Late last year I attended a lecture at Harvard University on Sentencing, Minorities and the Law. This panel discussion was sponsored by the Harvard Foundation and included Congressman Bobby Scott, Democrat from Virginia, Judge David Mazzone, Vice-Chairman of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, and Wayne Budd, former Associate Attorney General, now beginning his own term on the Sentencing Commission. These distinguished officials offered us worthwhile insights on justice and crime -- but the picture they painted was incomplete.
Scott criticized the "tough-on-crime" rhetoric used by many politicians; he instead advocates social programs aimed at crime prevention. Mazzone discussed the Sentencing Commission's mandate to make federal sentencing fair and equitable. Wayne Budd, a tough-talking prosecutor who brought civil-rights charges against the officers involved in the Rodney King beating, said the great failing of the criminal justice system is its lack of rehabilitation and of non-punitive alternatives to incarceration.
Budd also believes, though, that some people should be punished, and during his tenure as U.S. Attorney in Boston there was one criminal he was very proud to have taken out of commission: Darryl Whiting, a gangster who called himself God, sold cocaine by the pound, stole, murdered and controlled entire neighborhoods. But the worst thing Whiting did, according to Budd, was lure young people into lives of crime. Darryl Whiting was a negative role model for the youth of Roxbury, and Budd is proud to have put him in a jail cell.
Sitting directly in front of me was an African-American man who later introduced himself as Nathaniel Miller. Mr. Miller grew frustrated during the question and answer session, and when called on got up and made a speech about it. He was frustrated because he felt that what the panelists were saying "wasn't real," and that the reality is "people in the city are trying to survive." It was difficult to understand him, but in this room of mostly Harvard elite he lived closest to the problems being discussed , so I considered his voice important.
I had a question of my own, which I asked of Wayne Budd. I referred to Darryl Whiting, and pointed out that during the 20's and early 30's when there was alcohol prohibition, it was alcohol bootleggers like Al Capone who controlled neighborhoods and became powerful, negative role models corrupting America's youth. I asked if it's possible that today it's drug prohibition that is making negative role models like Darryl Whiting so wealthy and powerful.
Budd answered, "I assume you're asking if we should legalize drugs ... But Darryl Whiting stole. Darryl Whiting murdered. Darryl Whiting maimed. Darryl Whiting belongs in prison." Well, he does -- but that misses the point. Afterwards I approached Mr. Budd to tell him, "I want to assure you my sympathies aren't with Darryl Whiting, but I'm worried about a system that makes such people powerful." "So am I," he answered warmly, "I appreciate your comments."
Mr. Miller understood me. He noted that Budd had missed my point, adding "Al Capone took out some people too," (meaning Capone and Whiting both murdered in the course of conducting business). In a way we were doing similar things. He was challenging the reality in the presentation, while I was challenging not the reality, but the completeness. None of the speakers in this forum on crime addressed the way drug prohibition fosters criminality by creating a violent, lucrative black market. No mention was made of the swift and dramatic decline in violence that followed repeal of alcohol prohibition -- the only dramatic drop in crime this century.
The omission is a glaring one. Our 80 years of prohibition have seen a devastating increase in violence and the popularization of more and more potent forms of the very drugs we wish to control. The mass incarceration of African-Americans and other minorities in the Drug War has much to do with the alienation of inner-city populations from mainstream society and the police who are meant to serve them. Having grown up perceiving agents of law as enemies, many young people of the inner city choose role models who stand out in defiance of law -- like Darryl Whiting. Though Whiting now lives in a jail cell, most of his admirers wear prison time as a badge of achievement and don't expect to reach age 30. To them, Whiting is still the flashy dresser with the fancy car, the man with an empire, a shining example of glamour and achievement over the squalor and misery of the ghetto.
(Darryl Whiting is a native of Queens, N.Y. who moved to Boston in 1987 and quickly gained control over much of the inner-city cocaine trade through a combination of intimidation and generosity. Whiting used violence to control his organization and the Orchard Park housing development where he based his operations. He also sponsored concerts, barbecues, amusement park outings, Easter egg hunts, and even built a community center. In October 1991 he became the first defendant in Massachusetts to receive life without parole for a drug offense. Whiting's former customers now purchase cocaine from other dealers.)