With just days left in his final term, President Barack Obama shortened the sentences of 209 people in the federal justice system yesterday (January 17). That brings his total commutations to 1,385—more than the 12 presidents before him combined. Fully 504 of those people were serving life sentences, and many of them were sentenced under harsh drug laws that unfairly targeted Blacks and Latinxs who committed nonviolent drug crimes. The clemency initiative is part of the president’s efforts to reform the criminal justice system. President Obama also pardoned 64 people, closing out his tenure with a total of 212 pardons.
International Business Times published the full list of people impacted by yesterday’s executive actions. Among the number was Oscar López Rivera, the 74-year-old former member of Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional who spent 35 years in prison after fighting for sovereignty for his birthplace, Puerto Rico. He was jailed for his alleged involvement in bombings of military bases and government buildings, but has always maintained that he did not participate. The Guardian reports that López Rivera was set to live behind bars until June 26, 2023.
The U.S. Department of Justice reports that as of January 3, there were still 1,920 pardon petitions outstanding, and 11,355 unprocessed applications for clemency. The Guardian reports that President Obama is expected to commute more sentences tomorrow (January 19).
Many people and activist organizations—and even an FBI agent—took to the Internet to wonder aloud why the president had not used his power to help other political prisoners, including Native activist Leonard Peltier, former Black Panther Party (BPP) and Black Liberation Army member Assata Shakur, Black Liberation Army member Dr. Mutulu Shakur and former BPP member Mumia Abu-Jamal (who is actually not in a federal prison and therefore not eligible for presidential clemency).
BYP100 (@BYP_100) January 18, 2017
Though I overstood like hell & never naive. NOT seeing a PARDON for MUMIA-ASSATA -AL AMIN-SHOATZ- was a reality punch BIGGER than Friday20th— Chuck D (@MrChuckD) January 17, 2017
Don’t thank Obama, thank organizers who put pressure on the system and won!!! This means freeing Mumia, Leonard, and Jalil is possible!!!!— Radical Toddler (@OceanMendoza) January 17, 2017