News Release

Obama Visits Prison


Ruffin, a Washington, D.C. based lawyer, last month wrote the piece “President Obama is a Traitor to the Black Race: An Open Letter.” Ruffin said today: “As of July 14, 2015, while pretending to be concerned about the poor, Obama commuted the sentences of merely 89 federal prisoners; whereas, a racist president, Harry Truman, pardoned 1,913 prisoners and another racist president, Woodrow Wilson, commuted the sentences of 1,366 prisoners.”

Ruffin wrote in his recent piece: “President Obama holds himself out during the lame duck period of his presidency as though he worked assiduously over the last six and one-half years for the uplift of black people and the poor. That pretense on the part of President Obama is hypocritical …. To be sure, the president’s administration deliberately conducted itself over the last six and one-half years as though President Obama owed no obligation, moral or otherwise, to black people (or to other oppressed peoples) that would be any different from the obligations owed by one of Obama’s white predecessors …. [Indeed,] … while thousands of black people live today in prison, with many facing execution, for crimes they never committed or after being convicted in racially bigoted tribunals that President Obama never condemned, we make a horrible mistake by excusing Obama for failing at a job he volunteered to do: and that is, to enforce the constitutional precept of ‘equal protection of the law’ for all people, including black and poor people, not just for the benefit of a rich and privileged white constituency ….

“If truly concerned about us as black people, then why has President Obama ignored the political prisoners who should be freed for rebelling against American injustice? Cannot at least one of these federally convicted political prisoners, such as Veronza Bowers, Oscar Lopez Rivera … Leonard Peltier, or Dr. Mutulu Shakur, be pardoned? If concerned about our suffering…then when will Obama call for legislative reform that reverses the racially bigoted sentencing and penal policies of the ‘Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996′ …

“[Unfortunately,] I see none of that in Obama’s future as president. However, [even] if he offer[ed] these reforms to Congress, the effort will be late and grossly ineffective. To be sure … [President Obama] neglected the chance to enact these reforms during his first two years in office — when he benefited from a congressional majority.” Added Ruffin: “Instead, President Obama used that majority to give trillions of dollars to Wall Street billionaires whom the president seldom, if ever, prosecuted.” Ruffin was one of Troy Davis’ lawyers; Davis was executed in Georgia four years ago. See the Democracy Now interview with Ruffin just after the execution.

DAN BERGER, daberger at
Berger is author of Captive Nation: Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era. He said today: “It is nice to hear a president admit that the United States has a prison problem. If Obama wants to end mass incarceration, he should eliminate solitary confinement, stop immigrant detention, and pursue a much wider usage of commutations.

“The United Nations has said more than 15 days of isolation is tantamount to torture, yet thousands of Americans spend years on end in solitary confinement prisons such as ADX Florence or the Communications Management Units in Marion and Terre Haute. The people kept in long-term isolation are disproportionately Muslim, often the subject of questionable prosecutions, as well as social or environmental justice activists. Many have been placed in solitary without violating any prison rules.

“The immigration system continues to tear communities apart. Prosecutions for immigration violations have made Latinos the largest ethnic group in the federal prison system, and detention centers continue to cage 34,000 people everyday.

“The commutation of 46 nonviolent drug offenders was a small sign of how unjust our sentencing policy is. Further, experts agree that people age out of crime. There is little reason to keep incarcerating someone who has served more than 25 years and is over 50 years old — regardless of what sent them to prison.” Berger is assistant professor of comparative ethnic studies at the University of Washington Bothell.