Earlier this month, the world watched as Alice Marie Johnson celebrated her first taste of freedom after serving 21 years behind bars for a first-time, non-violent offense. The 65-year-old great-grandmother was sentenced to life in federal prison in 1996 for drug trafficking. On June 6, President Donald Trump commuted her sentence just weeks after granting a posthumous pardon to Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight boxing champion.
Following Johnson’s release from prison, White House officials reportedly began to consider granting clemency to several black hip-hop artists. Trump has also teased the idea of possibly granting clemency for Martha Stewart and former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was convicted of 17 charges that included an attempt to sell or trade President Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat. Nevertheless, there are plenty of other incarcerated people of color deserving of clemency. Here are five people Trump could and should exonerate to release them from prison or clear them of the charges that led to their arrest.
Cyntoia Brown was sentenced to life in prison for a murder in 2004 when she was 16 years old. According to her attorney, Brown, a victim of sex trafficking, killed a 43-year-old real estate agent because she feared for her life after he picked her up at a fast-food restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee, and took her to his home with the intention to have sex. Brown’s lawyers also pointed out that because she suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome, she did not have the mental state necessary to be held responsible for a premeditated murder. Prosecutors, however, successfully argued that she shot the man in cold blood and stole his car.
At 31 years old, Marissa Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison back in 2012 for firing a warning shot at her abusive, estranged husband. The domestic abuse survivor says she fired the shot at the ceiling of her Jacksonville home in order to protect herself because her ex-husband had threatened to kill her. Her attorneys argued that she should be granted immunity under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground,” which allows a victim to use lethal force in their defense. However, despite having no previous criminal record or arrests, the mother of three was convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
Alexander’s case gained national attention, especially after a Florida jury cited the “Stand Your Ground” law to vindicate George Zimmerman from any wrongdoing in the murder of Trayvon Martin the following year. The Free Marissa Now Campaign and Alliance worked tirelessly to spread awareness about her case and for her freedom.
After serving three years behind bars and two years in house detention with a surveillance ankle monitor, Alexander was finally released in January 2017. Yet, despite being free, Alexander’s criminal record has been a roadblock for some of her career aspirations and dreams. “Originally when I got out I wanted to try and be a paralegal, but then I realized that I’m a convicted felon and nobody is going to actually let me help people and reach them as much as I would like,” she told The Cut.
Christina Martinez was 26 years old when she was sentenced to life in prison without parole for her participation in a robbery that turned deadly. According to a petition on Change.org, the mother of three served as an unknowing accomplice when her abusive boyfriend and his friends committed a house robbery.
Christina Martinez is an incarcerated survivor of domestic violence who has been in prison for nine years as a result of her abuser’s lethal violence, reads the petition. Christina was only 19 years old when, under the abusive duress of her boyfriend, she drove him and his friends to a house where, without her knowing, they committed a robbery that resulted in a death. Christina’s boyfriend then threatened to kill her if she told anyone. By the time she was convicted and sentenced to Life Without Parole in her early 20s, Christina suffered from the long-term effects of severe psychological and sexual abuse.
Mumia Abu Jamal
Mumia Abu-Jamal, a prominent African American political activist and former member of the Black Panther Party, was arrested and convicted of killing white police Officer Daniel Faulkner in Philadelphia in 1981. He was initially sentenced to death, however, the United States Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional in his case in 2011, and he was re-sentenced to life in prison without parole. Nevertheless, Abu-Jamal and many advocates have maintained his innocence and push for his freedom.
Tammy Garvin, a survivor of domestic violence and sex trafficking, has been locked behind bars for almost three decades after her trafficker robbed and killed one of his clients in 1991. In fear for her own life and the safety of her family, Garvin refused to testify against her trafficker, who was ultimately acquitted.
According to the Change.org:
Tammy Garvin is an incarcerated survivor of domestic violence and sex trafficking who has been in prison for 27 years as a result of her trafficker/abuser’s lethal violence. Tammy was only 14 years old when she was trafficked, and by the time she was convicted and sentenced to Life Without Parole in her early 30s, she suffered from the long-term effects of severe psychological and sexual abuse.
Joanne “Assata Shakur” Chesimard is a political activist and former leader of the Black Liberation Army who was convicted in 1977 of the 1973 murder of New Jersey state trooper Werner Foerster. She has been living in Cuba, which granted her political asylum in 1984. Back in the 70s, she was a target of COINTELPRO, an FBI investigation that consisted of legal and illegal projects aimed at surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting political organizations.
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