Fulfilling a longtime wish-list item of criminal justice reformers, Hillary Clinton on Friday called for ending the sentencing disparity between powder and crack cocaine as part of a larger criminal justice reform plan aimed in part at winning support in the African-American community.
At an event with African-American leaders in Atlanta, Clinton said that the current system, which doles out far longer prison sentences for crack cocaine than for an equal amount of powder cocaine, is racially discriminatory since African-Americans are more likely to use crack.
The sentencing disparity between the two forms of the same drug are based on outdated research, Clinton argued. A 2010 law signed by President Obama reduced the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine from 100:1 to 18:1, but Clinton would eliminate it entirely to make it 1:1. Under her plan, one unit of crack cocaine would be treated the same as an equal amount of powder cocaine.
Clinton also called for an end to racial profiling in policing, according to the campaign aide. She proposed federal legislation to prohibit federal, state, and local police officers from relying on a person’s race when conducting routine or spontaneous law enforcement activities. She sponsored the End Racial Profiling Act in the Senate in 2001 and 2003, an aide noted.Clinton has made criminal justice reform a cornerstone of her 2016 presidential campaign, using the first speech of her campaign to call for an end to the “era of mass incarceration.” Her criminal justice reform plan includes a suite of policies, including universal police body cameras and others she has not yet announced.
The event kicked off an effort featuring Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights movement leader, along with activists like Jesse Jackson and black elected officials. Earlier in the day, Clinton spoke at a conference of ministers organized by Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition.
Clinton’s top rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders, has struggled to make inroads among black voters, and Clinton has worked to head him off at the pass wherever possible. Last week, her campaign rolled out a list of 50 current and former black mayors who support her.
Meanwhile, Clinton has been speaking to the mostly white voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and elsewhere about addiction problems, calling for a new approach that emphasizes public health over law enforcement to combat the issue.
Sanders outflanked her, at least for the moment, on drugs Wednesday night when he called for ending the federal prohibition on marijuana and letting states legalize the drug if they choose.