Who should get political pardons?

We asked 10 feminist leaders for their picks.

Published January 21, 2009 6:45PM (EST)

Let's face it: Presidential pardons have more often been doled out like political doggie treats than used as a serious tool for correcting judicial error. Whether you're looking at Dubya's or Clinton's list we're primarily talking about well-connected embezzlers, swindlers and perjurers (except that Clinton's list is three times as long). So it was refreshing to ask a number of prominent feminists whom they would pardon and discover a genuine interest in, well, justice.

Amanda Marcotte blogs at Pandagon and podcasts for RH Reality Check.

If only a president would pardon everyone in prison on a nonviolent drug charge. The money we'd save in keeping nonviolent offenders in prison alone would justify it. But more than that, it's time to reverse the cancer that is the drug war. It serves no purpose other than to erode civil liberties and start deadly wars that barely receive any media coverage.

Katha Pollitt' s collection of poems, "The Mind-Body Problem," will be published by Random House in June.

"Pardon" doesn't seem quite the right word when applied to innocent people, but I would pardon the considerable number of innocent daycare workers, school bus drivers and teachers, male and female, caught up in the ongoing hysteria over imaginary molestation of children. Jesse Friedman, Bernard Baran, Lynn Malcom, the Amiraults and others served long prison sentences and now face lifelong restrictions for molestation that, in the opinion of many experts who have looked into their cases, did not happen and could not have happened. Nancy Allen, Robert Halsey and numerous others are still incarcerated. Feminists are rightly concerned with uncovering and punishing sexual abuse of children, but imprisoning people on interviews by ill-trained, faddish therapists, prosecutor-manipulated testimony and the mantra of "believe the children" (except when they say nothing happened) is not the way.

Charon Asetoyer is the executive director of the Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center.

I wouldn't pardon an individual: I would pardon the masses. In a country with a long history of injustices against people of color I would pardon those who were pulled over or stopped because of the color of their skin or race, arrested and criminally charged when a white counterpart would have been let off or received a lesser charge. Along those same lines, I would pardon people of color who received harsher sentences than their white counterparts. For even in this very exciting time we are in there is still injustice and racism; there are still those with power and those that will misuse that power. Now is the time to escalate the fight for justice and to make the best use of this shift in power: It may be only for a moment that we have this opportunity to change some wrongs.

Maia Szalavitz is the co-author of "Recovery Options: The Complete Guide."

All nonviolent drug offenders. Prison does not treat medical problems.

Dazon Dixon Diallo is the founder and president of SisterLove, a women's HIV/AIDS organization that views the epidemic through a human rights and reproductive justice lens.

1. Assata Shakur, wrongfully charged and convicted of the murder of a New Jersey State Trooper in the late '70s at the height of the domestic conflict between American civil/human rights activists and dissidents and the American Government (COINTELPRO). Assatta has lived in Cuba in exile since around 1980.

2. The New Jersey Four: four young lesbians wrongfully charged and convicted for an action of self-defense that resulted in the assault of a man who was verbally and physically abusive to them in Lower Manhattan in 2007. One of the young women is serving an inexplicably long prison sentence.

3. ANY and ALL the women and men who have been arrested for prostitution in a post-Katrina New Orleans and subsequently charged and convicted with felonious charges of "crimes against nature" and sentenced with prison time as well as the required sexual offender registration. Most of the women in these cases are mothers of young children.

Pam Merritt blogs as Shark-fu at AngryBlackBitch.com, Shakespeare's Sister and Feministing, and is a staff writer for RH Reality Check.

My first instinct was to say that I would pardon Leonard Peltier for all the obvious reasons that sum up the injustice of his case. But then, after some reflection, I decided that I would instead pardon everyone who committed a crime of survival. I would pardon the poor who sought food, the abused who sought to end their abuse, the denied that sought justice and the militants who sought to have their voice heard. An unjust law is no law at all. I would hope that my pardon(s) would be in keeping with that.

Samhita Mukhopadhyay blogs for Feministing.

I would pardon the dude who threw his shoes at Bush (and yes, I know that he's being held by the Iraqi government, not in the U.S.).

Tedra Osell is better known on the Internet as the primary blogger at Bitch PhD.

Most of the people in prison aren't famous enough for me to have heard of them, and even pardoning one exemplary prisoner doesn't begin to address the underlying injustices of the prison system. That said, I think that both John Walker Lindh, whose treatment really marked the beginning of the Bush regime's willful shredding of constitutional rights like legal representation and habeas corpus, and Jose Padilla, who has essentially been driven mad, should certainly be released. But so should any number of people in jails who had inadequate representation or unfair trials, or who are there because of things like "my boyfriend was selling drugs and I answered the phone," or who are being treated inhumanely. I would certainly pardon every single child in the U.S. who is currently serving life without parole.

Loretta J. Ross is the national coordinator of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective.

I would pardon Assata Shakur (a political prisoner in exile in Cuba)  and any woman with a substance abuse problem who has been convicted of child abuse by delivering "drugs to her unborn child."

Shelby Knox is a full-time speaker and organizer working with progressive organizations to promote sex education, women's rights and youth empowerment.

I would pardon every woman convicted of killing her husband before the self-defense plea was admissible in all 50 states because, after all, it probably was. We live in a country where the biggest risk factor for the death of pregnant women is homicide and the number of women killed by their husbands or partners constitutes 41 percent of all women killed (only 11 percent of men killed are done in by their wives or partners). It's not a far leap of logic to think that those women were making sure they didn't become part of that 41 percent statistic.

By Nancy Goldstein

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