WILL THE TRUMP-YEEZE BROMANCE BEAR ANY FRUIT?
Kanye West had lunch with the President at the White House on Thursday, October 11th. Though the meeting itself was bizarre, some good may have come out of it in the realm of criminal justice.
West announced last week that he’ll be moving back to Chicago and will move his clothing apparel and shoe company, Yeezy, there. “I’m moving back to Chicago and I’m never leaving again,” West reportedly said at a Chicago event.
Topics of discussion included police violence among other criminal justice reform issues. Just last week, a jury convicted Chicago officer Jason Van Dyke for the 2014 murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
But given West’s immovable position as a Trump advocate, is there any chance his post-meeting remarks will be anything more than lip-service?
Lately, many celebrities have made headlines for their political activation. Amy Schumer, Piper Perabo, and West’s long-time acquaintance Taylor Swift among others. But an arrest, or viral video, is not the policy outcome Chicago desperately needs.
Trump has reveled in the opportunity to receive some good press by using his celebrity to mingle with his favorite people – other celebrities, including West’s wife, Kim Kardashian. In June, Kardashian proved that celebrity is a powerful ingredient for real change as she petitioned Trump to pardon Alice Marie Johnson, an elderly woman who’d been sentenced to life in prison for a nonviolent first offense. Trump not only welcomed the meeting but went on to declare the power of the pardon a ‘beautiful thing.’
Trump has weighed pardons and commutations for a variety of high-profile cases where as mentioned earlier, he is able to receive mild praise from universal audiences if only for a few moments.
Since West’s live, twenty-five rant on TMZ earlier this year, he’s been called many things. What he is for sure, is an activist. One who is growing increasingly passionate about conservatism, and the history of the Democratic Party’s racist messaging and tactics, that he believes are still plaguing black communities today. Unfortunately, West cannot be called astute or even reasonably-well versed in this history or the English language.
On TMZ he referred to slavery as a ‘choice’ and received well-deserved backlash for it. The lesson was not learned, however, as displayed when he seized an opportunity on Saturday Night Live last week to perform a new song, and an impromptu pro-Trump rant that he supplemented with a very disturbing tweet denouncing the abolishment of slavery.
Of course, moments later it was clear to the rapper he’d err’ d considerably and attempted to stop the bleeding with a proposed ‘amendment’ to the thirteenth amendment. Gratefully, many of Twitter’s 1 billion users are well aware that the thirteenth amendment, rather than solely addressing unpaid labor, actually prohibited the practice of human ownership, and further, that abolish, and amend, are two entirely different concepts. Now that West has deleted his social media accounts, it’s likely the public is safe from future mix-ups like this.
Still, West’s comments are patterned after the President’s own twitter-happy thumbs, and reckless, uninformed policy professions that terrorize Americans just long enough to be ultimately retracted once the damage is done.
Trump endorsed the SNL performance. Yet as close as Trump and West may be, Trump is no friend of the city of Chicago. Recently Trump urged the city of Chicago to embrace “stop-and-frisk” policing, inaccurately calling it an effective approach.
This is the key to West’s opportunity.
The bottleneck to criminal justice reform in the White House has undoubtedly been Attorney General, Jeff Sessions. Though Sessions has spent much of his time serving as Trump’s political punching bag, he has never been undermined in his attempts to thwart any and all reform efforts posed by Kushner and others in the White House.
To understand just how far Sessions will go to ensure police departments are empowered to use any and all means necessary, consider an unusual intervention he ordered the Department of Justice to make just this week:
Sessions announced Tuesday that the DOJ would file a statement in federal court to oppose independent monitoring of the police department. While such filings do not carry explicit legal weight, they are filed to sway judge’s views of cases.
Under a law passed in 1994 in the wake of the videotaped beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles Police Department officers, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division opened 25 “pattern-or-practice” investigations of law enforcement agencies to determine whether the departments were systemically engaged in unconstitutional conduct. The Justice Department’s Chicago police investigation ― the largest ever federal probe of a city’s police force ― found that “broad, fundamental reform” was needed in Chicago.
Trump and Sessions, like many other Blue Lives Matter conservatives, do not accept the widespread use of the unconstitutional practices in modern policing, nor do they recognize deficiencies in police training, reckless hiring, or officer accountability, though they all play a role in frequent constitutional violations, and sometimes even murder.
As disconcerting as Sessions’ philosophy is, he is not a strong power of influence on the President. Trump loves to make headlines, even when it means contrasting his “rough-em-up” rhetoric with pardoning convicted criminals. But Trump’s actions, despite his rhetoric, prove, that if moved, he can make some headway for criminal justice reform.
As of May 7th, the President has received about 500 requests for pardons. Trump’s predecessors largely relied on a formal, Department of Justice process to identify those deserving of clemency. In Trump’s administration, however, clemency lists have been brought directly to the President and executed.
“We have 3,000 (clemency list) names. We’re looking at them. Of the 3,000 names, many of those names really have been treated unfairly,” Trump told the Washington Examiner.
Simply stated, Trump will not seek the cooperation of the DOJ to improve policing in Chicago. Since the former is so keen to do ‘business’ with Hollywood heavyweights, we can only hope Mr. West made good use of their luncheon.