For a brief, fleeting moment, it seemed like Detroit was finally getting some contrition from convicted felon and one-time mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
“I look at myself on television, "What are you doing, man?" Kilpatrick told the court during his sentencing according to Free Press reporter Jim Schaefer’s liveblog. “I saw myself walking down the street, that's false confidence.”
Had he fully accepted the consequences of his hubris and amorality and sincerely apologized, Thursday’s sentencing hearing in federal court could have been an historic moment of closure for Detroit.
Unfortunately, when you break down what Kilpatrick said, you realize he didn’t own up to the 24 crimes he was convicted of earlier this year.
“I accept responsibility. In 2008, I lied,” he continued later on in his rambling address. “After being called corrupt, thief, thug, criminal, murderer every day for 7 or 8 years.”
The admission of guilt to his previous conviction—something he had to do five years ago when he accepted a plea bargain—is really a denial by omission of these more serious federal crimes, which a jury of his peers concluded, beyond a reasonable doubt, he committed.
From there his presentation devolved into an orgy of self-pity and a lot of meaningless babble you’d expect from third-rate motivational speaker.
“If the people of the city can hear me, I want to change the collective conscience of yesterday, to the collective consciousness of tomorrow.”
Whatever is that supposed to mean? I doesn't matter, except it obviously isn't an apology or acceptance of responsibility.
More telling was this gem: "There's too many black children who don't have fathers. There's three more now."
Kilpatrick is technically correct to imply that unnecessary prison sentences have, especially within the black community, unjustly taken too many parents from their children. The fate of Kilpatrick's progeny isn't so heart-wrenching.
Kilpatrick wasn't some desperate soul selling pot so he could buy his kids food or pay the rent. He was a child of privilege who rose to a seat of power and influence. While focusing so much of his attention on dirty deals that stole from an impoverished city, he allowed Detroit’s financial situation to spiral out-of-control. Unlike those serving time for non-violent drug offenses, Kilpatrick's sentence represents a legitimate debt owed to society.
What’s more, in all the time Kilpatrick held high political office, in all the time his mother (former U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick) held high political office, did they use their power and influence to champion meaningful sentencing reform that would—and should—grant relief to the tens of thousands of black men currently incarcerated for little more than selling a dubious product to willing customers?
It’s beyond disingenuous for Kilpatrick to claim he’s a victim of a flawed justice system when he did virtually nothing to attempt reform when he had the opportunity. Worse, it’s an insult to the real struggles of kids with unnecessarily incarcerated parents for Kilpatrick to suggest his children belong on that tragic list.
Thursday’s courtroom spectacle showed finally that Kwame Kilpatrick is incapable of sincere penance. His performance, as much as anything else, justifies the stiffness of his 28-year sentence.
If he serves the full term, he’ll be released when he’s 71. Prison time isn’t easy. This very well could be tantamount to a life sentence, or close to it.
And that’s fine. Kwame Kilpatrick isn’t a tragic figure or an opportunity lost. He’s a truly bad guy who did bad things that will continue to cause suffering for many, for years to come.
Like Jeff Skilling, Bernard Ebbers and comparable white-collar criminals, Kilpatrick likely will spent the better part of the rest of his life behind bars. Shed no tears for the man, it’s exactly where he belongs.