Congressman Cohen Questions Expert Witnesses at a Hearing on Sentencing Reform

June 17, 2021
Press Release
Says the War on Drugs was and is “racist, racist, racist”

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, today questioned witnesses at a Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security hearing on “Undoing the Damage of the War on Drugs: A Renewed Call for Sentencing Reform.”

In his remarks, Congressman Cohen noted what he called “the true reason for the War on Drugs” revealed by former Nixon Administration senior domestic adviser John Ehrlichman in a 1994 article in Harper’s Magazine.

“Mr. Ehrlichman said, ‘You want to know what this is really about? The Nixon campaign in 1968 and the Nixon White House after that had two enemies: the anti-war Left and Black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or Black but, by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and Blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings and vilify them night after night on the evening news.”

Congressman Cohen said that that the War on Drugs since the 1930s has been a campaign against Black and Brown Americans: “racist, racist, racist, and always has been and still is.”

Congressman Cohen, the Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, noted that he introduced a Constitutional amendment in January to reform the pardon power so that, as he put it, “it is about mercy and justice and not taking care of cronies and covering up crimes.” He said it should be used to commute non-violent drug offense sentences.

See the entire exchange here.

Witnesses at today’s hearing were:

  • Rachel E. Barkow
    Vice Dean and Charles Seligson Professor of Law Faculty Director, NYU;
  • Kassandra Frederique
    Executive Director, Drug Policy Alliance;
  • Kyana Givens
    Assistant Federal Public Defender, Office of the Federal Public Defender, Eastern District of North Carolina;
  • John Malcolm
    Vice President, Institute for Constitutional Government, The Heritage Foundation;
  • Marta Nelson
    Director, Government Strategy, Advocacy and Partnerships Department, Vera Institute of Justice;
  • Jillian E. Snider
    Director, Criminal Justice & Civil Liberties, R Street Institute;
  • William R. Underwood
    Senior Fellow, The Sentencing Project.

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