Bill To Address Racial Bias in Cocaine Sentencing Stalls in CA Legislature

Press Release May 26, 2004
Media Contact

Simeon Gant at 916-444-3751 or Glenn Backes at 916-202-2538

SACRAMENTO — Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally (D-Compton) today, shelved his bill that would have equalized punishment for possession of cocaine base (“crack”) for sale with the same crime involving powder cocaine. Current sentencing guidelines result in a pattern of racial discrimination with African-Americans serving longer prison sentences than Latinos and Whites convicted of similar crimes.

The Assembly was divided over the measure that would have reduced the sentence for possession of crack cocaine with intent to sell from 3-5 years to 2-4 years, same as powder cocaine.

“I am sorely disappointed with legislators who would not support this social justice measure,” said Simeon Gant of the Drug Policy Alliance, “There is a clear racial inequity in our current laws. Fortunately, Mr. Dymally is adamant about bringing the issue back to the legislature next year.”

If passed, the bill would have also allowed judges equal discretion to provide alternative sentencing for first time offenders.

Although African-Americans account for only 6.4% of the state census, statistics from the Attorney General’s office indicate that African Americans accounted for 66.5 percent of crack cocaine convictions in 2000 and 2001. Whites made up only 3.4 percent of such convictions.

The disparity in sentencing and the racial breakdown of crack versus cocaine convictions, results in a criminal justice system in which African-Americans are serving significantly longer sentences than whites for the same crime.

Dymally proclaimed, “The current laws are racist, stupid and costing us millions. They must be changed.”

“We see this as a continuing campaign for social justice and sentencing reform in California,” said Glenn Backes, director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s California Capital office. “We have more than half the votes to pass this bill. We will bring this bill back next year. We will not allow racist policies to go unchallenged.”

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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