Yesterday, in a lighthearted White House photo-op, President Barack Obama granted executive pardons to two turkeys: “Mac” and “Cheese.”
“Today, I’m taking an action fully within my legal authority — the same kind of action taken by Democrats and Republican presidents before me — to spare the lives of two turkeys, Mac and Cheese, from a terrible and delicious fate,” smirked Obama.
Noting that the pardoned turkeys were chosen among many other birds who will perish this holiday, Obama chuckled, “It was, quite literally, the Hunger Games.”
While this little contest and mock ceremony must endear him to his supporters, it serves as a painful reminder of an important duty that President Obama has been shamefully neglecting. As President of the United States, he is the only person in the world who is capable of granting pardons to the multitudes of Americans unjustly imprisoned and branded criminals by the ravenous federal legal system.
As of this date, Barack Obama has only granted 52 pardons in 6 years, and one commuted sentence. All of the pardons were granted to people sentenced to less than 10 years in prison, according to Wikipedia. And most, if not all, of the pardons were granted to people who already served their sentences and have been released.
These figures are disgraceful. A responsible president could find 1,000 federal prisoners to pardon per year without breaking a sweat. A president dedicated to justice could pardon tens thousands of current prisoners — and far more who have served their time and are living with the burden of federal convictions. Indeed, that would be a drastic departure from the status quo and would require the president to publicly admit that there are a lot of federal laws that are absolutely unjust.
To understand who should be pardoned, we must look at who is imprisoned.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there were 1,571,013 prisoners in state and federal prisons in 2012. This tally does not account for prisoners locked in city, county, and juvenile jails; a statistic that is not nationally tracked and would hike the total number several-fold if included. Despite this, the United States of America remains the number one jailer in the world, far eclipsing any other developed nation.
It has not always been this way. Federal prison populations have skyrocketed almost 790 percent in only 3 decades. The Feds have raised their number of prisoners from about 25,000 inmates in 1980 to 219,000 in 2012.
In short, the “land of the free” has become an incarceration nation. It does not take much objectivity to admit that the USA is suffering from a major problem.
This problem stems from an abundance of laws criminalizing non-violent, victimless behavior. Adding on oppressive “mandatory minimum” sentencing requirements and the result is the biggest, most well-stocked prison system on earth. Around half of the prisoners in the federal system are locked up because of the War on Drugs. Increases in sentences contributed to half of the prison population growth between 1998 and 2010, according to a study by the Urban Institute.
There are plenty of human faces to go with these statistics. Plenty of real stories of oppressive prison sentences caused by activities that should not even be illegal.
Weldon Angelos, of Utah, was sentenced to 55 years in federal prison for selling marijuana, even prompting the judge to call the sentence “unjust, cruel, and irrational.”
Grandmother Shirley Womble is serving 25 years in federal prison for bookkeeping at an auto dealership that was implicated in the sale of marijuana.
Kenneth Harvey strapped a vial of cocaine to his leg on an airplane, and now is serving life in federal prison without the possibility of parole.
First-time offender Danielle Metz is serving a triple-life sentence in federal prison for her involvement with her husband’s drug dealing.
Barbara Scrivner is serving 30 years in federal prison for making a one-time drug delivery in a desperate attempt to make ends meet for her family while her husband was in prison.
Serving life without parole in federal prison, “Deadhead” Timothy Tyler rots in prison for selling drugs at a Grateful Dead concert.
Chris Williams is serving 5 years in federal prison for operating a cannabis greenhouse that was legal and licensed in his home state of Montana.
In a federal prison in Kentucky, former U.S. marine William Dekle has served over twenty years of a double-life sentence related to a non-violent marijuana offense.
And this hasn’t even begun to scratch the surface. An encyclopedia of injustice could be written on non-violent offenders of victimless “crimes” that have had their lives destroyed by the federal government.
Bear in mind that the average prison sentence handed to people convicted of murder and non-negligent manslaughter is nearly 20.7 years . Rapists get even less. The average sentence handed to a convicted rapist is 9.8 years. For crimes of sexual assault, the average sentence is 6.0 years, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics .
Yet all these people who have committed no violent acts, and harmed no one, are accounting for half of U.S. prisoners and often being dealt harsher sentences than violent rapists and murderers.
And lets not forget to mention the 35 year sentence thrown at PFC Bradley Manning, who had the nerve to blow the whistle on U.S. military. Or wanted fugitive Edward Snowden, who exposed the tyranny of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) dragnet domestic spying program to the American public and could face a harsh sentence if caught.
While Obama makes jokes about granting pardons to animals, thousands of people’s lives are depending on him for clemency. Of all the wasteful things toward which the the president has devoted gross amounts of resources, his pathetic effort towards righting the countless injustices in the federal injustice system is one of the most appalling.
But at least Mac and Cheese are off the hook. Gobble, gobble.