Ex-Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick has been released from prison with the help of former president Donald Trump. Hours before leaving office, the president granted clemency to over 140 federal inmates and those facing federal charges. Now, residents of the city he once served are anticipating Kilpatrick’s return.
After serving seven years at the Federal Correctional Institution in Louisiana, the ex-mayor’s remaining 21-year sentence was commuted by a fleeing president in turmoil. According to a statement released by the White House, Kilpatrick’s release was strongly supported by city leaders, such as Peter Karmanos, religious leaders, and prominent state representatives.
Since being convicted in March 2013 on 24 federal felony counts including bribery, fraud, extortion, and racketeering, members in the Black community debated if race played a role in sentencing and if the punishment fit the crime.
In a statement released by the Office of Michigan State Representative Karen Whitsett, an avid supporter of Kilpatrick’s release said that she believes race was a factor in deciding the former mayor’s fate.
“I’ve always felt that because Mr. Kilpatrick was a Black man, he received an excessive sentence for his crimes,” Rep. Whitsett says.
Residents are also debating the length of the mayor’s sentence. For some, in the face of a 28-year sentence, the punishment did not fit the crime.
“His time may not have been commensurate with the crimes we knew about or we were sure about, but he did a lot of dirt,” Brittany Garner, a local celebrity makeup artist, and entrepreneur, says.
While the criminal justice system seems to be an unfair playing field for Black and Brown communities, since his release some Detroit residents are rejoicing at the news of the former mayor’s commuted sentence.
“It’s always great to see some get a second chance at life,” Branden Chambers, a local Detroit resident says. “The length of his sentence was extreme. This pardon was felt and appreciated throughout the Black community.”
While others are skeptical about the ex-mayor’s release, Detroiters are divided on the commuted sentence from the now-former president Donald Trump. Crimes of the past continue to haunt the community and others are not so quick to forgive.
“I think his crimes affect the city tremendously. He took a lot from people,” Angela Jenkins, an insurance agent and native Detroiter says. “I feel instead of expanding everything, he stole away, what could’ve been used to help the city. I don’t know too much about it, but I do feel he’s a con man who should not be let in any election again. Never will I trust him.”
Kilpatrick is illegible for running for local or state office until 2033 under Michigan law, however, he can serve in congress beginning in 2022. This leaves spectators wondering if he will have a play in the city’s political future.
“I’m not sure what he’ll do. I won’t be quick to vote for him, but if it’s permitted, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him getting involved,” Chamber says.
With mayoral and city council elections in November, Kwame’s return to the city will be highly anticipated. While the former mayor cannot hold state or local office, his reputation, notoriety, and influence could weigh heavily on election outcomes.
Regardless of his release, some Detroiters feel his commuted sentence does not bode well for the city’s ex-mayor in a town that has grown immensely during his stint in federal prison.
“I don’t think this means anything for Detroit. He did his damage years ago and we’ve grown since then,” Chambers says.
According to the Department of Justice, commutation allows the president to fully or partially reduce a prisoner’s sentence. Under the guidelines for a commuted sentence, prisoners are still considered convicted and do not imply innocence but will receive credit for time served. Because the former mayor’s sentence was commuted, the conviction will stay on his record.
“I mean I hope he’s a changed man–that’s what we’re told prison is for,” Gardner says.
Released and residing with his family in Georgia, the political realm continues to speculate Kilpatrick’s future. The former mayor is still responsible for over $1 million dollars owed to the city of Detroit and almost $200,000 in restitution owed to the Internal Revenue Service.
Per the statement released from Rep. Whitsett’s office:
“I believe Kwame has done his time, and I’m very pleased with this outcome,” Whitsett says. “I’d like to thank President Trump for putting people over politics regarding this matter.”