by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
President Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder are given false credit for the pending release of 6,000 drug offenders, when in fact “the administration has fought tooth-and-nail to limit and slow the inmate release process.” Meanwhile, the new chief at the Justice Department, Loretta Lynch, has made it clear she “will resist pressuring police to give the FBI detailed reports on killer cops.” These three give Black lawyers a bad name.
Obama’s Justice: Holder Fought Prisoner Release, Lynch Backtracks on Killer Cops
by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
“The administration’s consistent purpose has been to resist the growing, bipartisan consensus to dramatically reduce prison numbers.”
With considerable help from the corporate media, the Obama administration is claiming much of the credit for the pending release of about 6,000 federal prison inmates, most of them convicted under the now-defunct statute that mandated 100-to-1 penalties for possession and sale of crack cocaine, versus the powdered kind preferred by whites. In reality, Obama’s Justice Department has fought since 2011 to prevent most of these same, overwhelmingly Black inmates from being set free under the terms of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. Attorney General Eric Holder successfully argued against retroactive application of the new law, thus condemning the roughly 6,000 federal prisoners convicted under the old statute to serve out their draconian sentences, or to apply for individual review. Ever since, the Justice Department has given thumbs-up or thumbs-down to a steady stream of inmates seeking to prove their individual qualifications for release.
It is, therefore, a revision of history – a lie! – to describe the large, one-time, upcoming prisoner release, scheduled to take place between October 30 and November 2, as an Obama administration “initiative.” The administration’s consistent purpose has been to resist the growing, bipartisan consensus to dramatically reduce prison numbers.
The Obama team talks a good criminal justice reform game, but it’s always been purely rhetorical, and has actually lagged behind sentiments on both sides of the aisle in Congress. Even the Koch brothers and much of the libertarian and conventional Republican Party have come around to the position that the U.S. prison system is too large, too costly, and too much of an embarrassment to the U.S. image in the world.
The Obama administration has always been confident that it can control its own contrived image as reformers through the skillful use of language, the chronic amnesia of corporate media, and the shameless cowardice of the Black Misleadership Class, including the established civil rights networks. Virginia Black Congressman Bobby Scott introduced a bill in 2012 to make the Fair Sentencing Act retroactive, but got no support from Obama or Eric Holder, despite the fact that the duo were launching their own phony criminal justice reform offensive in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s killing. The administration intervened to stop a federal court from judicially imposing retroactivity, in 2013.
“Bobby Scott’s Fair Sentencing Act but got no support from Obama or Eric Holder.”
Subsequently, the administration has fought tooth-and-nail to limit and slow the inmate release process. Prisoners are required to petition a judge (giving advantage to the inmates with the best lawyers), while a federal prosecutor stands by to make the case for continued incarceration. It’s more like a parole board hearing, with the Justice Department shaping inmates’ access to the process and the outcome. The tens of thousands of inmates hoping for release or a reduction of sentence for a range of offenses under the Fair Sentencing Act will continue to undergo the one-at-a-time, drib-drab process, closely controlled by the Justice Department and federal prisons personnel.
Meanwhile, the president this year exercised his clemency powers to release a pitiful total of 68 prisoners, 22 drug offenders in March and 46 more in July. Not surprisingly, it was praised as the “largest clemency grant since the 1960s.” This small batch of prisoners, many of whom were described by Obama as having been “convicted under an outdated sentencing regime,” represented the tiniest fraction of the inmates that would have been released if the president had supported, rather than blocked, retroactive application of the Fair Sentencing Act.
Eric Holder has now returned to the corporate law firm splendor to which he is accustomed, replaced by Loretta Lynch, described in these pages by Bruce Dixon as “Condoleezza Rice with a Law Degree” – a corporate-judicial hit-woman endorsed by former New York law-and-order mayor Rudy Giuliani. Lynch’s entire history as a federal prosecutor ensures that Holder’s “too big to jail” doctrine will remain in effect. However, Lynch seems to have forgotten to bone up on Holder’s public pronouncements that gave the impression he favored requiring local police to submit reports on the civilians they kill. Holder described police refusal to supply data on use of lethal force as “unacceptable.” Last week, however, Lynch backtracked, telling NBC News: “One of the things we are focusing on at the Department of Justice is not trying to reach down from Washington and dictate to every local department how they should handle the minutia of record keeping, but we are stressing to them that these records must be kept.” When pressed as to her priorities, she said, “The statistics are important, but the real issues are: ‘what steps are we all taking to connect communities … with police and back with government?’”
“The Death In Custody Reporting Act is an empty letter as far as Lynch is concerned.”
Translation: The Lynch Justice Department will resist pressuring police departments to give the FBI detailed reports on killer cops, as part of the routine reports on local crime statistics that departments send to Washington, each year. That means Rep. Bobby Scott’s Death In Custody Reporting Act, which gives the Justice Department authority to withhold federal money from states that fail to send the data on killings by cops, is an empty letter as far as Lynch is concerned. She’ll take whatever information local police give her, but killer cops are not her priority – happy cops, are.
The bill was passed last December at the height of the Ferguson rebellion. As long as the brothers and sisters in the streets seemed to threaten the racist order, Holder and Obama kept singing their criminal justice reform duet. But, when the tempo of rebellion slows, the Democratic Party’s star Negroes revert to true form: servants of the Mass Black Incarceration State. Holder’s words of empathy with Black pain were crafted solely to disarm the gullible, but were never meant to have any impact on government policy and law – or even to carry weight in the halls of the Justice Department, itself. Loretta Lynch knew that Holder was bamboozling the #BlackLivesMatter folks, satisfying their “demand” that Black people’s issues be discussed and acknowledged, but rejecting any real change, in practice. She serves at the pleasure of her president, who is no doubt pleased his underlings understand that promises to Black people are mere rhetorical flourishes, and meant to be broken.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected].