The article about the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenders wrongly attributed to Norman L. Reimer a comment about the impact the disparity has had on race and policing. Reimer said he made no racial distinctions in his remarks.
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Adjusted Penalties for Crack May Aid Ex-Ballplayer's Case
The law was intended to curb the violence associated with the crack cocaine trade in black communities. But opponents say it was fraught with problems.
More than 80 percent of defendants were, like Aikens, African American. According to this year's sentencing commission report to Congress, the median weight of the crack carried by offenders was 51 grams. The median weight carried by powder cocaine offenders was 6,000 grams.
"Most of these crack dealers are, in fact, low-level offenders," said Eric E. Sterling, president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. "Most of them aren't violent. There is this vicious stereotype of black dope dealers armed to the teeth. But it's not true. It's a shame that this type of stereotype started coming out again in the debate over drug sentencing."
The disparity prompted police to concentrate on black crack cocaine distributors more than the mostly white and Latino powder cocaine dealers, said Norman L. Reimer, executive director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Some attorneys contend that undercover police and informants, posing as users or distributors, encouraged powder cocaine users to cook crack and turned the cases over to federal authorities because those prosecutions resulted in more prison time.
"The disparity created by the guidelines . . . increased the impact of . . . this procedure," Reimer added. "It creates the opportunity to turn a person with one level of criminality to another level with profound consequences."
Such was the case with Aikens.
A big man from South Carolina, he was a natural at slugging a baseball. The California Angels drafted him but soon traded him to the Kansas City Royals.
In the 1980 World Series won by the Philadelphia Phillies, Aikens hit two home runs in the first game and another two in the fourth game, a first in major league history and a record that stands, according to the National Baseball Hall of Fame Museum.
Two years later, he was walking in a hotel hallway and saw a few teammates huddled together in a room. He entered the room and eventually tried powder cocaine for the first time. A year later, he was arrested in a sting with other players, including Royals outfielder Willie Wilson and pitcher Vida Blue.
Aikens went to prison and later failed to recapture his hitting prowess with the Toronto Blue Jays. He went on to play in Mexico. In 1992, he returned to Kansas City, still an addict.
In December 1993, an undercover Kansas City police officer in a car approached Aikens. According to court records, she told him she was lost and asked for directions. Minutes later, she asked for narcotics. Aikens told her, "I can get whatever you want."