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Obama's Disingenuous "Speak Out" on Trayvon Martin

by John Spritzler

July 19, 2013

President Obama just gave a talk to the nation about Trayvon Martin and the trial of George Zimmerman. Obama acknowledged a number of depressing facts about race and crime and poverty, and how these facts cause terrible outcomes like the death of Trayvon Martin. But Obama never mentined who is responsible for these depressing facts. Near the end of his talk, Obama gave some suggestions for what can be done.

But if he were at all serious about ending the racist perception of blacks as criminals, the President would have used this talk to call for the complete elimination of the disparity between the amount of crack cocaine and powder cocaine needed to trigger federal criminal penalties, from its current weight ratio of 18:1. As is well known, the pharmacological effect of the two forms of cocaine are the same for the same weight of drug. There is no scientific reason for any difference whatsover in the amount of crack versus powder cocaine that should trigger criminal penalties, any more than there should be between the amount of marijuana that triggers it when smoked versus swallowed with a brownie.

One of the main reasons why blacks and Hispanics are disproportionately in our prisons is because of this 18:1 (formerly it was 100:1) ratio in the law. A Congressionally directed "U.S. Sentencing Commission" in 1995 issued a report that found that nearly 90 percent of those sentenced for crack cocaine offenses were black, even though the majority of users of the drug were white. Poverty makes one more susceptible to being caught, which is a big factor in the discrepancy between arrest rates by race.

So why didn't Obama in his talk about Trayvon Martin call for the elimination of the 18:1 ratio that makes the "War on Drugs" so biased against black people, and that contributes so much to the "blacks are criminals" stereotype Obama lamented in his talk and that probably contributed to Trayvon Martin being killed? In his 2008 campaign Obama said this wide gap in sentencing "cannot be justified and should be eliminated." In his 2012 campaign, he boasted to blacks of having reduced the gap to 18:1. But when speaking to the entire nation, and in a section of his talk specifically about "what can be done," Obama remained dead silent about what is perhaps the most concrete first step that he--a man with the bully pulpit that only the President of the United States possesses--at that very moment in his talk should have called for: replacing 18:1 with 1:1.

Obama is about pretending to want, but not actually wanting, to make things better for ordinary Americans. Thus before he was president he said that the only sensible way to provide health care to all was by a "Medicare for all" or "single payer" system, not one based on insurance companies. Once in the Oval Office, however, Obama refused to even consider this sensible option and instead went for one that the insurance companies wanted, one that would force Americans to pay insurance companies for heath care and make them their big profits.

The poverty and unemployment experienced more, on average, by blacks than by whtes, is another one of the depressing facts Obama mentioned in his talk about Trayvon Martin. He cried crocodile tears about it. But the policies he enforces, from the bailouts of "too big to fail" banks and savage budget cuts to make the public cover the cost, to his appointing agents of Big Money--the very people who oversaw the shipping of decent jobs overseas and the use of technology to eliminate jobs and make workers unemployed or underemployed--to make key decisions in his administration, cause the poverty and unemployment he pretends to lament.

Obama, if he really cared about ending the conditions that lead to deaths of people like Trayvon Martin, would be using his bully pulpit to call for making our society truly equal. He would be telling the people who think the world should be run to make them profits that they are wrong. He would be calling for making our society one in which everybody who is willing to work (or study in preparation for working) will be guaranteed an opportunity to do so and, if they work or study reasonably, then guaranteed a standard of living equal to all others. He would be calling for making our society one with no rich and no poor; a society in which nobody is told that their willingness to "pitch in" economically doesn't matter and that if nobody can make a profit by hiring them they will just have to be unemployed or under-employed and very very poor.

Yes, this amounts to saying that Obama, if he really cared about what he says he cares about, would be a revolutionary. Of course he won't do that. But we should. It's time to start Thinking about Revolution.

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