Pres. Obama signs act that lowers disparity in African American sentencing

President Obama signed into law Tuesday the Fair Sentencing Act, which narrows the huge disparity in punishment given to those convicted of possessing crack cocaine versus those found with the drug in powder form.

The gap has been of particular concern to the African-American community. Crack users tend to be poorer than those who use powder – and disproportionately African-American.

Under the old law, someone convicted of possessing five grams of crack cocaine received a mandatory five years in prison. Those convicted of possessing powder cocaine had to be holding 100 times that amount to get the same mandatory sentence.

The new law, passed through rare bipartisan compromise, narrows that 100 to 1 ratio to 18 to 1. Obama campaigned on a platform that included closing the sentencing gap, but some legal activists are calling for it to be narrowed even further.

Obama signed the bill in the Oval Office with a bipartisan selection of lawmakers on hand, as well as Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.. He did not make any remarks.

But White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters later that “the signing of today’s bill into law represents the hard work of Democrats and Republicans.”

“This is a good example of coming together and making progress on something that people had identified as a glaring blight on the law,” Gibbs said.

“If you look at the people that were there at that signing, they are not of the political persuasions that either always or even part of the time agree,” he continued. “I think that demonstrates the glaring nature of what these penalties had done to people and how unfair they were. And I think the president was proud to sign that into law.”

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