Unpacking the Complicated Legacy of Kwame Kilpatrick

President Trump’s decision to commute Kilpatrick’s sentence has reignited longstanding debates in Detroit about the former mayor.

Kwame Kilpatrick is a free man after serving seven years in prison on racketeering charges.

“I felt a sense of joy… I always felt the sentence was excessive.” – Rev. Kenneth Flowers, Greater New Mt. Moriah Baptist Church

Last week, on his way out of the White House, President Trump commuted the 28-year sentence of the former Detroit mayor. In the days following the announcement, which came down last Wednesday, there has been a big debate around Kilpatrick’s legacy and whether or not he deserves the commutation.

Listen: Stephen Henderson and guests discuss Kwame Kilpatrick’s release and legacy


Karen Dumas is a communications consultant who served as director of community relations for Kwame Kilpatrick during his time as mayor. She wrote an op-ed in the Detroit News titled “What Kwame Kilpatrick’s commutation means for Detroiters.” She says the commutation was “fair.”

“I have long felt that 28 years was just too long,” says Dumas. “I was glad to see that Donald Trump commuted his sentence.”

Dumas notes in her op-ed that Kilpatrick “became a convenient poster child of Detroit’s downfall.”

“The timing of it after Kilpatrick left, bankruptcy, our decline in population, all these things, everybody said, ‘OK, this is it, Kwame did all of this.’ He became a convenient source of blame for things that had been bubbling over for decades,” Dumas says.

Rev. Kenneth Flowers is pastor of Greater New Mt. Moriah Baptist Church in Detroit. He was one of the first clergy members in the city to call for Kilpatrick’s resignation. Flowers has since been outspoken about his belief that Kilpatrick’s sentence was too harsh.

“I felt that for the good of the city that it was time for Mayor Kilpatrick to step down,” says Flowers of his decision to call for the mayor’s resignation. “I took a position not based on popularity, but because it was the right thing to do.” But he says he was happy when he heard Kilpatrick’s sentence had been commuted.

“I felt a sense of joy,” he says. “I always felt the sentence was excessive.”

Matthew Schneider is U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. He has been vocally critical of Trump’s decision to commute Kilpatrick’s sentence.

“The problem I see in this case is that he only served seven years, which is only one-quarter of his sentence,” says Schneider. “That’s a lot lower than a lot of people who have committed fewer crimes. And I think it’s really unjustifiable.” But he says he also wishes the best for Kilpatrick and hopes he has a chance to build a good bond with his family.

“I’m not happy that Kwame Kilpatrick served only seven years of his 28, but what’s done is done. He’s out now. He’s received clemency,” says Schneider. “Let’s hope that he makes the most of it. God bless him. Wish him well, because it’s over now. And so, now we have to move on, take the next step, and hope that he makes the best thing that he can in his life.”

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