Doing Time: Crack, Poetry, and the United States Supreme Court

Dear Readers,

I’m seeking a better dance with time, are you?  So are hundereds of thousands of prisoners, inside behind racist mandatory minimums, listening for their baby’s voice in that long line of women sending their boo on lock a shot on Cherry Martinez’s Sunday night show (New York City’s Power 105.1).  

A better dance with time.   


The year is winding its way to a close, three weeks exactly till the ball drops, champagne glasses clink, and resolutions get etched into the stone of our flowing lives.  Just 21 more days till 2008 and the New York Times has the audacity to keep coming out with new news.  🙂

December 10, 2007

Two visions of today’s news, according to the New York Times website:

1.  United States Supreme Court Says No To Harsher Sentences For Crack: (My headline) 

Today, in Kimbrough v. United States and Gall v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court took it upon themselves to emerge out of denial around the explicitly racist sentencing policies this country has been issuing for the past two decades.  The Court, led by Justice Ruth B. Ginsburgh, said judges have more flexibility to make sentencing decisions based on the facts of the case at hand than ever, since the first wave of “mandatory minimums.”  

The Court heard two cases today, both addressed the power of judges to ease out from under the strong arm tactics of mandatory minimum sentences.  Both cases saw 7 out of 9 Supreme Court judges saying no to racism in mandatory minimums, no to harsher sentences for crack than for cocaine, no to putting black people and poor people away for longer than the rich and the white.  2 justices said they disagreed with this good move, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.  Pawns. 

1986 saw Congress’s first major legislative response to the flood of crack-cocaine that had hit the streets of hoods nationwide earlier in the decade.  That response was called the Anti-Drug Abuse Act.  A couple years earlier in 1984, Congress had established the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which, according to the Families Against Mandatory Minimum’s website, had been “busy working on federal sentencing guidelines for all crimes.” But it was the ADAA that changed America’s drug policy and criminal justice system with a vengence. 

The 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act is where it became not only okay but mandatory for folks to get the “same five-year minimum for possessing 5 grams of crack as for 100 times as much powdered cocaine.”  Also, the ADAA signed, sealed, and delivered sentencing power to prosecutors when it used to be in the hands of judges.   

100 to 1.  Damn.  

Of the Court’s decisions today, law professor and popular policy blogger, Douglas Berman, said “the U.S. Supreme Court is right now the most pro-defendant appellate court on criminal sentencing issues in the nation. Whatever one thinks about the Court’s purported moves to the right on other issues, in the arena of criminal sentencing, federal defendants certainly should be more hopeful arguing before the current justices than before any other group of appellate judges.”  

Hell yeah.  A ray.   

Here’s a peak at the magnitude, the numbers that stand to be affected by we’re talking about.  The Sentencing Commission is supposed to meet tommorow in Washington, seems they’ve been feeling like it ain’t so great that everyone and their moms knows their policies are racist.  You could tell because they recently issued new guildelines, dropping the average sentence for cocaine possession about a year, from 10 years to 9 years. 

Tommorow the Commission is going to decide if the reduction should be made retroactive.  “If the answer is “yes,” some 19,000 prisoners could have their sentences reduced.” (Stout, NYT)

19, 000.  And that’s just the tip.   The fact that we have a long way to go ain’t lost on me.  Notice, if you will, how the NY Times article in question, reporter David Stout, keeps affectionately referring to cocaine as “powder.”  Where’s crack’s nickname?  There ain’t none.  “Crack” is one of the most vilified words in modern culture.  The media induced fear of it fueled so much bad policy.  So, when Stout and the New York Times chose to phrase the issue at hand with these cases as “crack vs. powder,” it just goes to show how tackling racism in criminal justice is  but one frontier, media next, hearts and minds to follow. 


Alright, next up: The “most emailed article” on today’s NYT website:

2.  “The 53 Places to Go in 2008”

This was the “most emailed article” of today’s paper.  Look, most folks I know travel to countries in the global south and the Middle East because that’s where our families live, not because its hip.  But, still, this frivolous look at hot spots for 2008 is a succint lil geography lesson, and fun to boot.

“Just 21 more days till 2008 and the New York Times has the audacity to keep coming out with new news.”

 Sometimes I feel like they oughta just take a couple days off, dedicate an issue or two to chillin out, maxing, relaxing all cool, and all shooting some b-ball outside of the school.   Would it hurt for our mainstream news sources to check back in with stories of particular interest, follow through, or shit, self-evaluate, in public? 

But as my girl says, don’t hate the player, hate the game.  Alright then, feel me on this:

I love staying abreast of what’s going on in the world.  Worldwide awareness is a direct threat to status quo systems that would have us nationwide bored while unhonorable wars unfurl.  I ain’t gonna lie, it’s hard to keep up with the paper.  Plain and simple, there’s a lot of fucking news out there.  Local, state, national and international events, and almost as many diverse sources of information as there are stories.  But even when it don’t feel like it, there is time for us to keep up and reflect. 

i make time

like dali

to learn my




short cuts

inside of me


hiking trails

holes in the chain link fence

i make time to learn about me


if i didn’t

i would be caught


-“i make time like dali,” by roopa singh

Capitalist architechts of this era would have us concede without question control over our time and the pace of our day.  But to do so would be conceding too much. 

Salvador Dali painted clocks, their spines, melting. 

Dali, his paint brush on that canvas, gave expression to the death of time as rigid, and gave voice to the rebirth of time as fluid.  He illuminated a new horizon of time told not by clocks but by mountains. 

Stick with me in the coming weeks, as I take the time to keep up on the day, while issuing forth brand new Best of 2007 news. 

You’ve just read the most recent installation of “All the News That’s Fit to Flip,” by NaXaL/roopa singh.  Keep joining me for a series of posts that will keep you up on the newest news AND give you time to sing, “I reminisce, I reminisce,” all the way into the New Year.   





3 thoughts on “Doing Time: Crack, Poetry, and the United States Supreme Court

  1. Peter says:

    Amy Winehouse read this one, no doubt. But forgot she was across the pond! She’s not too detail oriented. Hell she’s lucky she can stand up straight. I admire her more each day. Britney shaved her head then got a weave. Embrace, don’t deny!

  2. Peter says:

    Dali was good at questioning the rigidity and perception of ‘borders’. Myself, I just ask: Ever wonder why your fingers just…end? And it doesn’t matter how long your legs are, just as long as they can reach the ground.

  3. Peter says:

    I thought I was in the clear with those 53 places. Then -bam- NYC is mentioned last.
    I’d like to mention 53 places I have been and enjoyed, but damn I would have to stretch. Like a place within a place. Like the cafeteria in the MET, or the reading room at the NYPL, but not the bathrooms in either. Nasty nasty.
    And stay out of Times Square. How are the days with sleaze and peep shows different from the new ones with Disney Broadway and Bubba Gump/Applebees? You’ll leave both with empty pockets, feeling like ya got ripped off / f*kked over.

    Ok that’s all. For now. Digest each and chew thoroughly.

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