John Legend writes open letter to President Obama

Singer-songwriter John Legend performs onstage during the 58th Annual Grammy music Awards in Los Angeles February 15, 2016.

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It’s no secret that John Legend finds it important to use his popularity and fame to address political issues

And before President Obama leaves office, Legend is making sure to get some requests in. In an open letter to Mr. Obama that was published in Rolling Stone, Legend took on an issue that has always been important to him: Clemency for non-violent drug offenders. 

After a brief introduction that included a nod to their personal friendship, Legend thanks the president for his policies toward criminal justice reform -- including the more than 1,000 people whose sentences have been commuted by Mr. Obama and banning solitary confinement for juveniles in federal facilities. But Legend wants more. 

“Before you leave office, I would like to add my voice to the more than 2 million Americans who have asked you to use your clemency and pardon powers to bring justice to the thousands of families of non-violent drug offenders who have waited far too long for Congress to act,” wrote Legend. 


Singer John Legend performs during a student workshop event, “The Sound of Young America: The History of Motown,” hosted by first lady Michelle Obama in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington on Feb. 24, 2011. 

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As the article describes, Legend’s own mother suffered from drug addiction and eventful incarceration. 

Legend doesn’t downplay the president’s past commutations -- the White House says Mr. Obama has issued more commutations than the past 11 presidents combined-- but Legend writes that “more action is needed to dismantle the unjust policies of the past 40 years.”

Legend cites examples from the criminal justice reform movement, which he says shows “overwhelmingly” the desire to change mass incarceration laws. This is a desire held not only Legend, but Mr. Obama and past presidents alike.

“Just as George W. Bush urged you to proactively address clemency on your way to your first inauguration in 2009,” wrote Legend. “I am asking you to bring justice to thousands of families by granting as many clemencies as possible before you leave office.” 

Mr. Obama actually made history last year when he visited the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution. In addition to granting commutations, Mr. Obama has ordered the Justice Department to review the overuse of solitary confinement and said problems like overcrowding and prison gangs demand more attention.

The timing of Legend’s letter is particularly relevant with President-elect Donald Trump taking office next month. On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump praised Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s increase of mandatory minimums in his home state of Indiana.

“We must make similar efforts a priority for the nation,” Mr. Trump said in October