The readings in Part VIII of your textbook focus on the way that race, class, and gender inequality is maintained not only by entrenched habits of thought and cultural standards, but also by the law. Although American history is marked by a movement away from laws that discriminate in their content, some laws, and the way those laws are enforced, nevertheless have a discriminatory effect. In that vein, we have already discussed the way that stand your ground laws may fail to serve people of color. In a similar spirit of openmindedness and with an eye towards revisting heretofore unchallenged assumptions, let us turn our focus now to the discriminatory nature of incarceration in general and of incarceration for marijuana possession in particular.
As Angela Davis' essay in your textbook mentions, the number of incarcerated people in the United States is growing at an incredible rate, and women are among the fastest growing prison populations. According to additional data provided by the NAACP, in 2008 African-Americans and Hispanics made up 58% of all prisoners in the U.S., despite making up a much smaller segment of the population. Moreover, a disproportionate number of people of color are targeted for enforcement of drug laws, despite using drugs less frequently than whites -- and, due to mandatory minimum sentencing laws, many are sent to prison for possessing even very small amounts of marijuana that are clearly intended for personal use. The total picture is one that, to many, suggests a pattern of drug law enforcement and a standard of sentencing that limits opportunity and perpetuates race and class divides. For additional reading on the subject, including the sources I mention here, consult the following (you may also complement these sources with those that you find on your own, of course):
In part in an effort to repair the damage done by mandatory minimum sentencing laws as spelled out in these and related sources, yet presumably finding that legislation that would change the laws would not be forthcoming from Congress, in 2013 the White House and the Justice Department changed their prosecutorial procedure for federal crimes -- no longer, they announced, would low-level, non-violent offenders be prosecuted for all charges or the most obvious charges of which a federal prosecutor could reasonably find guilt. This presumed target of this move is to decriminalize marijuana possession when it is held for personal use. You can find the White House's press release on the subject here:
Your journal entry topic is this: is decriminalizing marijuana in this way a good way, in your opinion, to address discrimination in the manner that drug laws are enforced? Why or why not? Is it a good way to help members of historically disenfranchised communities to achieve a better place in society? Why or why not? Lastly, are you comfortable with the White House deciding which laws to enforce -- even when greater equality can be achieved this way -- or would you prefer that the Justice Department uphold the laws passed by the legislature? Why or why not?
Your entry should be 300-600 words in length.