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Rolling back drug war apartheid in Connecticut

On a day's notice, over 50 Connecticut residents drove from far and near to tell their elected officials to vote and pass a racial justice bill that equalizes crack and powder cocaine sentencing. In the late-night hours of June 20, 2005, State of Connecticut House Bill 6635 unanimously passed in the Senate. Attached to HB 6635 was an amendment that would equalize the crack and powder cocaine 5-year mandatory minimum trigger at 28 grams.

"It feels like a graduation ceremony," wrote New Haven organizer Barbara Fair. "It was no easy battle to win. There was great opposition, but we hung in there and proved to ourselves what we can do when we stay committed, no matter how the outcome looks. We refused to give up until we got what we sought! It was about JUSTICE, and that's what we got."

Fair explained the need to pass this legislation in a letter she wrote earlier to inspire members of the state's faith community to pressure lawmakers to take action:

"Hi all. For those who may not be aware, a coalition of people and organizations have fought tenaciously for over a year to overturn the crack vs. cocaine policy that impacts negatively on people of color in America.

"Under the current policy, someone possessing or selling crack (which is a cheap form of cocaine found in inner cities) receives 100 times the punishment than someone selling or possessing powder cocaine - which is the drug of choice for those in the suburban areas of our nation.

"This legislation needs to be repealed, and legislation that equalizes the punishment must be in place. We are not advocating drug use or sales. As a matter of fact, I am strongly opposed to drug use and sales of any kind, including those prescription drugs with all their side effects, sold by individuals in three-piece suits."

By the time Connecticut's Legislators were ready to write a fair crack/powder law, individuals from the community, the Black and Latino Caucus, Churches & Faith Based Institutions, white progressive Legislators, the Congressional Black Caucus, international activists, and the governor's office agreed in rare unity that a change was needed.

Fair noted, "Our dynamic, consistent, and 'driven organizing' brought us this year's victory!"
Victory's momentum must become energy for next year. The passing of the crack and powder cocaine disparity reform has set the stage for the rise of another community movement. Eventually, such a unified effort will put an end to the racist policies of mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses. Future goals include elimination of felony records for non-violent persons after five years of good conduct in the community after incarceration.
"No matter the outcome, we have only just begun to fight against the apartheid system of justice in Connecticut," insisted a jubilant Barbara Fair.

(Editor's note: on July 11, Governor M. Jodi Rell (R-CT) signed a compromise bill, HB 6975, to revise the sentencing guidelines for crack and powder cocaine in Connecticut. The original bill, HB 6635, which Governor Rell vetoed, would have set the amount of crack or powder cocaine that triggers a mandatory minimum sentence at 28 grams. The compromise bill that finally passed sets the trigger for both at 14 grams.)

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