Pubdate: Sun, 27 Apr 2014
Source: Dayton Daily News (OH)
Copyright: 2014 Dayton Daily News
Author: Leonard Pitts, Miami Herald
Page: A19


It swallowed people 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 they
imposed long, inflexible sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. But
the "war on drugs" didn't hurt drugs at all: Use 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 record of failure, observers have been demanding the
remedy. End the war. The Obama administration has been unwilling to go
that far, but apparently, it is about to do the next best thing: Send
the prisoners home.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced last week the government is
embarking upon a 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 will be
invited to apply for executive lenience to cut their sentences short.

It is a long overdue reform. 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 10th-story window.

For instance, a man named Scott Walker is 15 years into a sentence of
life without parole on his first felony conviction for selling drugs.
Meantime, thug bankers in gangs with names like Lehman Brothers and
HSBC commit greater crimes, yet do zero time.

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 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 - agencies, families, churches, civic groups - to
help them assimilate into life on the outside. 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. 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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