Change.org is a website that dedicates itself to not only providing people with a voice, but giving others the ability to generate change through creating and signing petitions on issues that affect not just one person; issues that affect society as a whole.
To get involved or to make your voice heard all you have to do is to register and e-mails on various petitions will come your way.
Recently hundreds of people received an e-mail from a young girl (she states that she’s 25) whose father has been incarcerated for her entire life.
The woman, Taylor Palmer, writes a convincing and heart wrenching plea for people to sign a petition in order for her father, Michael Palmer, to be considered for clemency by the President of the United States Barack Obama, Pardon Attorney Deborah Leff and Attorney General Eric Holder.
Any child who has endured the loss of a parent can certainly sympathize with Miss Palmer, but this issue goes a lot further than just the love a child has for a father or even justice in its very basic form.
In her petition Ms. Palmer explains that due to choices her father made in-between 1987 and 1989 by selling drugs he received a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Ironically she refers to his choice as a nonviolent drug offense.
She disputes her father being labeled as a kingpin, but also admits that he abandoned her family.
He would eventually be convicted of those choices; conspiracy to deliver cocaine and crack cocaine. Michael Palmer, under the Continuing Criminal Enterprise Statute (also known as the CCE Statute or Kingpin Statute) was given the only sentence that was allowed by law: life in prison without the possibility of parole. It could have been worse. He could have received the death penalty like many of his fellow kingpins were such as Juan Raul Garza. Garza was executed on June 19, 2001.
The CCE Statute is Chapter 13 of Title 21 United States Code (U.S.C.) subsection 848. It was created to make committing to conspire to commit certain felony violations that are part of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 punishable by law. This statute addresses crimes committed only by major narcotics organizations; organizations whose only purpose is the sales, distribution and manufacturing of illegal narcotics.
In 1984 a “super kingpin” provision was added as a subsection to the statute in which a person who is convicted of playing a principal role in a narcotics organization such as an administrator, organizer or leader that sells, distributes or manufacturers large quantities of narcotics that is at least 300 times more than the limit that would result in a five year minimum sentence for possession will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. If this same person is convicted of intentionally killing or intentionally causes someone to be killed it will result in that person receiving the death penalty.
This is where Michael Palmer found himself.
According to court records, Michael aka Knot Palmer was the president of a large narcotic organization that was basically a distribution outfit. Palmer (along with co-defendants Lamar Harris, Richard Smith, Gary Wyche, and Donald Johnson) brought large quantities of cocaine from New York and distributed it among their drug dealers in Washington, D.C. As if that wasn’t bad enough the organization would often trade guns for drugs.
All five of the men were convicted under 21 U.S.C. section 861 on charges of drug distribution and of using juveniles (persons under the age of 18) for drug distribution. They were further convicted of conspiracy to distribute drugs and conspiracy to use firearms during and in relation to their drug trafficking offenses under 21 U.S.C. section 846 and 18 U.S.C. section 371.
Palmer was also convicted of running a Continuing Criminal Enterprise (CCE) under 21 U.S.C. section 848 mainly because of the size of the organization and the fact that it employed many people who worked as dealers, runners, etc.
According to court documents obtained by examiner.com Palmer was convicted of “leading a CCE involving "at least 300 times the quantity of a substance described in subsection 841(b) (1)(B) of [title 21]” and through his organization Palmer was able to distribute “over 1500 grams of crack, more than 300 times the five-gram amount set out in section 841(b)(1)(B)(iii).”
In her petition Taylor Palmer mentions the fact that the three of the four defendants who were convicted along with her father have been released and the fourth will be soon following suit as if to indicate that there was some kind of disparity in her father’s conviction, but it should be noted that these four defendants were not kingpins nor were they convicted under that statute.
Depending on the sentencing guidelines most people who are convicted have the opportunity to file several appeals. The only time that this might not be the case is if the person pleads guilty which was not what Palmer and his cohorts did; they all plead not guilty to the initial charges.
Out of all the inmates who file their appeals, the courts grant only a few of these appeals to be heard. Palmer and the others were one of the lucky ones; their appeals were heard and Palmer received a court appointed attorney.
A court appointed attorney is an attorney who works for a law firm as a defense attorney and is not a public defender.
Palmer also fully participated in the appeal process and his attorney argued against the convictions aggressively.
At the end of it all, his appeal was denied. Currently Palmer is serving out his sentence at USP (United States Penitentiary) Allenwood which is located in Allenwood, PA close to Williamsport. The prison is considered high security and houses some of the most dangerous inmates that are in federal custody.
There are a lot of issues within this petition that people should pause to consider before signing the petition:
1. In her petition, Taylor includes the following statement from her father: “I, Michael Palmer, want to thank you, the world, for taking the time to read this petition and hope you will sign on so I can get looked at for clemency and a second chance at life, something that I will not take for granted. I just want to spend the rest of my life with my grandchildren since I missed the golden years of my children. I want to also say to anyone out there that is thinking about or is into the streets, 'Hey, there is nothing that can take the price of your freedom. Stay in school, get an education, and spend time with your family. Life is too short. Reach, teach and help one another. Prison is wack!!!'” It should be noted that nowhere in his statement does Mr. Palmer address his actions that led to his convictions or the damage he caused through these actions. He offers no remorse or insight to why he did what he did.
2. Neither father nor daughter offered any proof about how Michael Palmer will be a contributing member of society once he gets out.
Many inmates, even those who may not ever get out of prison, usually take advantage of programs that are offered such as GED classes, college courses, therapy, support groups, employment while incarcerated or job training. USP Allenwood offers most of these programs. Inmates who prepare for life on the outside are more likely to stay out of prison; to not reoffend.
Signers of this petition are also in the dark of what kind of inmate he actually was. There isn’t anything stated about his behavior while in prison or lessons he learned while incarcerated.
3. Ms. Palmer states in her petition that she is fatherless, but goes on to say how involved he was offering her guidance and encouragement over the years. Although it’s not stated, Ms. Palmer may have even gone to visit her father on occasion. At one point she did because the picture that she posted of her and her father was taken during a visit to the prison.
The children of the people who were on the receiving end of her father’s business do not have that same opportunity unless you count visiting a gravesite as spending time with your parent(s).
The reality is that she was able to forge a relationship with her father although it was not a traditional one.
4. There are some supporters who believe that Palmer’s conviction and sentencing was racially motivated. In fact that was the same argument that Garza used. The reality is that most of Palmer’s victims were African American. According to the American Civil Liberties Union during the time of Palmer’s arrest and conviction, 75% of the individuals who were convicted under the kingpin statute were white.
Although the provision of the statute that permits the death penalty saw over 80% of those sentenced to die were African American and only 11% were white, this imbalance doesn’t apply to Palmer since he wasn’t sentenced to death.
Through the appeal process, the law as well as the conviction was challenged and it was seen as correctly applied. It’s also worth it to consider the possibility for introducing laws against criminal enterprises who specifically target their activities towards minorities; that perhaps prison time might be in order for those who intentionally commit crimes in specific neighborhoods.
5. The website www.clemencyreport.org asks the question “When should the collateral damage from a prison sentence, even one legally imposed, be softened because of the damage to others?” This is a very good question. Perhaps the answer isn’t what the website would like.
The crack cocaine epidemic that burrowed its way into inner-city neighborhoods operated similar to that of a flesh eating organism. It systematically destroyed any and everything that got in its way.
It destroyed families; neighborhoods; cultures; gave thousands of young people a ticket to an early grave through violence as well as overdoses and even more young people ended up in prison with lengthy sentences; destroyed businesses; education systems; put a financial strain on the economy as more police officers, drug rehabilitation and detox centers, and prisons were needed to deal with the onslaught of the drug; HIV and AIDS spread like wild fire leading to more resources being needed.
These kingpins and their organizations unleashed this organism on society like a bunch of mad scientists.
Philadelphia was hit particularly hard thanks to the drug kingpins who ran the Black Mafia and Junior Black Mafia. Over 20 years later these neighborhoods still have not recovered.
So how much time in prison is really enough time when you look at the destruction of life that people like Palmer caused?
Regardless what people may think, including Ms. Palmer, this was not a nonviolent drug offense. People died, lives were ruined, families were destroyed and the children suffered immeasurably.
The Clemency Report website also suggests that “Sometimes in life, witnesses and prosecutors have the floor. At other times, children should be heard.” This is absolutely true. So perhaps a good place to start would be the thousands of children who lost one or both parents to the crack cocaine epidemic. It would be good to hear how they felt when they had to go either into foster care or live with a relative who may have been financially ill-equipped to raise them. Better yet, ask the children who grew up with a crack addicted parent how it felt to go to bed hungry because their parent needed to get high.
6. And, finally, who is Taylor Palmer? Does she really exist or is this the work of an organization that works to get those freed from prison or Michael Palmer himself? Other than the petition, no other information about Ms. Palmer exists online.
Change.org is a great website, but before signing any petition people need to do their homework and carefully consider the request a petitioner is making. The website itself should take a harder look at the petitions and make sure that they are valid as well as the person who is submitting that request. By not doing so, the administrators are putting the website’s reputation at risk.