My Crack Dealer

February 9, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

His name was James Brown (no not that James Brown), and I never actually met him. I was called as a potential juror at his trial. I was reminded of this because of the current proposals in Congress to reduce sentencing disparities in drug cases. Under the current law the same sentence that applies to 500 grams of cocaine applies to only 5 grams of crack.

The proposed change would allow some people convicted of crack offenses to have a chance for parole. Of course, the Bush administration’s attorney general, Michael Mukasey, is in favor of continuing the 100-1 rule. Under the new legislation, he said , “1,600 convicted crack dealers, many of them violent gang members, will be eligible for immediate release into communities nationwide.”

You’d think that on the fear thing, the Bushies had gone to the well once too often by now. But still Mr. Mukasey tells us that if sentencing is made rational, your “community,” no matter where you are in the nation, may be at risk of violent gang members.

My crack dealer James Brown might well have been the kind of person Attorney General Mukasey was talking about. He was a black man in his late twenties; maybe he was a member of a violent gang.

But he was charged with selling one vial for crack for $5 to an undercover cop.

Maybe he was in fact a real bad guy, a drug kingpin, and the only thing the cops could get him on was this small offense.

“He’s been sitting in jail for the last five months,” his Legal Aid lawyer told me. “He can’t make $750 bail.” Some kingpin.

As it turned out, Brown got lucky – one juror refused to go for the guilty verdict and hung the jury.

So that was my crack dealer. My state spent thousands of dollars keeping this guy in jail for several months and putting him on trial – a guy who was making $5 crack sales on a street corner. And then they wanted to spend another $200,000 or more to keep him in prison.

Would they try him again? I called the prosecutor to find out. “Probably,” he said, “Most of the cases we try are small ones like this.” Didn’t he think that was a waste of taxpayers’ money? His answer was, in so many words, “I don’t make the policy around here.”

Neither did Mr. Mukasey create the policy, but the policy he and his boss are advocating is equally wasteful and equally discriminatory. But then, George W. Bush never smoked crack, he just snorted cocaine.

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