Jun 5, 2012

Johnathan Capehart
By Johnathan Capehart -- Over the last three and a half years, there have been three silly political storylines that have driven me absolutely nuts because it was plainly apparent that they were not true. One was that author, reality television star and former half-term Alaska governor Sarah Palin was going to run for president in 2012. Another was that President Obama would swap out Vice President Biden in favor of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. And the most irksome of all is the complaint from African Americans that Obama ignores their concerns.

The latest manifestation of the Obama-doesn’t-care-about-black-people whine comes from Fredrick Harris. In a piece for The Post’s Outlook section headlined “Still waiting for our first black president,” which was adapted from his new book, the Columbia University professor makes a stunningly false argument.
Obama has pursued a racially defused electoral and governing strategy, keeping issues of specific interest to African Americans — such as disparities in the criminal justice system; the disproportionate impact of the foreclosure crisis on communities of color; black unemployment; and the persistence of HIV/AIDS — off the national agenda. Far from giving black America greater influence in U.S. politics, Obama’s ascent to the White House has signaled the decline of a politics aimed at challenging racial inequality head-on.
Those are all important issues. They must be addressed. The problem for Harris is that they are being addressed by the president. Not in the theatrical way Harris would like. But in the actions-speak-louder-than-words way of Obama.

Criminal justice disparities

In August 2010, the president signed the Fair Sentencing Act. This long-sought legislation reduced the glaring disparity in punishment for those charged with crack offenses and those with powder cocaine offenses. “For the past three decades, those arrested for crack offenses — mostly young, African American men — faced far harsher penalties than the white and Hispanic suspects most often caught with powder cocaine,” The Post editorial pointed out then. “A person found holding 500 grams of powder cocaine would face a five-year mandatory minimum; crack offenders would have to be in possession of a mere 5 grams to face the same obligatory sentence.”

That brings the glaring disparity in sentencing between crack cocaine and powder cocaine from 100-to-1 to 18-to-1. And it is perhaps the clearest example of injecting more fairness into the criminal justice system, particularly for African Americans. That Harris didn’t even acknowledge this is surprising and shortsighted.

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