(NEW YORK, NY)– Thursday, leading New York civil rights and criminal justice organizations sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) pushing for a way forward for the EQUAL Act’s passage in the Senate, and urging action on the bipartisan legislation in the first quarter of this year. The EQUAL Act is a critical criminal justice reform measure that would finally and fully eliminate the racially unjust federal sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses, one of the worst vestiges of the failed War on Drugs, which has devastated Black and poor communities in New York and across the country.
In addition to support from diverse civil rights organizations, the measure has strong backing from key law enforcement leaders, and bipartisan support in the Senate and House of Representatives.
In September, the EQUAL Act passed the House of Representatives by a resounding 361-66 vote, demonstrating broad, bipartisan support ranging from members of the Freedom Caucus to the Progressive Caucus. In the Senate, where the legislation was introduced by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL), cosponsors of the EQUAL Act include Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Rand Paul (R-KY), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Jon Ossoff (D-GA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Alex Padilla (D-CA), and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY).
Inimai Chettiar, Federal Director of Justice Action Network, the country’s largest organization dedicated to bipartisan criminal justice reform, and former Justice Director of the Brennan Center for Justice, made the following statement regarding the letter:
“As a New Yorker, I am proud to have Majority Leader Schumer as my Senator and I am grateful for his commitment to making the criminal justice system fairer for all. I look forward to working with the Senator and discussing avenues to pass the EQUAL Act into law.
“Republicans, Democrats, civil rights, and law enforcement groups all support the passage of this bill. We ask Leader Schumer to continue the momentum surrounding the EQUAL Act and prioritize the passage of the legislation as soon as possible.”
Janos Marton, National Director, Dream Corps JUSTICE:
“For decades, the ‘War on Drugs’ took the approach that only extremely harsh prison sentences would solve America’s drug problem, a policy solution that we now recognize is not the answer. That’s why New York amended its notorious ‘Rockefeller Drug Laws’ in 2004 and 2009, a period which preceded a decade of both declining prison numbers and falling crime rates, showing that justice and safety can work hand in hand. Following the EQUAL Act’s massive support in passing the House of Representatives, we are asking Senator Schumer to bring some of the same common sense reforms to federal drug policy by bringing EQUAL to a vote and passing it in the U.S. Senate.”
Melissa Moore, Director of Civil Systems Reform, Drug Policy Alliance: “The sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine – despite the chemical structure of the substances being nearly identical – is an unacceptable, harmful relic of drug war hysteria that has magnified racial disparities in the criminal legal system and continues to disproportionately impact communities of color – including communities here in New York. Even though the majority of crack cocaine users are white, Black people are more likely to be convicted of exorbitantly long crack cocaine offenses, while white people receive much less severe powder cocaine sentences. Congress must act to undo this grave injustice and shift our nation’s approach to drugs away from criminalization and toward policies that are instead rooted in science, compassion, and public health.”
The letter was signed by the NAACP New York State Conference, New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, New York Urban League, Hispanic Federation, Drug Policy Alliance, Dream Corps JUSTICE, and Justice Action Network.