With the heartwarming pardon of 63-year-old grandmother, Alice Johnson, the posthumous pardon of boxing legend Jack Johnson, and now the President considering a pardon of Muhammed Ali despite the fact that the Supreme Court overturned Ali’s conviction in 1971 which means there exists no conviction from which Ali needs to be pardoned, Donald Trump wants to see if he can win his way into the hearts of Black America through the power of the pardon. He can’t.
The president has poured all of his real political capital into opposing Black lives as evidenced by how far he potentially went to ensure that Colin Kaepernick didn’t get a job and by the fact that he shamelessly uses the NFL protests of police violence as a wedge issue to keep his base riled up. And now, the president wishes to see if he can purchase the support of NFL players who took a knee by asking them who they want to be pardoned.
The president appointed Jeff Beauregard Sessions to the office of the Attorney General who subsequently reignited the war on drugs for which thousands of nonviolent offenders like Alice Johnson are in prison now. And let us not forget that the sitting president encouraged police officers to be even more rough with “thugs” — publicly endorsing the very police brutality against which we currently fight.
But now he thinks he can win the Black vote with a handful of pardons. How little this man thinks of our intelligence that he can insult us in one breath and expect us to celebrate him with the next.
This isn’t to belittle the significance to the families of Jack Johnson and Alice Johnson. They have every right to support Donald Trump in every future election because he did something good for them as constituents. But making this a statement of how much Trump has done for all Black people demonstrates how cheaply anyone making that claim values Black people.
The president cannot simply erase the damage and racial division that his administration and personal bigotry have done to the Black community by granting a handful of pardons as personal favors to celebrity friends presented to Black people as crumbs from his political table for which he expects gratefulness.
But Trump Did What Obama Didn’t?
And in the height of his arrogance, Trump expects that these dual commutations will be looked upon by Black people as him doing more for us than Barack Obama. While I can list several categories in which Obama fell short in serving the Black community, Donald Trump has over 1700 more pardons and commutations to go to catch up with the first Black president. All of the attention over the last few days has gone to the story of Alice Johnson’s sentence not being commuted by former President Obama that many are leaving out the thousands of commutations and pardons that he did grant.
The bottom line is this: Black Americans aren’t cheap dates that Donald Trump can thrill with the least expensive political gesture — expending the smallest amount of political capital possible — while throwing in our faces daily how far he’s willing to go to reward true allies: white conservatives.
Furthermore, these pardons in no way address the systemic failings of our justice system — the exact cause for which we fight. We seek permanent changes to a justice system that has historically targeted and eviscerated Black communities. The political cost of this type of systemic change is a price far higher than his real consituents will ever afford him.