Mitchell: Commutations can’t fix unjust drug sentences

SHARE Mitchell: Commutations can’t fix unjust drug sentences
SHARE Mitchell: Commutations can’t fix unjust drug sentences

Follow @MaryMitchellCST

// <![CDATA[

!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+'://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');

// ]]>

This week President Barack Obama used his power to commute the sentences of 46 drug offenders, including two from Chicago.

His action might have been a political gesture to a lot of people. But to the families involved, it was a long-awaited act of mercy.

“God is good. . . . Great news today, My Best lady come home November 10,” Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas wrote in a Facebook post Monday. His mother, Katrina Smith, went to prison for drug trafficking when he was 11 years old.

Most of the people had already served nearly 20 years in prison and many faced spending the rest of their lives behind bars for drug offenses involving the distribution of crack cocaine.

Obama pointed out these offenders were not “hardened” criminals.

Besides, it was unjust to punish those who distribute crack cocaine a lot more severely than those who trafficked cocaine.

The injustice led to black and brown drug dealers — who tended to distribute crack — being locked up for life, while white drug dealers got much shorter sentences for selling cocaine.

Follow @MaryMitchellCST

// <![CDATA[

!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+'://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');

// ]]>

OPINION
dthomasfb.png

Since all clemency petitions are essentially the same, it is difficult to understand how the president decides who is shown mercy.

For instance, Jesse Webster, a former cocaine dealer on the city’s South Side, has once again been passed over for clemency.

Webster was given a life sentence for a nonviolent first offense. He has already spent 20 years in prison.

In 2014, Crack Lifer Project, an advocacy group dedicated to ending racially biased crack cocaine sentencing, listed Webster’s punishment as one of the “Top 10 Most Outrageous Crack Cocaine Sentences.”

James B. Zagel, the federal judge who imposed the harsh sentence, noted at the time that the sentence was too high. As part of Webster’s clemency appeal, Zagel submitted a letter pointing out that “a commutation of sentence which would result in his service of 20 or so years is enough punishment for his crimes.”

Two years ago, Webster watched as an old cellmate, Reynolds Wintersmith Jr., got the news that his life sentence was commuted.

Jessica Ring Amunson, of Jenner & Block, who helped Webster with his clemency appeal, was surprised that he was overlooked.

“We are happy that the president is focusing on this. But there are still so many people like Jesse who are deserving of a commutation. I just don’t know why Jesse’s case wasn’t included, and I am hopeful there will be more commutations coming,” she said.

Webster’s brother, Lee Noble, said for him to come home would be a “big deal for the entire family.”

“Even though it has been 20 years, it has been a big impact on his mother. If anyone, he is a model person that qualified for that commutation,” Noble said.

“I actually spoke with him and he didn’t use the word ‘disappointed.’ He felt his opportunity was still there. He figured his time would come,” Noble said.

Obama is trying to use commutations to right a terrible wrong. I get that.

But there are thousands of men and women locked up in federal prisons who are serving discriminatory prison sentences, and commutations can’t fix that.

Too many, like Webster, are getting left behind. Perhaps after Obama tours the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution outside of Oklahoma City on Thursday, he’ll understand the urgency.

Mercy is undeserved favor.

These men and women deserve to come home.

Follow @MaryMitchellCST

// <![CDATA[

!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+'://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');

// ]]>

Tweets by @MaryMitchellCST

// <![CDATA[

!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+"://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");

// ]]>

The Latest
One step would be to adjust the deadline in the city’s heating ordinance to a date earlier than June 1.
Zoning Committee Chairman Tom Tunney (44th), who doubles as the casino committee chairman, said he is not at all certain that the votes are there to approve the companion agreements. “There’s still a lot of work to be done. I don’t know if we can get it done by Friday. But that’s their goal...We might need more time. That’s all I’m gonna say.”
The shooting happened at the Warwick Allerton Hotel, officials said.
Democrats across the nation are hoping to use the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion that could signal the overturning of Roe v. Wade to bring voters to the polls. That’s a trickier strategy for Valencia in the secretary of state’s race.