Pubdate: Sun, 27 Apr 2014
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 2014 The Seattle Times Company
Author: Leonard Pitts Jr., The Miami Herald
Page: A18


It swallowed people up.

That's what it really did, if you want to know the truth. It swallowed
them up whole, swallowed them up by the millions.

In the process, it hollowed out communities, broke families, stranded
hope. Politicians brayed that they were being "tough on crime" - as if
anyone is really in favor of crime - as they imposed ever longer and
inflexible sentences for nonviolent drug offenses.

But the "War on Drugs" didn't hurt drugs at all: Usage rose by 2,800
percent - that's not a typo - in the 40 years after it began in 1971.
The "War" also made America the biggest jailer on Earth and drained a
trillion dollars - still not a typo - from the treasury.

Faced with that stunning record of costly failure, a growing coalition
of observers has been demanding the obvious remedy. End the War. The
Obama administration has been unwilling to go quite that far, but
apparently, it is about to do the next best thing: Declare a cease
fire and send prisoners home.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced last week that the government
is embarking upon an aggressive campaign to extend clemency to drug
offenders. Those whose crimes were nonviolent, who have no ties to
gangs or large drug rings and who have behaved themselves while
incarcerated. They can apply for executive lenience to cut sentences

Nobody knows yet how many men and women that will be. Easily

Combined with last year's announcement that the government would no
longer seek harsh mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug
offenders, this may prove the most transformative legacy of Obama's
presidency, excluding the Affordable Care Act. It is a long overdue

But it is not enough.

As journalist Matt Taibbi observes in his new book "The Divide:
American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap," Holder's Justice
Department has declined, essentially as a matter of policy, to
prosecute the bankers who committed fraud, laundered money for drug
cartels and terrorists, stole billions from their own banks, left
taxpayers holding the bag, and also - not incidentally - nearly
wrecked the U.S. economy. But let some nobody get caught with a joint
in his pocket during a stop-and-frisk and the full weight of American
justice falls on him like a safe from a tenth-story window.

We have, Taibbi argues, evolved a two-track system under which crimes
committed while wearing suit and tie - or pumps - are no longer
considered jailable offenses. Taibbi said recently on "The Daily Show"
that prosecutors have actually told him they no longer go after
white-collar criminals because such people are not considered
"appropriate for jail."

Who is "appropriate"? Do you even have to ask?

Black people. Brown people. Poor people of whatever

Thousands of whom are apparently coming home now. One hopes there will
be a mobilization - government agencies, families, churches, civic
groups - to help them assimilate into life. But one also hopes we the
people demand reform of the hypocritical system that put them inside
to begin with.

These men and women are being freed from insane sentences that should
never have been imposed, much less served. Contrary to the pledge we
learned in school, it turns out we are actually one nation divided,
with liberty and justice for some.

So yes, it is good to see the attorney general dismantle the War on
Drugs. But while he's at it, let him dismantle the War on Fairness.
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