I just received my March 2012 issue of Essence Magazine and was stopped by an opinion piece done by this activist
Kemba Smith Pradia writes about the obtuse sentencing in drug cases that involve black women. When she was younger, she was sentenced to 294 months under archaic crack cocaine laws. Even though it was her boyfriend at fault and she was not handling drugs, she had to take the bullet. Luckily, Former President Clinton commuted her sentence in 2000.
The 1986 crack cocaine laws are unbalanced and obviously targeting a certain population of the United States. Five grams of crack, “about the weight of two sugar packets,” carries an automatic 5 year punishment. According to Pradia, a defendant handling powdered cocaine would have to have 500 grams to receive the same sentence.
Who is effected? Blacks, obviously. If you’re wealthy enough to have cocaine, you’re also wealthy enough to stay out of prison. Black women, who are “first time, non violent drug offenders” get penalized the most. Pradia cites that those who being sentenced “preform low-level trafficking functions” and “wield little decision-making authority and have limited responsibility.”
Activist Angela Davis, former Black Panther and Communist Party member, believes the fundamental reason for targeting black women is that someone has to fill the vacuum of “America’s Enemy.” In a lecture that I listened to called Race, Class and Incarceration (The Prison Industrial Complex), Davis explains that since the Vietnam war, America’s battle against Communism has been weakened and the ferver is no longer there. Aside from Cuba, there really are no more commies to fight.
The prison industrial complex fills the need to have an enemy. The more people we fill these prisons with, the better we feel about ourselves. It’s as though our problems just magically disappear. The “racialized criminal” is the new enemy. The young black or latino man and now the young black or latino woman.
Women who were once on welfare cannot expect those same benefits any longer because welfare in America is so vilified. Welfare is seen as New Communism since these nonworking women are “stealing” money from the American taxpayer.
Well, now there is no welfare. What can women of color do? They can’t afford to go to school, (hell, hardly anyone can go to school anymore) they have no skills, nor do they have reliable childcare to ensure they are able to do the aforementioned. So I ask again, what can women of color do?
Davis says, women turn to “alternative modes of survival.” Drugs and the sex industry. There’s doesn’t sound like there is a real push to help women who turn to these alternatives and there certainly isn’t a help for those who get swept into prisons. We wash our hands of them and a new generation of children will most certainly grow up motherless.
I’m really glad that Essence Magazine highlighted Pradia’s story and I want to hear more stories like her’s. We need to know these women as humans, instead of numbers filling up prisons. They have stories and aspirations for a life of freedom and opportunity.
If you want to get involved in the fight, Essence recommended checking out these place for more information: