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Civil Rights Groups Urge Schumer to End War on Drugs NOW

Today, key civil rights groups and leaders in the Black community called on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to keep his pledge to pass the EQUAL Act, a bipartisan bill that eliminates the unfair sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. With only a few weeks left in this Congress, civil rights groups who were instrumental in creating a filibuster-proof level of support for this legislation are warning that the window to act on this support and end one of the worst vestiges of injustice in America's drug policy is closing.

For years, despite the drugs being chemically identical, it took 100 grams of powder cocaine to receive the same sentence as 1 gram of crack cocaine. This has led to people of color being given far longer prison sentences than white counterparts arrested for the same drug. This disparity was changed to 18:1 in 2010 thanks to the Fair Sentencing Act. But that still leaves thousands in prison who would be released already if they had been arrested with powder cocaine. The EQUAL Act would end the disparity completely, treating crack and powder cocaine the same. Already, the EQUAL Act has passed the House by an overwhelming margin of 361-66, and has enough cosponsors in the Senate to defeat a filibuster. Leader Schumer encouraged advocates over the last year to secure ten Republicans to co-sponsor the EQUAL Act to demonstrate its chances. To date, there are 11.

In May, Leader Schumer held a press conference with community leaders and prosecutors in front of the courthouse in New York City where he promised to make the EQUAL Act a priority, citing his goal to “balance the scales of justice." The coalition of state and national groups that stood with him that day and have pushed leadership to act for over two years,  is now pushing for delivery on that promise. This September, leading New York civil rights groups signed a letter urging the Senate Leader to take action.

“Since becoming the Senate Majority Leader, Senator Schumer has been presented with very few pieces of legislation that have passed the House with as much bipartisan support as the EQUAL Act. In such divided times, something that can unify both wings of Congress cannot be dismissed or allowed to die on the vine, especially when so many thousands of lives depend on it,” said Dream.Org Vice President for Political Strategy Janos Marton. “The EQUAL Act is a long overdue remedy to a War on Drugs that everyone agrees has failed this country. And yet, even though voters largely rejected ‘tough on crime’ campaign rhetoric, the incoming House Majority has already expressed hostility to the popular criminal justice reforms that advanced under President Trump. That means our chance is right now. This is not a pie in the sky bill. It has already passed the House, has significant Republican support in the Senate, and is popular with voters. Keeping families divided and futures in jeopardy because of a law we know isn’t fair and doesn’t work is unjustifiable. That is why Senator Schumer, like so many others, committed to passing this legislation, and it is why we cannot let him forget this promise.”

“As a New Yorker, I was proud to stand with Leader Schumer and civil rights advocates to call for passage of the EQUAL Act, a critical racial justice and public safety bill. I was heartened to see Leader Schumer's passion that day, and every time we've discussed the EQUAL Act with him and his team," said Inimai Chettiar, Federal Director, Justice Action Network. "Now, with the clock ticking, we hope he will follow through and add his muscle as Majority Leader toward getting this bill across the finish line."

Led in the Senate by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rob Portman (R-OH) and Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL), the EQUAL Act is co-sponsored by Majority Leader Schumer and Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Rand Paul (R-KY), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Jon Ossoff (D-GA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Chis Coons (D-DE), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Richard Burr (R-NC), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Roy Blunt (R-MO), and Ed Markey (D-MA). Additionally, the EQUAL Act has support from law enforcement groups, civil rights organizations, faith-based groups, and directly impacted individuals and their families.

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