The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 [the Act] was enacted for several reasons. One of the provisions of the act was to introduce mandatory minimum sentences for individuals who are convicted of possessing a particular amount of crack cocaine and powder cocaine. Individuals convicted with possession of 5 grams of crack would receive a mandatory minimum of 5 years in prison. Individuals convicted with possession of 500 grams of powder cocaine would receive the same 5 year mandatory minimum sentence. This ultimately means that an individual would need to be in possession of 100 times the amount of powder cocaine than that of crack cocaine to receive the same sentence. Congress justified this 100-to-1 sentencing disparity by stressing the serious social harms with which crack use was associated. Although crack and powder cocaine are the same chemical substance, crack sells more cheaply on the street and can be smoked, this induces a briefer, more intense intoxicating effect (Brown, 2004).
In 1986 when the Act was enacted, there were twenty-one African-American members of Congress. Of those twenty-one, eleven voted in favor of the Act. Although, as Kennedy mentions, we cannot understand the reasoning behind the votes because “a representative might be against certain portions of a bill but favor others sufficiently to support the legislation overall” (Kennedy, 1997, pg 370). As Kennedy states, we cannot come to understand the reasoning for voting for the Act, but is clear that prior to voting not one of the African-American Congressmen claimed that the bill was racial biased. However, before the Act was even introduced to Congress, the idea behind the crack epidemic was brought before them.
Charles Rangel, an African-American liberal Democratic representative from Harlem, New York, spoke before Congress in March 1986 (Kennedy, 1997, pg 371). His main concern when speaking was that he was frightened by crack because of availability and affordability of it to youths. Rangel brought forth the idea of the crack epidemic before Congress. This gave Congress a reason to support and later approve the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986.
After the Act was introduced to Congress, the fact that none of the African-American Congressmen brought forth the idea of racial discrimination, in Kennedy’s words, “speaks volumes”. Kennedy noted that these same Congressmen had been openly opposed to any legislation that had previously been brought forward that may have had traces of racial injustice. It is incredibly important to note that none of these men had any qualms with the 1986 Act. If there had been any doubt in their mind that the Act was racially discriminatory, surely they would have voiced their opinion.
Kennedy, along with the African-American Congressmen in 1986, may not agree with the disproportionality of sentencing, but does not believe it is racially motivated. He believes that crack is an epidemic and needs to be stopped. He also...