Pubdate: Sat, 31 May 2003
Source: Times Union (Albany, NY)
Copyright: 2003 Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation
Author: Adam Scavone
Bookmarks: (Racial Issues) (Rockefeller Drug Laws) (Tulia, Texas)


While Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was understandably reserved
in her critique of the problem of "perceived" racial disparities in our
judicial system, the facts point to real racial injustice as well.

The war on drugs is an unfortunate example of racial injustice. Drug use is
fairly steady across racial lines, with drug users making up between 10 and
15 percent of the population. At the same time, 55 percent of people
imprisoned for drug crimes across the country are black and Latino -Americans.

Just recently, after a nightmare that has gone on since November 1999,
Texas prosecutors have dropped their cases against 40 African-Americans in
Tulia, Texas, who were arrested on the word of a lone undercover officer
whose fabricated evidence was never corroborated or substantiated but was
deemed close enough to warrant prosecution.

As evidence of racial profiling began to emerge, suspicions grew. All of a
sudden, 10 percent of the town's African-Americans were in jail. When an
employer for one defendant produced time cards demonstrating that the
accused was at work, real concern emerged. Bank records from another
defendant demonstrated that she was not even in the state of Texas when the
officer allegedly bought drugs from her.

Nonetheless, 16 people remain behind bars based on highly questionable
evidence that is pending review by several agencies that seem to be in no
rush to get to the truth while people's lives waste away in steel and
concrete cages.

Justice O'Connor is absolutely right in stating that we need to achieve
"both the perception and the reality of equal justice." There are many
things that need to be done to reach these goals, and the first order of
business in New York is to repeal the Rockefeller Drug Laws and replace
them with educational opportunities, job opportunities and treatment for
those who need it.

While eliminated in policy, racial profiling needs to be eliminated in
practice and the rhetoric of "war" on drugs needs to be dropped. When more
than half of the people in prison on drug charges are minorities, a "war"
on drugs is tantamount to a "war" on minorities and is completely
unacceptable in our state and our society, and people's perceptions will
only change when the reality of the situation changes. Until then, mistrust
and suspicion will continue to stain the image of justice in America.


Clifton Park
- ---
MAP posted-by: Tom