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The Power of Forgiveness

I’m not a big fan of organized religion — a topic for another day perhaps — and I’m not even from the flock of the New Testament (as on old friend, activist and Rev Dyson, used to whisper in faux sotto voce when introducing me, “he’s from the other testament”). But, forgiving is a human quality. And, when you have the power to really forgive, you would think people would jump at it. Some politicians do, some don’t.

Which is why these two contradictory impulses are worth pointing out. There is California Gov. Jerry Brown:

More than 30 years and five governors after first applying, Wilson-Banks on Monday learned his perseverance had paid off. “Thank you so much! Thank you!” he said to a reporter who called him at an Arkansas prison to tell him that Gov. Jerry Brown had given him clemency.

Wilson-Banks, 77, was among 79 people for whom the California governor on Sunday signed full pardons, giving clemency to more people in a single day than some California governors have in their entire tenure.

The list was released Monday, but word had not yet reached all recipients. Wilson-Banks said his hopes lifted recently, when he heard Brown’s office had called the warden at the Cummins Prison Unit in Arkansas, where he is chaplain. [emphasis added]

Which reminded me that I had recently read this:

The Constitution gives the president unique power to forgive individuals for federal offenses. While pardons do not wipe away convictions, they can restore a person’s full rights to vote, possess firearms and obtain business licenses, as well as remove barriers to certain career opportunities and adoptions. For many applicants, a pardon is simply an opportunity for a fresh start.

But Obama has parceled out forgiveness far more rarely than his recent predecessors, pardoning just 22 individuals while denying 1,019.

He has given pardons to roughly 1 of every 50 individuals whose applications were processed by the Justice Department. At this point in his presidency, Ronald Reagan had pardoned 1 of every 3 such applicants. George H.W. Bush had pardoned 1 in 16. Bill Clinton had pardoned 1 in 8. George W. Bush had pardoned 1 in 33.

Obama also has been stingy with commutations, applications for early release by those still serving federal prison sentences. [emphasis added]

Interestingly, Brown doesn’t go around wearing religion on his sleeve and doesn’t quote the Bible. The president does. Hmmmm…

If you had the power to give freedom to people would you use it? Personally, I’d free anyone having anything to do with marijuana use or sale. But, whatever your criteria, it’s not clear how anyone could sleep at night knowing he or she had the power to give someone freedom so, rather than sleeping in some prison cell, they could feel the comfort of warm sheets and a nice bed — you know, the thing the president sleeps on every night.

 

 

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