While decrying the “disintegration of the African-American family,” Fox News host Bill O'Reilly touted failed drug policies that experts say disproportionately incarcerate black men and break apart families.
On the July 22 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly lamented the alleged lack of action by President Obama and civil rights leaders on the issue of out-of-wedlock births in the black community. O'Reilly went on to attack “race hustlers and limousine liberals” who “yell about the number of black men in prison for selling drugs,” saying the claim that black men are targeted by drug laws is “one of the biggest lies in the history of this country”:
But the “harsh mandatory prison time” that O'Reilly called for on drug offenses disproportionately affects black men and actually exacerbates the separation of black families.
The Drug Policy Alliance pointed out that "[s]ince the 1980s, federal penalties for crack were 100 times harsher than those for powder cocaine, with African Americans disproportionately sentenced to much lengthier terms." The Drug Policy Alliance has also noted that:
From 1980 to 2007 blacks were arrested for drug law violations nationwide at rates three to nearly six times higher than whites." Widely adopted in the 1980s and '90s, mandatory minimum sentencing laws have contributed significantly to the number of people of color behind bars. 12 Before mandatory minimums, the average federal drug sentence was 11 percent higher for blacks than for whites. Since federal legislation instituted mandatory minimums in 1986, federal drug sentences have been 49 percent higher for blacks.
2.7 million children are growing up in U.S. households in which one or more parents are incarcerated. Two thirds of these parents are incarcerated for nonviolent offenses, primarily drug offenses. One in nine black children has an incarcerated parent, compared to one in 28 Latino children and one in 57 white children.
A 2009 Washington Post column by Courtland Milloy pointed out that the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, which has “subjected tens of thousands of black people to lengthy prison terms for possessing ridiculously small amounts of crack cocaine,” has contributed “mightily to the destruction of low-income African American families and neighborhoods”:
“If you want to know why black children are overrepresented in foster care at four times the rate of the national population, then look no further than the mass incarceration of black people,” Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP, told me recently. “The vast majority of them are nonviolent drug users, many first-time offenders. Instead of providing them with the treatment they need, we send them to prison, often breaking up their families in the process.”
“There are about 10,000 federal crack and powder cocaine cases a year, two-thirds of them involving the lowest-level offenders in the drug trade,” Eric E. Sterling, president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, told me. “If you look at the average sentence imposed on low-level offenders and the amount of crack cocaine involved in those cases, then compare that to the average sentence given to high-level offenders and the amount of powder cocaine involved in those cases, you'll find that the low-level offenders are being punished 300 times more severely than the kingpins.”
In 2007, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, 81 percent of those convicted for crack offenses were African American, though only 25 percent of crack users are black. In other words, law enforcement officials have become so focused on busting small-time black drug users that almost everybody else in the drug trade gets a free ride.
The ACLU has further noted that, although “whites outnumber blacks five to one and both groups use and sell drugs at similar rates,” black men are significantly overrepresented in the criminal justice system, comprising “74% of those imprisoned for drug possession.”
Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree added that the criminal justice system is “putting people who have committed low-level offenses, who are perfectly capable of being rehabilitated, away for lengthy sentences and turning them into hardened criminals; destroying families and communities; and callously throwing away lives.”