We have it all wrong. Attorney General Jeff Sessions — the man rejected for a position as a federal judge for being too racist in the Reagan 1980s — is not a racist. See? He says so himself: Not a racist!
Maybe what Jeff Sessions meant is that he isn’t racist in context. You see, back home in Sessions’s native Alabama (where Sessions served as a United States attorney and state attorney general before his stint in the Senate) the way drug crimes like marijuana possession are policed is profoundly racist.
Nationwide, Black people are 3.73 times more likely than their white peers to be arrested for marijuana, according to data crunched by the ACLU. That’s bad. It’s also business as usual back in Sessions’s Alabama.
From AL.com (emphasis added):
“As of Oct. 17, according to Alabama Sentencing Commission numbers, the 220 inmates still in a state prison for first-degree possession of marijuana included 178 Black men and 39 white men… From 2011 to 2015, according to numbers from the Alabama Sentencing Commission, Black males accounted for 74 percent of the convictions in state court for felony marijuana possession. That’s 3,691 convictions of Black males compared to 956 convictions of white males over the same five-year span.”
Believe it or not, this is an improvement. Alabama has been on notice to reduce the number of inmates in its overcrowded prisons, so a number of nonviolent drug offenders have already been let go. But back in 2009, before the reforms began, there were as many people doing time in state prison for marijuana as there were prisoners convicted of manslaughter and third-degree robbery.
Police and prosecutors claim these modern-day marijuana prisoners are largely locked up because of probation or parole violations — which is apparently considered a valid reason to do hard time for a cannabis crime in Sessions country.
As it is, AL.com reports that Alabama is way too soft on pot for cops’ liking.
“Nobody goes to prison for marijuana possession anymore, said Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey. He said the changes in the way Alabama handles marijuana has gone even further.
What he’s referring to is a recent change to create a new class of felonies in Alabama — a so-called “Class D” felony. These felonies are punishable only by probation, which if violated, results in a prison term. So two relatively minor busts could result in prison time, and it’s still a felony either way!
This is still not good enough for Alabama hard-liners.
“We don’t have the ability to hold them accountable through sentencing,” said Barry Matson, Executive Director of the Alabama Office of Prosecution Services and District Attorneys Association.
This simply is not true. In Alabama, cannabis possession can absolutely result in prison. If someone is arrested with more cannabis “than [is] reasonable for personal use,” they can be charged with “first degree possession,” which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years.
And there is no clear threshold in Alabama law for what constitutes personal use. Instead, there is an informal rule of thumb police use to trigger the felony charge and subsequent felonies: one ounce.
“Anything over that,” said Jason Murray, commander of a local drug task force in Talladega County, in comments to AL.com, “we’re going to take a real hard look at you.”
And in 2015, police in Alabama took a hard look at another 900 people convicted of so-called “first-degree marijuana possession.” No racial data was available on those convictions, but there is no reason to posit that Alabama police have suddenly broken with tradition.
This is what passes as normal in Jeff Sessions’ hometown. That’s bad enough. Much worse is that these are the values the nation’s attorney general appears willing to foist on the rest of the country.
TELL US, are you concerned by the ACLU’s data on “racially biased” drug law enforcement?