to federal government surveys, on an annual basis 14.4% of African-Americans and 12.4% of European-Americans use marijuana. Just 1.6% of blacks and 1.9% of whites use cocaine annually in America and barely 0.1% of blacks and 0.4% of whites use heroin. Only 0.4% of blacks and 1.4% of whites use stimulants, including meth, each year.
Yet blacks are almost three-and-a-quarter times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites. It takes an ounce (28 grams) of crack cocaine, favored in black neighborhoods, to trigger a five year mandatory minimum prison sentence, but you need a half-kilo (500 grams) of powder cocaine, favored in white suburbs to get that same sentence. While black people make up just 14% of all drug users, black people make up 37% of people arrested for drug use.
So it is a bit shocking to us to read the report from Huffington Post that former North Carolina Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Evenson told Congress, “The laws are race neutral… I've never prosecuted anybody on the basis of race,” in testimony to the House Judiciary Committee. Evenson also said, “Quite frankly, I am personally offended when I hear charges of racism,” because prosecutors like him “represent poor communities of color who are sick and tired of that drug trafficker abiding by that kind of behavior in the district.”
Huffington Post noted that when Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee pointed out the disparity in arrests by race for drugs in this country, Evenson replied, “I cannot argue the statistics. All I can tell you is that… We have prosecuted wherever the evidence led us.” Which, apparently, leads to black neighborhoods far more often than white neighborhoods.
Evenson was speaking for the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys which opposes Attorney General Eric Holder’s attempts to rein in mandatory minimum sentencing laws that have led to a skyrocketing prison population with no meaningful results in reducing drug dealing and abuse. Fearing the loss of the threat of a mandatory minimum, Evenson complained that “we will not be able to go after the biggest drug dealers.”
Evenson was joined by former federal prosecutor William Otis, who claimed that “What works is what we've done for the last 30 years. What fails is what we had in the 1960s and '70s, when we had a feckless and unrealistic belief in rehabilitation and not really a belief in incarceration.” It appears Otis can’t “argue the statistics” either, since “what works” has turned America into the largest prison state in world history. The United States has just 5% of the world’s population but almost a quarter of the world’s imprisoned, with half of those prisoners there because of the War on Drugs. And yet, drugs are more pure, more available, and cheaper than they were in the 1960s and 70s.