by Dr. Boyce Watkins
In a recent op-ed for the Baltimore Sun, former Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich gave some interesting facts and data about the pardon process and whether or not President Obama is doing his duty on the matter. Ehrlich was governor of the state from 2003 to 2007 and is a Republican. Oddly enough, even this Republican feels that an injustice is being served by not using the pardon process to right some of the wrongs of the past.
Ehrlich noted that during the last week of 2012, there was a public lashing of the Pardon Attorney’s office for botching the case of Clarence Aaron, a black college student who was given a life sentence for a first-time, nonviolent drug offense in 1993. Aaron’s life has been ruined, and the black man in the White House either doesn’t care or is so crippled by the constraints of conformity that he can’t even pretend to care. Either way, Aaron and other young men like him will never get their lives back.
Ehrlich, who has a stronger record for pardons and commutations than even most Democratic politicians, openly asks why President Barack Obama, the liberal former “community organizer” is so afraid to use the power of the pardon. He notes that most politicians avoid pardons and clemency, since there is very little to gain from doing so (other than *gasp* doing the right thing and serving justice).
But there is an urgent need to use pardon policy to correct wrongs from the past. Sentencing law changes from the failed War on Drugs of the 1980s have left tens of thousands of Americans to rot in prison, with their families being ruined in the process. No one understands this issue better than President Obama, the first African American to be elected to the White House. The greatest concern at this point is whether or not the president has the courage to do things that show anything more than a symbolic reference to the black people who got him elected.
Ehrlich speaks to this matter more directly:
1980s-era sentencing laws have led to historic incarceration rates in the U.S. The ugly facts speak for themselves:
•In 1980, the U.S. incarceration rate was 150 per 100,000 citizens; today, it’s 753;
•this rate of incarceration compares to 153 in Great Britain, 96 in France, and 90 in Germany;
•the U.S. now imprisons a higher percentage of its population than any other country in the world.
Hopefully, a second term Obama administration will do the right thing. Our federal system houses many thousands of nonviolent drug-related offenders. Each inmate costs the taxpayers in excess of $28,000 per year. I believe the vast majority are no threat to reoffend. Their cases should be reviewed within the context of a newly invigorated federal review process.
The former governor makes the matter as plain as day by stating that “only one man can effectuate change,” that’s President Barack Obama. To date, the president has pardoned fewer Americans than nearly any president in history. The only presidents who didn’t pardon fewer people were the first president and two presidents who died before finishing their terms. There is no excuse for protecting your personal interests when so many people are suffering.
Those who seek to unconditionally defend any utterance or confusing action of this president without providing logical justification for their beliefs risk standing in the way of African American progress. Those who excuse the Obama Administration’s inaction on the black unemployment crisis are as oppressive to black people as the Tea Partiers that we claim to despise. Supporting the president is one thing, but forgiving, forgetting and ignoring an administration that provides only symbolism and very little substance shows a sad, destructive and borderline pathological addiction to white American validation.
The point here is that getting the big important job is impressive. But power means absolutely nothing if you are too much of a coward to use it. Barack Obama, it’s time for you to stand up.