NEW YORK (–Calling the drug laws that mandate a 15-year-to-life sentence for a first-time non-violent drug offender “unfair and draconian,” activists marked the 30th anniversary of the Rockefeller Drug Laws by holding a press conference and a rally at the Manhattan office of Gov. George Pataki.

Activists such as Russell Simmons and actress Susan Sarandon and her husband Tim Robbins said the governor and the Legislature have until June 4 to change the laws.

Democratic Party presidential hopeful Rev. Al Sharpton, former candidate for New York governor Andrew Cuomo and Min. Kevin Muhammad of Harlem’s Muhammad Mosque No. 7 joined the activists.


“What you see today represents the broadest coalition ever assembled on this important issue,” Mr. Simmons told reporters. “The hip hop community will help Gov. Pataki to see and feel the will of the people as we demand the repeal of these whack laws.”

Mr. Simmons said that what was happening in New York in reference to the drug laws was drawing attention across the nation.

“The repeal of the Rockefeller Drug Laws is a national priority for all fair-minded people,” Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said in a prepared statement read during the rally.

“I don’t think it’s fair that a young person who makes a simple mistake should have that mistake affect their entire life,” Damon Dash, CEO of Roc-A-Fella Records, said. “We need to repeal these laws and stop locking people up and throwing away the key.”

Activists say that of the 21,000 New York City residents incarcerated, 51.3 percent are Black, and 43.1 percent are Latino, while only 5.1 percent are White.

“Research shows that the majority of drug users and sellers in this state are White, yet 94 percent of drug offenders are Black and Latino,” Mr. Simmons said.

Lyn Rasic, a spokeswoman for Gov. Pataki, said the governor agrees with critics of the Rockefeller Drug Laws but hasn’t been able to get his legislation through both houses.

“Gov. Pataki has repeatedly called for comprehensive reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws and continues to press for immediate overhaul of the drug law sentences, which are needlessly keeping some non-violent offenders behind bars,” Ms. Rasic said.

The governor’s proposals include slashing sentences for some non-violent offenders and immediate release for others, she said.

Rev. Sharpton told reporters that the issue has not received the kind of attention it deserves because it only affects the Black and Latino community. “These laws have proven to be ineffective, costly and racially biased,” Rev. Sharpton said. He said that alternatives are available that save money, cut crime, reduce recidivism and help to rebuild individual lives and communities.

“These laws have been a wholesale way for the prison industrial complex to build itself on the backs of communities of color. The disparity is so gross, that there is no way that you can justify this type of law,” Brooklyn Councilwoman Yvette Clarke (D) told The Final Call. “For over 30 years, hundreds of thousands of families have been totally dismantled or disrupted because of these laws, and it is time for a change,” Councilwoman Clarke said.