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McKinney Leads CBC Letter Opposing John Walters for Drug Czar

October 5, 2001

Dear Senators:

As Members of Congress, we strongly urge you to vote against John Walters as Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. At a time that policy-makers at all levels of government are seeking to address racial disparities in the criminal justice system, John Walters denies that such disparities even exist. His extensive record is one of extreme insensitivity to the problems facing black Americans. We believe his views on race and crime make him unfit for a position that requires sensitivity to racial fairness.

Just six months ago in The Weekly Standard, Walters called it an "urban myth" that "the criminal justice system is unjustly punishing young black men." He went on to add, "Neither is it true that the prison population is disproportionately made up of young black men."

Racial disparities in the criminal justice system, however, are very well documented:

  • While African-Americans constitute only 13% of drug users, they represent 35% of arrests for drug possession, 55% of convictions and 74% of prison sentences.
  • Although whites and blacks use drugs at equal rates, black men are admitted to state prison for drug offenses at a rate that is 13.4 times greater than that of white men. In 15 states, black men are admitted to state prison for drug charges at a rate that is 20 to 57 times the rate of white men.
  • From 1986 to 1991, the number of white drug offenders in state prisons increased by 110%, but the number of black drug offenders incarcerated grew by 465%.
  • According to the federal Household Survey, "most current illicit drug users are white. There were an estimated 9.9 million whites (72 percent of all users), 2.0 million blacks (15 percent), and 1.4 million Hispanics (10 percent) who were current illicit drug users in 1998." And yet, blacks constitute 36.8% of those arrested for drug violations, over 42% of those in federal prisons for drug violations. African-Americans comprise almost 58% of those in state prisons for drug felonies; Hispanics account for 20.7%.

These disparities, and many others, call into question the fundamental fairness of the U.S. criminal justice system. The Director of the Office of National Drug Policy must be extremely sensitive to such issues. Mr. Walters, however, lacks such sensitivity.

We also find it troubling that a man who seeks to coordinate our nation's anti-drug efforts seems to view drug abuse as a problem mainly affecting inner-city blacks. In an op-ed in The Washington Times Walters wrote that "[addicts] are largely concentrated among blacks and live in our inner cities." He told the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1997 "it's not the experimental use [that is disproportional to blacks], it's the addicted and heavy users and that market is concentrated on black Americans. They're still bearing that cross."

Even a cursory glance at the facts, however, shows that drug abuse is a problem facing all communities:

  • The 1999 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse found the rates of current illicit drug use to be virtually the same across all major ethnic groups: 6.6 percent for whites, 6.8 percent for Hispanics, and 7.7 percent for blacks.
  • While four percent of white high-school students reported using cocaine in 1999, only one percent of black high-school students reported using cocaine.
  • While 28.8 percent of white high-school students reported being "offered, sold or given an illegal drug on school property" in 1999, only 25.3 percent of black high-school students reported the same.

John Walters has a long record in opposition to important reforms that could significantly reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system. While both President Bush and DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson have said they are willing to look at reforming mandatory minimums and concentrating more resources on a demand-side approach to drug abuse, John Walters has opposed these positions in the past. He has even actively opposed eliminating the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity. At a time that consensus is building in the White House and Congress to reform federal sentencing laws, we need a drug czar that is open to new ideas, not one that has already made up his mind.

We find that John Walters is both woefully ill informed on the facts of the day and insensitive to the needs of the African-American community. We strongly urge you to vote against John Walters as Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Sincerely,

__________________
Cynthia McKinney
Member of Congress
__________________
John Conyers
Member of Congress
__________________
Maxine Waters
Member of Congress
__________________
Barbara Lee
Member of Congress
__________________
Elijah Cummings
Member of Congress
__________________
Edolphus Towns
Member of Congress
___________________
Carrie Meek
Member of Congress
___________________
Major Owens
Member of Congress
___________________
Danny Davis
Member of Congress
___________________
Albert Wynn
Member of Congress
__________________
Bobby Rush
Member of Congress
__________________
Alcee Hastings
Member of Congress
__________________
Carolyn Kilpatrick
Member of Congress
__________________
Julia Carson
Member of Congress
__________________
Chaka Fattah
Member of Congress
__________________
Corrine Brown
Member of Congress
__________________
Robert Scott
Member of Congress
__________________
William Lacy Clay
Member of Congress
___________________
Melvin Watt
Member of Congress
___________________
Donald Payne
Member of Congress
__________________
Jesse Jackson Jr.
Member of Congress

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