Jeff Sessions Officially Reignites Civil War with his renewed War On Drugs
The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. About half of federal inmates are incarcerated on drug offenses. And many of them are serving mandatory minimum sentences that were created during America’s war on drugs.
In a recent memo, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who said in March that there was “too much of a tolerance for drug use,” called for prosecutors to charge offenders with the “most serious, readily provable offense,” deviating only in special circumstances and with the approval of a U.S. attorney general or assistant attorney general.
This is not just an effort to fight crime. The “War on Drugs” never has been. From its inception in the 1970s, the war on drugs has been a ruthless, relentless and naked war on minorities, especially African-Americans.
So it should come as no surprise that Sessions wants to escalate it.
Coretta Scott King, the widow of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., successfully urged Congress in a letter to block the 1986 nomination of Jeff Sessions for federal judge, saying that allowing him to join the federal bench would “irreparably damage the work of my husband.” The letter, previously unavailable publicly, was obtained recently by The Washington Post.
“Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States Attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens should not be elevated to our courts,” King wrote in the cover page of her nine-page letter. “Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters. For this reprehensible conduct, he should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship.”
Unfortunately, her letter was not enough to stop Sessions from being being bestowed even greater power under the Trump administration.
The Justice Department was planning to phase out its use of private prisons due to declining inmate populations and concerns about safety and security. But Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded a six-month-old Obama administration directive that sought to curtail the government's use of private prisons, saying in a Feb. 21 memo that the Obama move had "impaired" the U.S. Bureau of Prison's "ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system."
Obviously, this ties back into his efforts to imprison more people—and for longer. What’s particularly striking about this is that it’s even more extreme than mainstream Republicans.
Sessions memo itself suggests that the attorney general is concerned about running out of available space in the 122 prisons the BOP runs itself —but this runs counter to growing bipartisan consensus “that America was guilty of excessive incarceration and that large prison populations were too costly in tax dollars and the toll on families and communities.”
With 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s prison population, no other society in history has imprisoned more of its own citizens. There are half a million more prisoners in the U.S. than in China, which has five times our population. Approximately 1 in 100 adults in America were incarcerated in 2014. The vast majority – 86 percent – of prisoners have been locked up for non-violent, victimless crimes, many of them drug-related.
Louisiana just proved how cruel the drug war can be, as the state’s Supreme Court upheld an 18-year prison sentence without possibility of parole for possessing 18 grams of cannabis. In 2014, Gary Howard was convicted of “marijuana possession with intent to distribute” and a Caddo parish judge handed down the harsh sentence, labeling him as a “habitual offender” for a 2008 firearm possession conviction.
The Louisiana Supreme Court was convinced that the ‘intent to distribute’ charge was justified because Howard had the pot in five separate bags, even though “a prosecution expert conceded the marijuana could have been for Howard’s personal use” and “acknowledged it was possible the marijuana was purchased in the same form that police found it.”
Chief Justice Bernette Johnson blasted the “outrageous” judgment of her colleagues, who made an arbitrary decision to ruin Howard’s life.
“As a practical matter, in light of the inconsequential amount of marijuana found, imprisoning defendant for this extreme length of time at a cost of about $23,000 per year (costing our state over $400,000 in total) provides little societal value and only serves to further burden our financially strapped state and its tax payers,” wrote Johnson.
“Legally, the state proved nothing more than simple possession of marijuana in this case.”
Johnson went on to suggest that authorities “overreacted” because a firearm was found during Howard’s arrest, resulting in a charge for which he was later acquitted.
The fact that, in one state a person can be locked in a cage for 18 years for possessing a plant, while in other states a person can go to a store and legally buy the same amount of the plant, underscores a broken, thoroughly corrupt system.
For decades government has carried out an immoral War on Drugs, created for the purpose of stifling dissent, oppressing minorities and enriching the corporatocracy. To this day, federal government maintains cannabis as a Schedule 1 narcotic, and we see prohibition serving the same goals.
Fellow Democrats and cannabis and human rights activists, Jeff Sessions—a man who once said he’d thought the Ku Klux Klan was "OK until I found out they smoked pot—now possess an incredible amount of power. Our criminal justice system already unfairly and disproportionately targets black, brown and poor people. And with Sessions at the top, this is only getting worse. So like President Lincoln, we must rise up to end modern day slavery for the enrichment of the privilege class and to the delight of the son and daughters of the confederacy.
“Locking up people who don’t pose a threat to public safety is a waste of taxpayer money, a waste of resources and doesn’t deter crime,” said Steve Hawkins, the president of the Coalition for Public Safety, a sentencing reform advocacy group whose partners are as diverse as the liberal Center for American Progress and the conservative FreedomWorks.
Of course, the prison system and its abuses all lead back to greed. American slavery was technically abolished in 1865, but a loophole in the 13th Amendment has allowed it to continue “as a punishment for crimes” well into the 21st century. Not surprisingly, corporations have lobbied for a broader and broader definition of “crime” in the last 150 years. As a result, there are more (mostly dark-skinned) people performing mandatory, essentially unpaid, hard labor in America today than there were in 1830.
John M. Eason of Texas A&M University writes that the prison boom is a massive public works program that essentially transfers state taxpayer dollars to rural communities, where roughly 70 percent of prisons were built. “In 2014, states spent $55 billion on corrections, meaning the economic benefits to towns come at a high cost to taxpayers,” he writes in the Houston Chronicle.
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