BAILEY T. STEEN | FRIDAY, JUNE 9, 2018
Alice Marie Johnson, the 63-year-old grandmother sentenced to life without parole for the non-violent crime of cocaine trafficking, was released from prison after her sentence was commuted by President Donald Trump. Following his meeting with Kim Kardashian West, fellow reality TV star and an advocate for criminal justice reform, the president rewarded this celebrity friend with a rare benevolent deed — offering Johnson another shot at life.
“My grandchildren only know me through prison communications,” Johnson wrote to The Intercept, back when she was formerly residing in Aliceville correctional facility in Alabama. “My daughter Tretessa has twin three month old babies who I’m looking forward to holding and rocking. I can never get back the years that I have been absent from their lives, but I sure can make new unforgettable memories with them.”
Trump’s decision is a victory for liberty and political mercy, allowing this rehabilitated soul to reenter society and finally right the wrongs the authoritarian justice system allowed. This, by all accounts, was the right call, even from the so-called “law and order” candidate Donald Trump. It’s important to remember that if it weren’t for Kardashian’s request, Johnson’s release would have seemed impossible. After her meetings with another criminal justice advocate, Jared Kushner, the president’s senior adviser and beloved son-in-law, White House meetings were soon being drafted. Trump, unaware of the case, decided to commute the sentence —against his controversial drug stance because some wealthy friend needed help.
In March, Vox reported on Trump’s new batch of policies designed to fight the opioid epidemic. Speaking to a crowd in New Hampshire, one of the states hit hardest by the crisis, the president declared the issue a “public health emergency” and vowed to get “tough on crime”. He explained the plan focused on more law enforcement–focused policies, increasing the penalties for drug dealing and those with contraband crossing the border, as well as the radical decision to give some of these people the death penalty.
This was backed up by Axios sources who claimed Trump privately “loves” the notion of imposing capital punishment on drug dealers — taking inspiration from actions taken in China, Singapore and the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte and his far-right administration. Duterte, whose “drug war” has resulted in more than 12,000 deaths according to Human Rights Watch, stroked President Trump’s ego by saying he was delighted to hear about their mutual love for authoritarian drug policy.
Under this sort of justice system, assuming there are no rich Kardashians to the rescue, even a grandmother such as Johnson could potentially face death row if found committing a non-violent crime like heading up a cocaine trafficking ring. Forced to life in jail or state-sanctioned death, with no chances to appeal the case, no chances to seek the drug treatment offered across other industrialised nations and no chances to reenter society, all for allowing people to freely have their vice.
So why does Alice Johnson get a pass? Surely it’s not for libertarian principles or having empathy for the woman herself — it’s just another case of the president playing favouritism when the friends come by the White House. Take his pardons of political allies like former Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio and conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, both of which staunch Trump supporters with known convictions for unconstitutional behaviour.
Vox go on to report he’s now considering for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat, as well as fellow reality TV star Martha Stewart, both of whom connected with Trump’s Apprentice franchise. How is this any different to former President Bill Clinton’s last day in office? It was back then the scandal was about pardoning Marc Rich, a decision made not because of moral reasons, but because his wife happened to be a Clinton donor.
Even President George W. Bush reportedly saw these ethical problems, having his clemency orders processed through the pardon attorney’s office, ensuring no decision was made by just one corrupt man. President Obama apparently followed a similar process until his last few years in office, though the majority of pardons were made up of non-violent drug offenders. Trump, like Clinton, isn’t relying on the checks and balances of qualified officials to make these decisions — it’s within his power to decide winners and losers.
On an individual level, granting release of Johnson is an example of the two tier justice system granting someone actual justice. This, however, is still the wrong way for justice to be served. For every Johnson, we have the excusing of D’Souza, who admitted to campaign finance violations, the excusing of Arpaio, convicted on contempt of court for illegal racial profiling, and more potential corruption to emerge further down the line.
If we’re to believe the reports of Ashley Parker, Robert Costa, and Josh Dawsey for The Washington Post, it’s unethical for the president to just start “asking friends who else he should pardon”, without at least having the proper counsel to authorise such important issues. If only those closest to Trump have their voice heard, currently working in the richest administration in history, cases like Johnson will only come too few and far between.
Thanks for reading!
Bailey T. Steen is a journalist, editor, artist and film critic based in Victoria, Australia, but is also Putin’s Puppet™ on occasion.
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Cheers, darlings!! 💋