Blacks are eight times more likely to be arrested than whites for marijuana possession, according to stats compiled by the ACLU. The disparity is greater in three states and the District of Columbia, while nationally, African Americans are 3.73 times more likely to undergo arrests than whites for illicit narcotic use.
Despite these overwhelming statistics recited by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and black congressmen, federal prosecutors still deny there is a racial component to enforcement, arrest and incarceration of drug offenders in America.
North Carolina Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Evenson told the panel — which included pro-reform African-American legislators Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) — that 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.”
“Quite frankly, I am personally offended when I hear charges of racism,” said Evenson. “The laws are race neutral, we go where the battle is hottest, we represent people that are victimized by this activity. It doesn’t make any difference what neighborhood it is. I’ve never prosecuted anybody on the basis of race.”
Evenson did not seem to convince Cohen or the other Democratic members of the panel.
“To say that poor communities of color support profiling, investigative, and charging drug policies that disproportionately impact them, cripple their communities, and ignore white collar crime does not comport with reality,” Conyers said in a statement after the hearing. “We need to focus on rehabilitation and deterrence in ways that work, rather than stubbornly sticking to retribution and incapacitation, which has not worked.”
Evenson was representing the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys, an organization that vehemently opposes Attorney General Eric Holder’s desire to further reform mandatory minimums. The NAAUSA claim that they target only the most serious criminals and circulated a letter from former federal counter-narcotics officials who boasts that they “served in the war on drugs.”
Evenson seemed particularly concerned that the loss of mandatory minimums would strip federal prosecutors of one of their key leverage points against drug offenders. Faced with tough minimums, many feel forced to cooperate.
“We will not be able to go after the biggest drug dealers unless we have witnesses,” he said. “This is a hard, mean business we’re in.”
He and another former federal prosecutor, William Otis, said the U.S. should stick to harsh mandatory minimum punishments.
“We know what works and we know what fails. 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,” Otis said. “What works is what we’ve done for the last 30 years.”