Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has done to Obama on mandatory minimum sentencing what Putin did to him on Syria — outmaneuvered him.
Paul, with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has sponsored the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013 which would allow judges greater flexibility in sentencing federal defendants where mandatory minimums are considered unnecessary. For years, civil rights advocates have argued that mandatory minimum sentences had a disproportionate impact on blacks and Hispanics.
Most Republicans refused to get involved fearing they would be considered soft on crime and pandering to blacks and Hispanics.
Most took a “who cares” attitude: “They are not going to vote for us anyway and my voters really don’t care.”
Ironically, Obama took the same tack using an “I have their votes any way” rationale in his presidential campaigns and administration.
Why stir the pot on incarceration rates when he made so little references to issues impacting the black community in the first place?
Obama had no excuse for not doing a Rand Paul during his first two years. He had a Democratic House and Senate, a black Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, John Conyers, D-Mich., and a black attorney general.
There was no better time to propose federal legislation on the issue.
But, that might have appeared like bending over too far to assist blacks in prison and, after all, he was not the president of “Black America.”
The closest he came was asking for a review of mandatory minimum sentences safely buried in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2010. It directed the U.S. Sentencing Commission to submit a report within a year to the House and Senate judiciary committees.
Now, five years into the Obama presidency, Attorney General Holder has proposed a new “policy” where certain nonviolent drug offenders will no longer be charged with offenses that impose severe mandatory sentences.
The problem is that while Holder wants to change policy, the mandatory minimum laws at the root of the problem are still on the books.
Why not change the law, Mr. President? The chorus certainly has been loud enough.
Joshua Dubois, former director of Obama’s Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, has said: “As of 2004, more black men were denied the right to vote because of a criminal record than in 1870, when the 15th Amendment was ratified, giving blacks the right to vote.”
National Urban League President Marc Morial wrote that disproportionate arrests and unequal sentencing have had a devastating impact in black communities: “African-American men are six times more likely to be incarcerated than whites. More African-Americans are in prison or on probation today than were enslaved in 1850.”
Despite these and many more voices for remedial action, Obama has not sent any proposal to Congress for a change in the law.
Months ago he was sent a letter signed by over 100 entertainers, civil rights leaders, and media establishment figures asking him, among other requests, to support the principles of Paul’s bill.
Did he take leadership on the issue with a press conference supporting the Paul-Leahy legislation?
Not so for Rand Paul.
In recent testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Paul echoed the words of author Michelle Alexander in her best-selling 2010 book, "The New Jim Crow,"comparing the war on drugs to “Jim Crow.”
Paul said t
hat today “a third of African-American males are still prevented from voting because of the war on drugs.” He went on to point out that the “majority of illegal drug users and dealers nationwide are white
. . . but three-fourths of all people in prison for drug offenses are African-American or Latino."
When was the last time we heard a liberal Democrat talk like that in the modern era? Do you think you will ever hear Obama dare use that kind of comparison? I doubt it.
His reference to racial profiling following the Zimmerman verdict probably used up his racial identity chits.
The issue of the disproportionate impact of the war on drugs on blacks, Hispanics, and the poor compared to white middle- and upper-class users and possessors — including the president’s Hollywood and Upper East Side New York entertainment elite friends, some of whom signed Simmons’ letter — has been the topic of discussion for years.
There is no good reason why Obama could not have done years ago what Paul and Leahy are doing now.
The question now is how many of the entertainment and political elite who signed the letter to Obama will send a letter to Rand Paul thanking him for his bill his candid testimony?
That includes the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton; NAACP President Benjamin Jealous; National Urban League President Marc Morial; Harry Belafonte; former NAACP Chair Julian Bond; and entertainers LL Cool J, Jennifer Hudson, Susan Sarandon, Roseanne Barr, Chris Rock, and Kim Kardashian to name just a few of the signatories.
Don’t hold your breath!
That would be too much like the doing the right thing.
Besides, why embarrass their “leader” by giving credit to a conservative Republican for doing what he failed to do?
Clarence V. McKee is president of McKee Communications, Inc., a government, political and media relations consulting firm in Florida. He held several positions in the Reagan administration as well as the Reagan presidential campaigns and has appeared on many national and local media outlets. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more reports from Clarence V. McKee — Click Here Now.
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