Tens of hundreds of cases involving Black men facing cruel mandatory-minimum sentences for drugs have been traced to the War on Drugs, one of the deadliest strategies engineered to fill prisons with Brown bodies and destroy communities of color. The case of Bernard Noble, a Black father of seven in Louisiana, points straight to the war, an extremely harmful product of Ronald Reagan‘s presidency.
Noble, 54, was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 2010 for two marijuana joints because he had two prior nonviolent offenses. Those with priors, or really Black men who disproportionately have priors on their records, are subject to lengthy jail sentences for re-offending. But a Louisiana parole board said Tuesday that he can walk free after seven years and four months behind bars, Leafly reported.
The conditioned release of Noble is significant for several reasons. First, it could indicate the possibility of a future overhaul in how drug arrests and cases are treated in Louisiana. The state is notorious for its nonsensical and harsh mandatory-minimum drug sentencing laws, which have led to its high imprisonment rate feeding into the nationwide crisis of mass incarceration.
“We’ve had people receive sentences of life without parole for marijuana,” longtime New Orleans defense attorney Gary Wainwright told Leafly. “Twenty-five years in prison? In Louisiana that’s a deal!”
Second, Noble’s release brings the racist police stop that led to his arrest to public light. Noble was pulled over by two New Orleans cops while legally riding his bike in October 2010. Yes, he was bicycling while Black, with a little less than three grams of marijuana, or about two joints, Vice reported. With a public defender and priors, he was punished harshly. When he tried to appeal, that was a no-go. No clemency was granted to Noble until years later.
The father described his time in jail with startling details: “I’m in this room with 45 other people. Every once in a blue moon they’ll let us go outside. But it’s so small a yard that we just end up staring at one another,” he said.
We can’t forget the fact that Noble was separated from his seven children for seven years. We can’t let go of the knowledge that buying marijuana is legal in places such as California. In thinking about this man’s case, we hold fast to the reality that he is on his way out of jail.
Jee Park, a former attorney in the New Orleans Public Defender’s office, kept looking into Noble’s case for years. She advocated and secured a sentencing hearing that led to negotiations that got Noble’s sentence reduced to eight years and gave him parole eligibility in December 2016. Despite all the lawyers who were overworked and non-caring especially with cases involving Black folks, Noble found help.
Other innocent men or low-level offenders are finding aid with those people and organizations working to exonerate them. It’s an uphill battle for these men, especially considering the coded, colorblind rhetoric from Trump and company as well as Sessions’ wishes to keep the drug war on life support. The battle is not just in freeing men like Noble from prison, but dismantling and pushing the demise of the drug war.