Apathy Trumps Justice

On Friday, October 25, President Trump spoke at Benedict College at the 2019 Second Step Presidential Justice Forum, organized by the 20/20 Bipartisan Justice Center. Benedict College is a 150-year-old HBCU (historically black college or university) in Columbus, South Carolina.
The 20/20 Bipartisan Group awarded the President with the Bipartisan Justice Award for passing the First Step Act. According to the White House, the award is given annually to an individual “who has demonstrated the ability to work across the aisle to achieve meaningful progress in reforming the criminal justice system.”
The First Step Act, passed in December 2018, enabled the early release of a relatively small number of nonviolent federal prisoners and created support systems for current and formerly incarcerated individuals. While the First Step Act was a step in the right direction, President Trump’s record on criminal justice reform is not deserving of this praise.
His speech at Benedict College embodies his true attitude towards criminal justice: President Trump doesn’t truly care about reform, but instead seeks only positive optics and praise.
Despite President Trump’s support for the First Step Act, his shameful record shows that he has no true commitment to criminal justice reform. While it was passed almost a year ago, the President never included any money in his budget for the First Step Act. Additionally, his budget seeks to eliminate funding for the Justice Resource Institute, which provides technical assistance to states seeking to reform their own justice systems. The only criminal justice reform effort he made is one he has now abandoned.
Not only is President Trump undeserving of the Bipartisan Justice Award, based on his record, he shamefully used the speech he gave at Benedict College for his own political purposes. The President spent a large portion of the speech talking about obstructions of justice and impeachment, along with a housing discrimination case brought against his family. He even went as far as to compare the impeachment inquiry against him to a lynching, in seeming obliviousness to the thousands of black Americans who have literally been lynched in our country.
While the school enrolls 2,100 students, only seven were permitted to attend the event. The rest were on lockdown in their dorms in order to avoid a protest. The crowd consisted mainly of White House-selected Trump supporters.
It is ironic that President Trump prevented most black students from attending an event addressing an issue that affects black people disproportionately – in America today, one in three black men will spend time in prison, and fifty-six percent of the prison population is comprised of black and Latinx Americans, despite representing a much smaller portion of the American population.
The President claimed that his administration has done more to help black Americans through criminal justice reform than any other president. This is obviously not true. President Trump’s track record is proof enough that he was undeserving of the Bipartisan Justice Award. But most importantly, Trump exploited his power for his own personal benefit, all the while devaluing black Americans and ignoring their voices.