As a rule, experience has taught African Americans that it generally doesn’t matter if a black man or woman is a celebrity, well connected, wealthy, or a working-class stiff, if you are found guilty of a crime – even justifiably so – expect to be punished far more than what is necessary to impress upon you the seriousness of the crime.
The sensational trial of O.J. Simpson notwithstanding.
So it should come as no surprise that many Detroiters believe such was the case with former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick who is currently serving a 28-year sentence in federal prison following his 2013 conviction on 24 felony counts of public corruption.
No one is arguing Kilpatrick did not engage in corrupt activities and violated the oath of his office. He did. And is being held accountable for his actions like a public official should.
However, as Detroit Free Press columnist Brian Dickerson noted in a column last month:
“Reasonable people can and do believe that the 28-year-sentence U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds imposed was unreasonably harsh, and that white elected officials accused of similar corruption have negotiated plea deals far more lenient than the one Kilpatrick was offered.”
That’s not just conjecture.
In April 2018 – five years after Kilpatrick’s conviction – the Washington, D.C. based criminal justice reform think tank The Sentencing Project submitted a special report to the United Nations (Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance) stressing U.S. prosecutors are more likely to charge people of color with crimes that carry heavier sentences than whites.
“Federal prosecutors, for example, are twice as likely to charge African Americans with offenses that carry a mandatory minimum sentence than similarly situated whites,” it stated. “State prosecutors are also more likely to charge black rather than similar white defendants under habitual offender laws.”
And Kilpatrick, who rose to prominence on the national political scene in 2002 after becoming the youngest mayor in Detroit’s history, unlike most white-collar convictions, was even denied bond while his case was on appeal. He was imprisoned immediately following his conviction and has been serving time since the day his guilty verdict was handed down exactly seven years ago last week, on March 11, 2013.
After years of quiet but unsuccessful advocacy for his release by family and friends – especially late in President Obama’s second term – Kilpatrick’s situation has once again come in to focus following President Trump’s clemency and pardon spree late last month.
During that time he granted 4 clemencies and 7 full pardons. Among those who received either a pardon or clemency were former San Francisco 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr. who was prosecuted as a part of an extortion scheme to buy a casino license in New Orleans in 1998, former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik who was sentenced to four years in prison after pleading guilty to 8 felonies for tax fraud and lying to White House Officials, former Wall Street businessman and financier turned think-tank founder, Michael Milken who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for securities fraud and most prominently, former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who was sentenced to 14 years in prison after his convicted on trying to sell President Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat, in 2012.
All of these men have two things in common, they were all convicted of what many call “white-collar crimes” – just like Kilpatrick. And they are all white males – unlike Kilpatrick.
Following this flurry of activity from the White House, people began to speculate that President Trump might grant Kilpatrick’s clemency application, if for no other reason than as a move calculated to garner good will among Black Michiganians.
However, such a move also would run the risk of alienating a good portion of his base in places such as Macomb County home to many racially hostile whites who were attracted to Trump because of his perceived bigotry toward racial and ethnic minorities.
So far it has not happened. But that does not mean it doesn’t deserve to happen.
Since his incarceration, Kilpatrick has lost on his appeal in the federal courts for his conviction to be overturned and his case to be retried. Now, clemency appears to be the final option for him to see freedom before his scheduled 2041 release date when he will be 71-years-old. He was 42-years-old when locked away.
His case did not involve any charges of embezzlement, or misuse of public funds or involve the city’s much-publicized bankruptcy, despite the widely held belief he took money from the city of Detroit. Instead, his conviction involved a RICO charge that alleged he used his official office as Mayor for favors and kickbacks for his friends. Ultimately the federal court of appeals settled on the loss to the city at just under 1.5 million dollars.
While it’s easy to dismiss Kilpatrick’s treatment with that of white public officials charged with public corruption as the proverbial “apples to oranges” the fact is he has already served nearly a decade in federal prison for a non-violent white-collar crime; making it one of the longest sentences for any public official in federal history.
You have people convicted of murder receiving lighter sentences than the former mayor who was also a school teacher, lawyer and former state representative and had never been in trouble with the law before.
By any objective measure, his sentence was in fact, excessive. It is way out of proportion not only to the actual crimes he was convicted of but to the sentences handed down to similarly situated public officials like Kerik, Blagojevich, and even former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell – sentenced to 2 years on public corruption charges. All of these men are currently home either via the appeals process or because of commutation.
Detroit has moved on since those dark days. The former mayor has expressed his deep remorse for the immature and nihilistic behavior that got him into trouble in the first place. It’s time to put this whole chapter behind us once and for all.
The Michigan Chronicle believes he has done enough time and deserves to be set free to live the rest of his life in peace, freedom, and with his children.
Whether it is granted by the present occupant of the White House or whoever follows him, the former Detroit mayor deserves clemency.
Free Kwame Kilpatrick.