Five years

A Reading Note

Alexander notes the disparity between sentencing laws for drunk driving and crack cocaine, the former a much greater threat to public safety:

In response to growing concern—fueled by advocacy groups such as MADD and by the media coverage of drunk driving fatalities—most states adopted tougher laws to punish drunk driving. Numerous states now have some kind of mandatory sentencing for this offense—typically two days in jail for a first offense and two to ten days for a second offense. Possession of a tiny amount of crack cocaine, on the other hand, carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in federal prison.

Alexander, The New Jim Crow, page 206

Five years versus two days. Five. Years.

The vastly different sentences afforded drunk drivers and drug offenders speaks volumes regarding who is viewed as disposable—someone to be purged from the body politic—and who is not. Drunk drivers are predominantly white and male. White men comprised 78 percent of the arrests for this offence in 1990 when new mandatory minimums governing drunk driving were being adopted. They are generally charged with misdemeanors and typically receive sentences involving fines, license suspension, and community service. Although drunk driving carries a far greater risk of violent death than the use or sale of illegal drugs, the societal response to drunk drivers has generally emphasized keeping the person functional and in society, while attempting to respond to the dangerous behavior through treatment and counseling. People charged with drug offenses, though, are disproportionately people of color. They are typically charged with felonies and sentenced to prison.

Alexander, The New Jim Crow, page 206

So here’s how a law (or laws) can be employed in a racist manner while maintaining a colorblind facade. I can only hope that that facade depends upon our not seeing through it.

Related books

The New Jim Crow

Michelle Alexander

“We have not ended racial caste in America, we have merely redesigned it,” writes Michelle Alexander, in her damning history of mass incarceration.