Like most outgoing Presidents, Mr. Obama spent the last months of his administration doling out pardons to all kinds of people. As a Democrat, Obama has been very vocal about sentencing reform in drug-related cases, claiming that minority offenders often receive harsher penalties for the same drug crimes as their white counterparts.
President Obama included a large number of drug offenders serving multiple years in his pardoning docket. One such man was 31-year-old Demarlon Thomas. Thomas was pardoned in November of 2016 after being sentenced to 19 years after being sentenced for distributing cocaine.
Thomas was a former Sunny Side Gang member, according to Kaiser. He was busted in one of the biggest drug busts in Saginaw, known as “Operation Sunset.”
In 2008, he was sentenced to 19 years in prison for the distribution of five grams or more of cocaine. The operation effectively ended the Sunny Side Gang
The young man had begun serving out the rest of his probation in a Saginaw, MI halfway house when two men broke into the home, held over a dozen people hostage and executed Thomas before escaping. No one else was injured and the police are still seeking the assailants.
Drug sentencing is a sensitive issue because it does affect minority communities – particularly the black community – quite harshly. Sadly, many people with bright futures do get trapped in excessive sentencing for simply getting mixed up with the wrong people one time. However, the fact that many people like Obama ignore when they lecture about social justice in sentencing is gangs.
It is no secret that inner cities across this country have major issues with gang activity and the crime it generates. A few bad apples can debilitate entire communities. With a porous border, many Mexican and Guatemalan gang members have also been crossing into the country and bringing starting chapters in both the suburbs and inner cities along the border and beyond. The response in sentencing isn’t related to race, it is related to gangs.
Gangs are terrifying and very real issue in our cities. A sentence of 19 years for selling cocaine one time is excessive, no doubt. But it is a response to the ongoing battle against gang violence. The intention is that it be a harsh deterrent for those who destroy our communities in the name of gang life.
It is a controversial and complicated subject that does deserve to be revisited, but Obama’s hasty pardon of this young man in the name of social justice only released him right back into the clutches and consequences of gang life.
The sad reality is that a simple change in a drug sentence won’t end crime minority communities. That is a shallow fix to a deep, deep problem.