For nearly three decades, federal laws mandated that a person found holding 500 grams of powder cocaine would face a five-year mandatory minimum; crack offenders would have to be in possession of only five grams to face the same sentence. Crack is cheaper to manufacture, and many who thought the law was racially biased pointed to an estimated 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine convictions. In August of 2010, Congress enacted the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. The law was designed to reduce that disparity to an 18-to-1 ratio.
To say Hip Hop has a sordid history with crack cocaine would be a bit of an understatement to say the least. While there are plenty of tracks like N.W.A.’s “Express Yourself” and Public Enemy’s “Night of the Living Baseheads” that frown upon crack and the damage it does to families and communities, there are a plethora of offerings like “The 10 Crack Commandments” or “1-900-HUSTLER” that take a more flattering look at selling crack.
Rapper, philanthropist and occasional actor Saigon is in a unique perspective to comment on the law, as he is also a former inmate. During some downtime, at A3C, we spoke to Sai about The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, which went into effect November 1.
“The crack era is pretty much over,” Saigon noted. “The damage is done, but you want to change the laws now? Ain’t no more crackheads! Crack is the old drug, so that’s why they’re like, ‘Okay, everyone’s already in jail. We’ve fucked the whole black community up, so now we can change these laws back.’ They should have repealed that shit back in the 80’s when there was a crack epidemic and everything was fucked up.”
A report by the New York Times estimates that 1,800 people were eligible for immediate release Tuesday, when the law went into effect. Ten-year prison terms are now handed down for offenders carrying 280 grams or more, and the mandatory minimum sentence has been eliminated. Still, some experts agree with Saigon that the legislation will continue to impact a disproportionately high number of African Americans.
“We have a tendency to forget we’re black in America,” Saigon added. “People have this perception that they love us now. It wasn’t too long ago when we couldn’t even use the same fucking bathroom! My mother was alive when segregation was still legal, and she used to have to sit in the back of the bus. My mother couldn’t go to the same schools as some white people and get that fucked up education. So you’re telling me in only 50 years, that now they love us and everything’s great? Nah, they got us more fucked up now by saying, ‘Oh you’re free.’ But there’s nothing free in this country.”