A Nation Divided with Liberty and Justice for Some
by Leonard Pitts
It swallowed people up.
That's what it really did, if you want to know the truth. It swallowed them up whole, swallowed them up by the millions.
In the process, it hollowed out communities, broke families, stranded hope. Politicians brayed that they were being "tough on crime" -- as if anyone is really in favor of crime -- as they imposed ever longer and more inflexible sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. But the "War on Drugs" didn't hurt drugs at all: Usage rose by 2,800 percent -- that's not a typo -- in the 40 years after it began in 1971. The "War" also made America the biggest jailer on Earth and drained a trillion dollars -- still not a typo -- from the treasury.
Faced with that stunning record of costly failure, a growing coalition of observers has been demanding the obvious remedy. End the War. The Obama administration has been unwilling to go quite that far, but apparently, it is about to do the next best thing: Declare a ceasefire and send the prisoners home.
Nobody knows yet how many men and women that will be. Easily thousands.
Combined with last year's announcement that the government would no longer seek harsh mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, this may prove the most transformative legacy of
But it is not enough.
For instance, a man named
We have, Taibbi argues, evolved a two-track system under which crimes committed while wearing suit and tie -- or pumps -- are no longer considered jailable offenses. Taibbi said recently on "The Daily Show" that prosecutors have actually told him they no longer go after white-collar criminals because such people are not considered "appropriate for jail."
Who is "appropriate"? Do you even have to ask?
Black people. Brown people. Poor people of whatever hue.
Thousands of whom are apparently coming home now. One hopes there will be a mobilization -- government agencies, families, churches, civic groups -- to help them assimilate into life on the outside. But one also hopes we the people demand reform of the hypocritical system that put them inside to begin with.
These men and women are being freed from insane sentences that should never have been imposed, much less served. Contrary to the pledge we learned in school, it turns out we are actually one nation divided, with liberty and justice for some.
So yes, it is good to see the attorney general dismantle the War on Drugs. But while he's at it, let him dismantle the War on Fairness, too.
Available at Amazon.com: The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap