top of page
  • Writer's pictureStephan Garnett

Pardon Me, Please?

Photo Credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP. Donald Trump has pardoned former advisor George Papadopoulos, among many others.

It’s like Black Friday at Best Buy or maybe a fire sale at Macy’s. Do you need to be pardoned for criminal activity for which you have been convicted? Donald Trump has what you require. Do you want your prison sentence commuted? Step right up and Donald Trump will take care of you. As he continues to peddle his fantasy of winning an election he clearly lost, and whip up fear and anxiety over totally contrived charges of election fraud, Trump is also throwing out pardons and commutations like confetti at a Fifth Avenue parade. Just within the past two days, Trump has pardoned 41 people, including several who were charged as a result of the Mueller investigation, and commuted the sentences of eight more. On Wednesday, Trump granted reprieves for former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his daughter's father-in-law, Charles Kushner. Manafort had been convicted of a series of financial crimes, while Kushner served 14 months in prison for tax evasion, witness tampering and making illegal campaign contributions. Trump also pardoned Roger Stone on Wednesday, a man guilty of lying to Congress. Stone's sentence had been previously commuted. One day earlier, Trump pardoned George Papadopoulos, convicted of making false statements in an investigation, three former Republican Congressmen, who committed financial-related crimes, and a man in Florida, sentenced to 20 years for the largest fraud case ever investigated by the Department of Justice. In recent years, Trump has pardoned Michael Milkin, who stole millions from unsuspecting clients, Joe Arpaio, convicted of contempt of court, Michael Flynn, who admitted to lying to the FBI, and Rod Blagojevich, who attempted to sell Barak Obama’s vacated Senate seat. The man is simply nuts about issuing pardons, and he dispenses them to the most despicable individuals. Four of the men Trump recently pardoned were convicted of killing more than a dozen people. My gosh! You might even think Trump is the soul of generosity, if not for this indisputable fact: Until this week, just days before Joe Biden takes the oath to become the the 46th President of the United States, the 45th President of the United States had issued only 28 pardons and 16 commutations, the lowest number of any president since 1900. Meanwhile, in another part of the world, while so many Trump cronies and convicted criminals either get out of prison or never serve a day, the Trump administration is pushing ahead with as many executions as possible before he is forced out of office on Jan. 20. Two executions have already occurred, and three more are scheduled by the middle of next month. Of the five people who have already been executed or are about to be, only one is not a Black man. Funny, isn’t it? Just thinking about Donald Trump rushing forward to kill as many of these unfortunate Black men as possible recalls something else from about 30 years ago. Now, what was it? Oh yes, his calling for the executions of four Black men and one Hispanic man for a crime they did not commit. And continuing to claim these men are guilty even after it has been proven they are not. But let's be fair. Trump did pardon one Black man, Jack Johnson, for his 1913 conviction under the Mann Act for transporting a White woman across state lines, “for immoral purposes.” The only problem is that pardon isn’t going to do the former boxing champion much good. He’s been dead for 74 years.

But let’s come back to the present. On Dec. 10, Brandon Bernard was executed in Texas for a crime he committed more than 20 years earlier, when was 18. The next day, Alfred Bourgeois was executed in Indiana for the murder of his two-year-old daughter. Cory Johnson is scheduled to be executed on Jan. 14. Johnson was convicted of killing as many as 10 people in 1992, when he, too, was a teenager. The day after Johnson’s scheduled execution, on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, Dustin John Higgs is scheduled to be put to death in Maryland, despite the fact that Higgs never murdered anyone. To be fair, all these men were convicted of heinous crimes. Bernard allegedly robbed and murdered a couple after forcing them into the trunk of their car and setting it on fire. Bourgeois was convicted of killing a toddler. Johnson is accused of killing as many as 10 people as a drug dealer. Higgs was allegedly complicit in at least three murders. But there are extenuating circumstances in all these cases. Bernard was only 18 when he committed his crime, and didn’t actually murder the couple, but was present when they were killed. Bourgeois might have suffered severe brain damage due to beatings as a child. Johnson might also be suffering from intellectual incapacitation due to childhood beatings. And Higgs never actually murdered anyone but supposedly ordered his co-defendant, Willis Hayes, to kill three women. Hayes has said he was never coerced.

Photo Credit: AP. Blackwater guards Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty, Nicholas Slatten and Paul Slough.

And just for comparison, Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty, Nicholas Slatten and Paul Slough, the Trump-pardoned Blackwater guards convicted of wantonly opening fire on unarmed Iraqis in a Baghdad Square, killed 17 people, including two women and two boys, ages 9 and 11.

Certainly, there are those who believe that people who commit terrible crimes should be punished. And just as certainly, an overwhelming majority of those people are Donald Trump’s supporters. But there are also people who wonder how much justice is being served when White men walk free of their crimes while Black men are put to death, especially when there is a rush to do so before the impending presidency of a man who opposes the death penalty. Makes you wonder. Just exactly what is Donald Trump, who has always claimed to be “the least racist person you will ever meet,” trying to achieve?


bottom of page