Op-ed: Wrestling with the legacies of Kwame, OJ an...

Op-ed: Wrestling with the legacies of Kwame, OJ and a racist criminal justice system

I remember feeling rage when I heard Kwame’s sentence. And also like I was betraying my own good sense at the same time.

former detroit mayor kwame kilpatrick shown speaking in 2006.

Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, 2006. Credit: Dave Hogg via Flickr

I’ve been wrestling a lot with my feelings about the commutation of Kwame Kilpatrick’s sentence.

I believe that he used the City of Detroit’s pension fund as his personal bank account and thereby robbed many people I know and love of money they worked lifetimes to earn; money they expected to depend on to care for themselves and their families in retirement. I also believe there is strong circumstantial evidence connecting him to the killing of Tamara Greene.

But, like many Black people, I am exhausted by the constant and consistent non-punishment of white people, particularly powerful white men, who commit similar crimes.

I remember feeling rage when I heard Kwame’s sentence. And also feeling like I was betraying my own good sense at the same time.

Moreover, I understand intellectually that what I am doing is conflating reform and true equity in the criminal justice system with allowing Black men who do awful things to get away with the same awful things white men get away with all the time. I know that is wrong thinking.

It is not hard for me to feel just fine with the thought of Bill Cosby dying in prison. He raped women with impunity for decades. But also, I am a survivor of sexual assault who has been accused of inviting my attacker to assault me. On a personal level, I relate to his victims and am glad to see him be punished.

I relate Kilpatrick’s crimes to OJ Simpson.

I was a child when OJ Simpson was acquitted of murdering his ex-wife and her friend. I wasn’t paying attention to any of the facts about the trial really; I just knew that Black people were Team Johnnie Cochran and white people were not.

The discourse around me relative to the OJ Simpson trial was tied to race and the racist LAPD, not a murder. This is all in the near-immediate aftermath of the non-punishment of multiple officers who brutalized Rodney King on videotape.

The day Simpson was acquitted, my teachers took us out of class to watch the verdict. I honestly don’t even think it was about a social studies lesson. They were Black and didn’t want to miss the verdict being delivered live.

When the verdict was read, (most of) my classmates and I erupted with joy. There was a chorus of, “YES!” My Black teachers appeared to be satisfied. A Black man wasn’t going back to jail that day.

Now, as an adult with clarity about the information the adults around me had in 1995, I’m convinced that OJ Simpson murdered his ex-wife and her friend, was completely incompetent in his attempt to cover it up and flee and got lucky that Mark Fuhrman’s history of racist behavior found its way into the trial. 

I also do not judge the Black adults around me who decided to root for a guilty Black man to beat the racist criminal justice system.

I’m an adult now and it’s what I’ve done with Kwame Kilpatrick, so I understand.

Courtney Wise Randolph is a native Detroiter with a heart for people and their stories. A WDET Storymakers Fellow, she also writes for nonprofits and individuals through her small business Keen Composition.