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The Final Act

The Final Act

Photo: By The Obama-Biden Transition Project via Wikimedia Commons

With less than 24 hours left in the White House, President Obama announced 330 more commutations of prisoners which brings his total number to 1,715. He has granted more commutations to more people than the past 12 presidents combined. 568 of those were serving life sentences.

President Obama has granted 212 pardons including one to Ian Schrager, the co-founder of Studio 54 and Baseball Hall of Fame Player Willie McCovey, both for tax evasion.

Thursday’s act made it the most commutations granted in one day in American History and and some may ask why President Obama went out of his way to be number one in this area.

The President has been clear that he believes there has been racial disparities in how minorities are treated in the criminal justice system and the mandatory federal sentencing guidelines is just one area he has pointed at.  Simply put, President Obama believes this and he took that belief and acted.

Part of me respects him for believing in something and then doing.  There have been plenty of politicians that tell you all day long what they believe in and do nothing.  Like him or not, President Obama believes in these disparities with all of his heart.  From the initial contact with law enforcement to the courts and corrections, he believes that minorities and specifically blacks are treated more harshly.

President Obama certainly has the statistics in his favor.  Blacks represent 13.3 percent of the U.S. population while white people make up about 77 percent. But there are more black men disproportionately in state prisons across the nation than there are white men.

The latest Federal Bureau of Prisons statistics showed the white population was 58 percent compared to the 37 percent of blacks being housed at federal institutions. At the state level, black male prisoners represent 38 percent of the population while whites males account for 35 percent and 21 percent are Hispanic males. Overall, blacks are 5.1 more times likely to be incarcerated than whites, and blacks represent more than half of the prison population in 11 states.

With numbers alone, it’s an open and shut case and this is where I think President Obama lost an opportunity to address the nation in a way that could not only highlight the racial disparity but help the youth in America to understand that there are consequences for their actions.  Drug offenses are not innocent crimes.  Many of those that Obama commuted were in the middle of the crack cocaine epidemic that drove violence up in the inner cities.

Mothers lost their sons.

Boys lost their friends and some communities have yet to recover.

I’ve worked in the criminal justice system for over two decades.  Before that, I watched my father work in law enforcement for two decades and in my humble opinion the system is not color blind but black is not the issue.

It’s green.

If you have money, you are much more likely to avoid prosecution and/or incarceration.  I’ve never seen a DA say that “we have to get this black guy” but I’ve seen many raise their eyebrows when a defendant brings in a high dollar lawyer.

That’s not to say that racism doesn’t play some role in the arrest and incarceration of some people.  There is racism in every aspect of America and until we use robots some of it will always be there but I do not think that President Obama had the right priority in regard to why there is a disparity in the criminal justice system.

It gave the black community the sense that it’s all rigged against them and the hard truth is that the vast majority of blacks are law abiding citizens and their behavior is what the difference was between them and others in prison.

I rarely heard President Obama speak about the unbelievable violence in black neighborhoods.

I rarely heard President Obama speak about individuals taking responsibility for their actions.

I can’t recall hearing President Obama speak about the breakdown in the family structure in black families.

Approximately 75% of black kids have no father at home.  Often times, mom or grandma has to work multiple jobs and that can often lead to kids being on the street doing the wrong thing.

Frankly, I’m not judging that.  For some reason I was born into an awesome family where my father took his responsibility very serious.  He taught me right and wrong and showed me how to be a man.  I had every opportunity to be a good person in society.  Many others are not that fortunate.

The root of crime is poverty, education and family.  If you are poor, uneducated without a good family life, the odds of going to jail are much higher.  There’s not a sociologist in this country that would disagree with that so why has those issues been largely ignored and the blame placed on the criminal justice system?

What did President Obama do about poverty, education and family?  He’s not God so I know he couldn’t fix everything but he had the bully pulpit for 8 years and what did he choose to talk about?

He blamed the “system” for the disparity and while I don’t see the criminal justice system as innocent, I certainly wish he would have spoken loudly and boldly about issues that give children a distinct disadvantage.

The issues, in my opinion, that drive the disparity.

Obama chose the “victim” path.  It’s the fault of someone else where truthfully, there are many at fault and some of those at fault are the men that don’t deserve to be fathers.

There will be some that will read what I say and get angry at me.  I’ve been called everything from a racist to a Nazi because I had the audacity to have an opinion about the black community.  One particular coward behind a keyboard tried to get me fired and this is why I believe President Obama lost an incredible opportunity.  He could have said exactly what I’m saying (which is all true) and be praised for doing it.  It could have made a real, dramatic difference.

President Obama wasn’t as fortunate as me.  For the most part, his father was not in his life but he did not let that affect the outcome of his life. President Obama did not embrace the “victim” mentality and he became the first African American President of the United States of America.

He would have been the perfect spokesperson for men to raise the bar and take responsibility.  Instead, most are left with blaming cops and racism for the arrest and incarceration issues in America.

The reformation of the inner cities start at home and it starts in that community. Community Policing has two words and one word that can often be ignored is “community.”  I know it’s easier to blame cops but true reform will come when we stop blaming and begin to do something that matters and that starts in the home.

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About The Author


Travis Yates is the Director of Training at Law Officer. An ILEETA Trainer of the Year, his Seminars in Risk Management, Officer Safety & Leadership have been taught across the world, including 47 States. A current Police Commander, Major Yates is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and a current Doctoral Student in Strategic Leadership. He is the Founder of the Courageous Leadership Institute (, providing leadership consulting and training to law enforcement around the world.

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