That’s what I say to President Donald Trump and She-Who-Needs-No-Introduction Kim Kardashian.
As you’ve probably heard by now, the president granted clemency on June 6 to Alice Marie Johnson, 63, a Tennessee grandmother who has spent the past 22 years serving a life sentence without parole for cocaine trafficking.
Unlike a full pardon, the commutation will not erase Johnson’s conviction, but it will end her sentence.
Trump granted the clemency after hearing a plea from fellow reality TV star Kim in the Oval Office.
Is this legit? Yes.
Is Trump using Kardashian to polish his image among African-Americans, the hip-hop community and reality TV fans? Of course. Is anyone shocked by that notion? Pleasing constituents is what presidents and other politicians do.
But is that a reason for Trump to have refused her plea for clemency? Of course not. She has served more than two decades. That’s a long time for a nonviolent drug offense. In the meantime, she became a model prisoner, according to various accounts.
Johnson, who became an ordained minister in prison and drew hundreds of thousands of signatures to a petition, has come a long way toward redemption. She was convicted in 1996 on eight criminal counts related to a Memphis-based cocaine trafficking operation. Her 1994 indictment describes dozens of deliveries and drug transactions, many involving her.
She was forced by economic hardship to turn to the drug trade, she claimed. She had kids and grandkids to fee. But federal courts, including the Supreme Court, rejected her appeals. Prosecutors opposed a motion to reduce her sentence, citing federal guidelines based on the large quantity of drugs involved.
President Barack Obama, who commuted the sentences of hundreds of federal inmates convicted of drug crimes, rejected clemency for her. Conscious of critics nipping at his heels, Obama scrupulously took his time with clemency or pardon requests. Trump relies on his instincts, turning the review process into another pseudo-reality TV show — “Celebrity Pardons,” former Obama adviser David Axelrod calls it.
I can’t say for certain that the lure of performing a good deed that Obama had not done gave Alice Johnson’s clemency more appeal, as it apparently did for Jack Johnson’s pardon. But I’m sure it didn’t hurt her chances either.
Rather than criticize Trump’s good deed, I encourage him to do more. Before Trump’s election, reversing the 30-year explosion in our prison population was becoming a bipartisan issue. He could bring that back, if he wants to have a real impact on our criminal justice system.
For his humanitarian aid to Alice Johnson, Trump deserves credit. But he’ll deserve even more credit when he does something to help the nation’s other 576,000 prison inmates — 39 percent of the nation’s 1.46 million prison population — who experts at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law believe to be incarcerated with little public safety rationale.
When Trump at Sylvester Stallone’s suggestion pardoned the late African-American heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson, who had been convicted on racially loaded charges 105 years earlier, I was asked sarcastically by some pro-Trump readers, “Why don’t you just say, ‘Thank you’?”
I’m waiting, I responded, to see what the president does for black people who are still alive.
After Alice Johnson’s clemency, I am now waiting to see what Trump will do to help other unnecessarily incarcerated, nonviolent offenders, even if they don’t have a Hollywood celebrity on their side.
Writes for Tribune Content Agency.