By Barney Blakeney
I probably shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was reading a news report about the sentencing of the first of nine suspects involved in the local college illegal drug ring Charleston police busted last year. According to the report a circuit court judge gave 24-year-old Benjamin Nauss two years’ probation instead of five years in prison after Nauss pleaded guilty to charges of possession with intent to distribute illegal drugs. Now, Lord knows I don’t want to see nobody’s child to go to jail for illegal drugs, but the first thought that came to my mind was had that kid been Black, his arse would be doing five to 10 years easy!
Last year a Charleston police sweep netted nine arrests, over $200,000 in cash, five pounds of weed and 1.5 pounds of cocaine in addition to pills valued at over $150,000. And all of that came from a bunch of college students. That drug bust took me back to my University of South Carolina days. There was more dope on USC’s campus in 1975 than Carter’s got liver pills! I’ll bet that hasn’t changed. And I’m not just talking about USC. That goes for just about any majority white college campus – as last year’s drug bust illustrates.
But this ain’t about illegal drugs at white colleges. What galled me about Nauss’ sentence were the obvious disparities in sentencing among Black and white offenders. I got this information from Wikipedia with two clicks on the computer: “In 1998, there were wide racial disparities in arrests, prosecutions, sentencing and deaths. African-Americans, who only comprised 13% of regular drug users, made up for 35% of drug arrests, 55% of convictions, and 74% of people sent to prison for drug possession crimes. Nationwide, African-Americans were sent to state prisons for drug offenses 13 times more often than white men.
“Crime statistics show that in 1999 in the United States blacks were far more likely to be targeted by law enforcement for drug crimes, and received much stiffer penalties and sentences than whites. A 2000 study found that the disproportionality of black drug offenders in Pennsylvania prisons was unexplained by higher arrest rates, suggesting the possibility of operative discrimination in sentencing.
“A 2008 paper stated that drug use rates among Blacks (7.4%) were comparable to those among Whites (7.2%), meaning that, since there are far more White Americans than Black Americans, 72% of illegal drug users in America are white, while only 15% are black.
“According to Michelle Alexander, the author of The New Jim Crow and a professor of law at Stanford Law School, even though drug trading is done at similar rates all over the U.S., most people arrested for it are colored. Together, African American and Hispanics comprised 58% of all prisoners in 2008, even though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately one quarter of the US population. The majority of prisoners are arrested for drug related crime, and in at least 15 states, 3/4 of them are black or Latino people. A 2012 report by the United States Sentencing Commission found that drug sentences for black men were 13.1 percent longer than drug sentences for white men between 2007 and 2009.”
Back to Nauss – and I don’t want to pick on that brother – I ain’t mad at him. The report I read said he has a good lawyer, is working and attending college somewhere else and “is moving on with his life.” That’s cool. But I wondered how many Black kids who don’t have the money or wherewithal to hire a good attorney would be able to “move on with their lives” after a bust like that?
That’s our fault. Black folks are worrying about some monument on Calhoun Street while folks are disenfranchising our kids every day! Sure the past is important, but so is the present! I just read a news report about the 2017 class of South Carolina students regarding college readiness. Post and Courier reporter Brenda Rindge wrote a story revealing that underserved students in South Carolina especially, should be concerned about scoring below the national average on the ACT which measures the likelihood that students will perform well academically in college. While predominantly white Academic Magnet High and Charleston County School of the Arts students aced the test, where do you think predominantly Black Burke, North Charleston and Stall high school students ranked?
I recently saw something else that said the major employers in new industries to the Lowcountry such as Boeing, Volvo and Mercedes import about 50 percent of their workforce from other regions of the country because the local workforce just can’t cut it. Those are jobs that our taxes provided incentives to create, but our kids aren’t filling them. Our kids are forced to resort to illegal drug activities to make a dollar. And when they get caught, they become fuel for the local prison industrial complex.
I got no problems with that Nauss boy getting a break – or with the others following him who also will get breaks. But my ex’s kid, a smart boy whom I love dearly and who also was a local college student, pulled an eight-year bid because he got mixed up with some other knuckleheads and made bad choices. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t keep him out of jail. Wrong color, baby. I wasn’t surprised then either.