The NAACP President’s Case for Criminal Justice Reform
Question: What’s the most important thing Obama could do for black Americans that he hasn’t done yet?
Ben Jealous: The biggest piece of the agenda that doesn’t seem to be really even on the radar screen is serious criminal justice reform, serious criminal justice reform. Black people are 15% of crack users in this country. We use crack like every other group at about direct correlation with our percentage of the population. White people are 65% of the crack users in this country. White people are 5% of the people locked up for using crack, black people are 85% of the people locked up for using crack. Yeah, that issue, he was very clear when he was campaigning was — that that disparity was unacceptable and the disparity that compounds it, which is that the punishments for using crack are 100 times stiffer than for using powder, even though it’s the same drug as cocaine.
So, we would like to see him speak out on criminal justice issues. … In the last decade, I guess the good news, if you will, is that black drug arrests were down 20%. The other news is that white drug arrests, the bad news, were up 40%. The war on crystal meth that we are seeing right now, if you look at the footage, which is typically poor white people being locked up, engaged with the police and locked up. It’s literally a film negative. It’s just like it’s flipped from what we saw on the war on crack 20 years ago in poor black people. That’s not progress.