Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) blasted a former federal prosecutor on Friday for taking umbrage at the idea that drug-related prosecutions have a racial bias, in video from the Huffington Post.
“Quite frankly, I am personally offended when I hear charges of racism,” ex-Asst. U.S. Attorney for North Carolina Eric Evenson said during a House Judiciary task force hearing. “The laws are race neutral. We go where the battle is hottest. We represent people that are victimized by this activity. It doesn’t make any difference what neighborhood it is. I’ve never prosecuted anybody on the basis of race.”
At that point, Cohen, who arrived late to the meeting, said he was “incredulous” that Evenson said there was a federal “war on drug dealers,” rather than a “war on drugs.”
“Nobody denies the fact that the laws are race-neutral — but the fact is that the implementation of the laws is not race-neutral, and it is racial profiling,” Cohen told Evenson. “All laws are race-neutral since 1865, except for the South, which went ’til 1963. Then they were not race-neutral. But the implementation by people under cover of law, who arrest eight times more African-Americans for possession of marijuana than whites, is not race-neutral. Is that not a reality?”
“I understand that there’s a lot of statistics being thrown around,” Evenson began to respond, before Cohen cut him off.
“Yeah, like 99 percent of people who believe in climate change, but some people vote for the 1 percent,” he interjected. “But go back to the statistics.”
“I cannot argue the statistics,” Evenson said. “All I can tell you is that, on a daily basis I deal with drug agents that are black, white, Indian. I have drug dealers that are black, white Indian in our district. We have prosecuted wherever the evidence led us.”
According to the Post, a study (PDF) by the American Civil Liberties Union found that African-Americans are eight times more likely to be arrested for drug-related offenses than whites in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and the District of Columbia, and four times more likely to be arrested in more than one-third of the country.
Evenson appeared at the hearing on Friday on behalf of the National Association of Assistant United States Attorneys, which has opposed Attorney General Eric Holder’s push to reform guidelines regarding mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related offenses. He said Holder’s move would hurt prosecutors by limiting the ways through which they can pressure low-level drug offenders to cooperate.
“We will not be able to go after the biggest drug dealers unless we have witnesses,” Evenson was quoted as saying. “This is a hard, mean business we’re in.”
Watch Evenson’s exchange with Cohen, as posted on Friday, below.