Thursday, December 3, 2015

Posthumous Pardon for Jack Johnson. NO.

William C. Rhoden of the New York Times asks, "Why is the United States still afraid of Jack Johnson?" The questions certainly answers itself. Most Americans have no idea whatsoever who he is referring to. The answer:
Since 2004, McCain, other lawmakers and the filmmaker Ken Burns have campaigned for an executive pardon for Johnson, who became boxing’s first black heavyweight champion, in 1908 ... In 1913, the federal government succeeded where a bevy of white fighters had failed when an all­ white jury convicted Johnson of transporting a white girlfriend across state lines, under the Mann Act, a measure designed to stop the proliferation of immigrant prostitution. He served 366 days in prison. Johnson was railroaded because he was a powerful, independent man who insisted on living his life his way, stepping outside the boundaries set for him by society. 
Now, as the Obama administration has denied / failed to act on clemency applications like few others, McCain and other law makers want a posthumous pardon to be granted to the long dead Johnson. Rhoden does not base his own support for a pardon on specific concerns about an unfair trial as he does that fact that Johnson was hated by people who hated him. And he (Rhoden) assumes that all of the hatred directed toward Johnson was based on his race - a disconcerting accusation which quickly dies in the face of even casual knowledge of Johnson's "lifestyle."

McCain says he hopes Obama will "save this for one of the final acts of his presidency: pardoning one of the most controversial figures in American sports history." Burns, likewise, says he hopes Obama will grant the pardon in “the sunset of his presidency.” Wow. Marc Rich style pardons have done so much for America, the presidency and the pardon power!

McCain says "it’s really important for us as Americans, particularly for Americans who invest so much of our energies in promoting our own exceptionalism, to clean up the messes we’ve made in the past.” Indeed, Senator, like the many thousands of African Americans who are ALIVE and in federal prisons right this second, who would not even be there were they sentenced under current law. What substantive thing are you doing for them? As the President has neglected the pardon power, for seven years, what have you had to say about it?

The sincerity of this effort is belied by omissions and dramatic overreach. Rhoden suggests President Obama would/should be an admirer of Johnson because he was a "powerful man" who lived life "his way." Let's translate that into something a little more informative than Sinatra lyrics: Johnson was a fugitive from justice for seven years. He solicited prostitutes, drove recklessly, abused alcohol and was wildly irresponsible when it came to finances. He also had a problem with spousal abuse. The fact is, Jack Johnson got more than a few breaks in life because of his wealth and fame, including breaks from the law.

Jack Johnson was hardly a role model, for anyone. His primary virtues - for those that support his pardon - seem to be that 1) he was hated by a lot of white people and 2) both he and President Obama are African American. In terms of arguments for pardon, that is notably unconvincing. See editorial here. See our previous posts on this topic here.

If we are pardoning dead people ... before Johnson ... O. Henry, Marcus Garvey, Ellis H. Parker, etc.

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