• Brandon Colvin

Trump grants clemency to former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, rappers Lil' Wayne and Kodak Black

On Wednesday, just hours before the inauguration of President Joe Biden, the White House released a list of 143 individuals who were granted either pardons or commutations under the outgoing administration. Clemency grantees included drug traffickers, tax evaders, counterfeiters, and a range of other criminal offenders. However, Trump’s inclusion of former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and rappers Lil’ Wayne and Kodak Black, on the White House clemency list has surprised and intrigued many observers.

Kilpatrick, known as America’s “Hip-Hop” mayor had been serving a 28-year sentence in federal prison on political corruption charges including racketeering, fraud, extortion, and bribery. Kilpatrick’s tenure in Detroit politics was rocky at best and characterized by frequent, racialized criticism that often highlighted his youth — he was Detroit’s youngest mayor ever, sworn in at the age of 31 — as a contributing factor to his woes. He resigned as mayor of Detroit in 2008 amid pending corruption charges. Kilpatrick's legal woes were roundly dismissed in Detroit’s Black community as racially-motivated and representative of an unfair double standard.

Longtime Detroit resident and supporter of Kilpatrick, Karima Sorel, believes that the former mayor was targeted specifically because his politics, his aesthetic, and his personality were uniquely Detroit, and by extension, uniquely Black.

“Kwame Kilpatrick is less about politics and more about Black self determination. He is still inspirational to us, even if they throw him in jail. He is the Hip-Hop mayor, our mayor,” said Sorel, a fine artist and small business owner. “That designation of being “hip-hop” was a signifier that worked against him politically; it showed that he, like hip hop culture, did now bow to the altar of the status quo. He has an earring. He looks like hip hop. He represents political power in the hands of the young. He had the ears and hearts of the people and some folks in the establishment did not like that. They came after him.”

Trump commuted Kilpatrick’s sentence after a years-long lobbying campaign by Kilpatrick supporters who argued that a 28-year imprisonment was an excessive punishment that reflected the already unfair sentencing practices that plague the U.S. justice system. Kilpatrick has served seven years in federal detention. Reports have confirmed that the former politician is now home with his family in Atlanta.

Dwayne Michael Carter Jr., also known as Lil’ Wayne, received a pardon from the outgoing president as well. The White House statement noted that the rapper is held in high esteem by supporters, describing “Mr. Carter...as ‘trustworthy, kind-hearted and generous,’ while also highlighting Carter’s “commitment to a variety of charities, including donations to research hospitals and a host of foodbanks.” Carter’s charges stemmed from his possession and transport of a gold-plated pistol on a private flight from California to Florida.

NFL great, Deion Sanders, was also mentioned in Lil’ Wayne’s pardon statement as a supporter who described “Mr. Wayne [as] a provider for his family, a friend to many, a man of faith, a natural giver to the less fortunate, a waymaker, [and] a game changer.” Wayne has made waves in the past for his support of Donald Trump. Many rappers and pop culture critics panned the star’s decision to pose for and post pictures with Trump in the days leading up to the 2020 election.

Fellow rapper Kodak Black also received a commutation from Trump. Black, whose real name is Bill Kapri, was sentenced in November 2019 on charges related to illegal firearms possession. Kapri was originally sentenced to 46 months in prison and three additional years of supervised release. The artist also has two other criminal cases involving marijuana possession, sexual misconduct, and falsifying documents. Kapri’s commutation only involves the 2019 weapons conviction, however. In the White House’s statement, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany described Kapri as "a prominent artist and community leader.”

"He has served nearly half of his sentence. Before his conviction and after reaching success as a recording artist, Kodak Black became deeply involved in numerous philanthropic efforts. In fact, he has committed to supporting a variety of charitable efforts, such as providing educational resources to students and families of fallen law enforcement officers and the underprivileged. In addition to these efforts, he has paid for the notebooks of school children, provided funding and supplies to daycare centers, provided food for the hungry, and annually provides for underprivileged children during Christmas. Most recently while still incarcerated, Kodak Black donated $50,000 to David Portnoy's Barstool Fund, which provides funds to small businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Kodak Black's only request was that his donation go toward restaurants in his hometown," the statement read.

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