By: AJ Rice:
"That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free" -By the President: ABRAHAM LINCOLN & WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State
As of January 9, 2020, Clinton Stewart is a free man. He stepped out of the Federal Correctional Complex in Florence, Colorado a man who had regained his freedom after seven long years behind bars.
The first person Stewart, who is black, thanked for his freedom is a man the media, the left and so-called entertainers regularly denounce as a “racist” -- President Donald J. Trump.
"I was released early because of the First Step Act. I’m so thankful to @realDonaldTrump. The Washington Post said only Obama could save us but we now have a President in Trump who did more than pay lip service to criminal justice reform," Stewart said. In a beautiful, chill-inducing video, his family members step up and one by one thank President Trump for freeing their family member via clemency and the First Step Act.
As for President Obama, he had the opportunity to free Stewart years ago, but refused. He refused even after a federal judge took up Stewart’s case and practically begged Obama to intervene. Federal Judge H. Lee Sarokin, retired, took up the Stewart case and even wrote a play about it in the hopes of getting the six men convicted in the case freed. But as long as Obama was president, Stewart remained locked up. Obama has been accused of essentially ignoring thousands of people who were either wrongly convicted or handed sentences too harsh to fit their crimes.
Stewart’s case is not a “Free Mumia” thing. Not at all. Perhaps, that's why Obama ignored him. Whether Stewart and his colleagues should have served a minute, let alone multiple years, behind bars is barely controversial anymore.
Before you think Stewart must have been guilty of some heinous crime to become a cause celeb, he wasn’t. Stewart never even had a criminal history prior to his white collar conviction. The “crime” of which he was accused involved a software company, IRP Solutions Corporation, he and several colleagues built, ironically, to help law enforcement. They had trouble finalizing a contract with the Department of Homeland Security, and wound up in a great deal of debt. After an FBI raid on their office made it all but impossible for the company to work with any law enforcement agency anywhere, the Department of Justice attempted to indict Stewart and his partners on wire fraud and other charges. It failed the first time but succeeded the second, in 2009. The DOJ crowed about their convictions; they received sentences of 7 to 11 years each, which was harsh for first-time offenders in non-violent white collar crime.
If you’re looking for a crime, keep looking. There wasn’t one. The IRP6, as Stewart and the other five men convicted in the case came to be known, were wrongly convicted. Despite this, they all remained in federal prison until Stewart walked free this year. The other five remain imprisoned. Five of the IRP6 men are black.
Stewart walked free thanks to presidential clemency and an initiative President Trump championed, the First Step Act. Trump announced the First Step Act at a major White House ceremony in December 2018. The First Step Act is the first comprehensive prison reform in more than a decade. It offers what it calls fairer sentencing and smarter confinement, along with more efforts to rehabilitate inmates during and after incarceration. But it’s not a program that encourages leniency for violent or repeat offenders. It offers ways out and up for people like Stewart, who were either wrongly convicted or overly punished for first time or relatively minor offenses.
Clinton Stewart is far from the only black, or Hispanic, inmate freed by President Trump. Tanesha Bannister was freed in 2019, along with about 3,000 other mostly minority inmates, under the First Step Act. That’s thousands of newly freed Americans, impacting thousands of families and children who finally have their parents, spouses or siblings back in their lives. Bannister met President Trump and was able to thank him for giving her a second chance and a hand up to the rest of her life.
Robert Shipp was freed through the First Step Act. So was Norah Yayha. So was Alice Johnson, the grandmother serving life in prison for a non-violent drug offense who featured in Trump’s moving Super Bowl ad. While Johnson was not politically connected, she did have a famous champion working to free her.
In a White House ceremony in June 2019, Kim Kardshian West appeared with the 45th president. A long-time criminal justice reform advocate, West lent her support to the First Step Act’s drive to help released inmates like Johnson get freed and find jobs and support themselves.
During Thursday's event, she announced a partnership to provide gift cards for ride share services to help provide previously incarcerated individuals with access to and from job interviews and employment opportunities.
"And that is so important, so needed and I just want to thank the president for really standing behind this issue," Kardashian West said. "Seeing the passion he has for criminal justice has been really remarkable."
Trump’s commitment to helping men like Clinton Stewart and women like Alice Johnson spans his entire first term and has been one of the few successful bipartisan efforts in recent years. While not an issue that tosses so-called red meat to the Republican base, it is an issue that offers lasting help to thousands of families and can offer hope of real racial reconciliation at the same time. Which brings me to the big picture. Donald Trump will go down in history as the second great emancipator in American history, with the First Step Act as the second Emancipation Proclamation.
It took the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, to issue the great Emancipation Proclamation and free the slaves, in 1863. Lincoln was a lifelong principled abolitionist. The Republican Party was founded on a consensus on the most divisive issue of the pre-Civil War age, which was slavery and its abolition. Slavery was a controversial, divisive and nearly fatal issue at the founding of the American republic. Emancipation remains the single most important presidential proclamation by President Lincoln during his time in office. It transcends policy to become one of the great moments in all of human history.
President Trump literally set Clinton Stewart free. Unshackled him from state captivity. But his criminal justice reform doesn’t stop there. His leadership on the First Step Act caps his long standing commitment to balance fighting crime with true criminal justice. It means he may end up not only freeing thousands of minorities like Stewart who have been unjustly incarcerated, but that he will help them find their next lives through drug and other rehabilitation, job training and other support. That is true freedom, the freedom to find rehabilitation and redemption, and pay it forward to future generations. President Trump deserves credit for his courage and vision in doing everything he can to free people who deserve it, reunite families who need it, and restore credibility to a justice system that has lacked it for years.
Trump the Emancipator. Get used to it. It’s one of his signature achievements and has done right by a great number of people. And don’t be surprised to see Trump’s criminal justice work have a huge effect on the 2020 election.