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President Obama’s top aide, Valerie Jarrett, reportedly boasted to the black community that the administration sharply reduced the sentencing disparity for possession of crack cocaine instead of powder.
Jarrett made the remarks at a meeting of black journalists and columnists last weekend clearly aimed at Obama’s re-election efforts. Mainstream media outlets covering the event did not report on her comments regarding crack cocaine.
On Saturday, Jarrett engaged in a wide-ranging interview session with a group of journalists at the National Association of Black Journalists convention in New Orleans.
The Root, a website owned by the Washington Post aimed at the black community, reprinted a blog report by the Maynard Institute’s Richard Prince on Jarrett’s appearance at the convention.
Prince reported that at the meeting Jarrett outlined “what she considered the Obama administration’s successes.”
Continued Prince: “Among them funding for historically black colleges and universities; health care reform, which she said will disproportionately help African-Americans; and reducing disparities between penalties for possession of crack and for powdered cocaine.”
DeWayne Wickham, a writer for USA Today, reported on the event for the Coshocton Tribune.
He wrote Jarrett touted the sentence reduction for crack-cocaine disparity as a way to build a broad Obama re-election coalition, including African-Americans.
“To do this, Obama supporters need to unabashedly trumpet what the president has done for blacks – such as increased funding for education, universal health care and a sharp reduction in the sentencing disparity for possession of crack cocaine instead of powder, all things that Jarrett said have disproportionately benefited them.”
Jarrett’s cocaine remarks were not covered in the few mainstream media reports on the New Orleans event.
Even though the Washington Post-owned Root website reposted Prince’s blog mentioning the comments, the Post’s own article on the event did not touch on the subject. That article was titled “Obama has ‘genuine love for black community,’ senior adviser says.”
Politico covered the event by reporting Jarrett complained that public outbursts against Obama reflect the “coarseness” of society.
Jarrett’s crack cocaine boast was a reference to the Fair Sentencing Act, signed into law by Obama in August 2010. The law eliminated the five-year mandatory minimum sentence for possession of crack cocaine and reduced the disparity between the amount of crack cocaine and powder cocaine needed to trigger federal criminal penalties from a 100:1 weight ratio to 18:1.
The law essentially eased the penalties for those in possession of crack cocaine. In the decades prior to passage of the law, those arrested for possessing crack cocaine faced much more severe penalties than those arrested for possessing powder cocaine.
Some liberal commentators and nonprofit groups argued the disparity between the drug offenses was racially biased.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated the Fair Sentencing Act would reduce the prison population by 1,550 per year.
Obama himself has admitted to using cocaine and marijuana in high school and college. One of his first executive pardons as president was for a man convicted for crack cocaine.
With additional reporting by Brenda J. Elliott