Before President Barack Obama exits the White House in January, John Legend is urging him to give clemency to the tens of thousands of inmates who are imprisoned for nonviolent drug crimes. The singer implored the Commander in Chief to do so citing his series of commutations this year.
“In 2014, you set out to reinvigorate our country’s approach to clemency,” Legend wrote in an open letter published by Rolling Stone Friday, Dec. 9. “Your actions to commute the sentences of 944 individuals, including 324 life sentences, is unprecedented in the modern era. Nonetheless, more action is needed to dismantle the unjust policies of the past 40 years. An estimated 36,000 nonviolent drug offenders housed in federal prisons have sought relief under your clemency initiative and it is unclear how many of the remaining cases will be reviewed before you leave.”
The “Love Me Now” crooner also noted the racial disparities in such incarceration rates because of the “War on Drugs,” which Legend deemed a “moral failing” that has “needlessly torn families apart.”
Legend suggested the president begin giving commutations by category “to bring an end to the injustice that remains in our federal sentencing schemes.” He then cited the nearly 5,000 people who have been imprisoned based on what Atlanta Black Star reported is the 100-times-harsher sentencing for crack cocaine, mostly used by poor Blacks, compared to sentences issued for powder cocaine use primarily by whites.
“Rectifying these crack-powder disparities would not only correct the mistakes of the past,” Legend said, “but it could save taxpayers just over $150 million per year and keep with public sentiment about the overincarceration and criminalization of drug crimes.”
The singer then made note of Americans favoring the end of imprisonment for low-level offenses and drug crimes, including California’s Prop 57, which increases parole for good behavior, and Oklahoma’s reclassification of some drug possession offenses and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. Plus, seven states — including Massachusetts and North Dakota — changed their marijuana laws.
“Just as George W. Bush urged you to proactively address clemency on your way to your first inauguration in 2009, I am asking you to bring justice to thousands of families by granting as many clemencies as possible before you leave office,” Legend concluded.