Mandatory Minimums Don't Deserve Your Ire
Jeff Sessions’s policy won’t lock up harmless stoners, but it will help dismantle drug-trafficking networks.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is being tarred as a racist—again—for bringing the law fully to bear on illegal drug traffickers. Mr. Sessions has instructed federal prosecutors to disclose in court the actual amount of drugs that trafficking defendants possessed at the time of arrest. That disclosure will trigger the mandatory penalties set by Congress for large-scale dealers.
Mr. Sessions’s order revokes a 2013 directive by former Attorney General Eric Holder telling prosecutors to conceal the size of traffickers’ drug stashes so as to avoid imposing the statutory penalties. Contrary to the claims of Mr. Sessions’s critics, this return to pre-2013 charging rules is neither racist nor an attack on addicts.
The impetus to eliminate open-air drug markets has historically come from law-abiding residents of minority neighborhoods, as books by both Michael Fortner and James Forman have documented. In 1973 a Harlem pastor named Oberia D. Dempsey called for mandatory life sentences for heroin and cocaine dealers, because the “pusher is cruel, inhuman and ungodly. . . . He knows that he’s committing genocide but he doesn’t care.” In 1986 Brooklyn Congressman Major Owens introduced a bill to increase federal crack penalties. “None of the press accounts really have exaggerated what is actually going on,” he said. In 1989 Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson pledged to make “the drug dealer’s teeth rattle” and proposed seizing dealers’ assets.
Today people living under the scourge of open-air drug dealing still face the constant threat of violence. Only months ago Chicago mourned 11-year-old Takiya Holmes....
This piece originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal