In the last days of his historic presidency, Barack Obama has used his executive clemency powers to show mercy to several controversial figures, including Chelsea Manning, a transgender U.S. soldier who was convicted of leaking classified information to WikiLeaks.
Manning’s supporters had launched a vigorous campaign for her release. But given that Manning’s crime involved the U.S. intelligence community, I thought her release was a real long shot.
Obama also showed mercy to Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar Lopez Rivera. He was sentenced to 55 years in prison for being part of the FALN, a terrorist group that claimed responsibility for more than 100 bombings in the U.S., including Chicago, New York and Washington during the 1970s and ’80s. Rivera will leave prison in May.
On the other hand, one Chicago man whose plea for a pardon seemed destined to be granted has apparently been overlooked.
Abraham Bolden, the first African-American on the White House Secret Service detail, has steadfastly maintained that he was falsely charged with soliciting a bribe after he complained about racist and unprofessional behavior on the part of fellow agents.
President John F. Kennedy had arranged for Bolden to serve on the Secret Service White House detail after meeting Bolden in Chicago in 1961.
When Bolden complained that some agents engaged in a “pattern of conduct” that endangered the life of the president, he found himself charged with a crime he insists to this day he did not commit.
After an initial mistrial, Bolden was convicted and served three years and three months in federal prison before he was paroled in 1969.
Although Bolden went on to have a successful career in the machining and metal fabricating industry, he continued to fight to clear his name. Besides filing a formal petition, Bolden wrote “The Echo from Dealey Plaza,” a memoir that detailed his time in the Secret Service and his ordeal. His supporters also used social media to raise awareness about Bolden’s persecution.
But Bolden was never able to get the groundswell of support his case warranted.
“Tomorrow is my birthday. I’m hopeful. He has one more day,” Bolden told me when I reached him at his South Side home on Wednesday to ask if he had heard anything about his pardon petition.
The time seemed right for Bolden’s prayers to be answered.
After all, he will be 82.
And on Tuesday, the Secret Service agreed to pay $24 million to settle a case that involved more than 100 black agents. The lawsuit, filed 20 years ago, alleged that the federal agency “fostered a racist culture and routinely promoted white agents over more qualified African Americans,” the Washington Post reported.
If there was that kind of blatant bias against black agents 20 years ago, you can imagine what it was like when Bolden was an agent.
“I was hopeful because, after all, I suffered the same thing that the [other black] Secret Service agents suffered. But I suffered quite a bit more. I kind of thought the president would take that under consideration. If he doesn’t, I have to bear with it,” he said.
Roosevelt Wilson, chair of the Abraham Bolden Project and an education consultant, got involved in the crusade to clear Bolden’s name in 2012.
Since then, Wilson has written eight letters to Obama, reached out to the members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Sen. Dick Durbin, and conducted seminars and workshops about Bolden’s plight.
“I understand the bureaucracy, and what Obama is going through. Still, I am pissed off. There was no crime at all. They created a crime. That is the point that really gets in my craw. The man didn’t do anything but his job, and he got framed,” Wilson said.
Obama has granted more commutations than any other president in the nation’s history, including 212 pardons, and I applaud him for that.
Still, it is extremely disappointing that he didn’t grant at least one more.Tweets by @MaryMitchellCST