SHAUN KING: For Months on End, I’ve Begged Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer to Release This Man From Prison. She Has Responded With Nothing but Gross Indifference

Shaun King
Apr 15, 2020 - 9:45
Michael Thompson

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Twenty-six years ago, with Bill Clinton still in his first term as president, Michael Thompson, who was 42-years-old at the time, sold some weed to an old friend. It was harmless. 

That’s it. That’s the crime Michael Thompson committed. 

Except it turned out his “old friend” had become a police informant and police were using his friend to set up anybody and everybody they could. Michael, of course, had no idea. 

This exchange of weed for money didn’t take place in Michael’s home in Michigan, but police used the moment as an excuse to later raid his home. When they did so, they found an antique gun in a safe and a handgun belonging to his wife. Mind you, Michael didn’t have these guns on him when he sold the weed. He wasn’t even at the house when he sold it — so you can’t say he committed a drug crime with a firearm. But police prosecutors packaged the drugs and guns together like they were one big crime, and ultimately sentenced Michael Thompson to 40-60 years in prison — a life sentence for a 42-year-old man — and never looked back. 

The sentence for having the unregistered guns in his home would’ve been one to two years at most. Some people get probation for such a thing. It’s a victimless crime. The sentence for selling the weed typically would’ve been a few years. Marijuana is now legal in Michigan. A harsh sentence for Michael Thompson would’ve been four to five years. Ten years would’ve been excessive. Fifteen years would’ve been extreme. Twenty years would’ve been outrageous. 

We’re at 26 years now. This is a human rights violation. 

I speak to Michael on the phone frequently. He’s struggling. He’s a senior citizen. Prison ages you in dog years. A year in prison, with horrible sleep on a cheap-ass mattress, with the worst food in the country (entire meals sometimes cost less than $1 per person to make), under the constant threat of violence, with the worst healthcare imaginable — a year is hard time. 

Michael has several underlying health conditions, including diabetes and respiratory problems, that now put him at grave risk with the coronavirus sweeping across America’s jails and prisons. 

And one person could set him free right now, no questions asked, is Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. She’s a Democratic Party superstar and is constantly mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate for Joe Biden. 

I’ve personally begged Gretchen Whitmer, over and over and over again, to set Michael free. He poses no public safety risk to society. He never has. He is an old man now. He has been a model citizen in prison and has been a mentor to other incarcerated men for decades now. 

While Michael has been in prison, men who were convicted of rape and murder have come in, served their entire sentence, and been released. Men who actually shot people during drug deals, who were caught with the gun they used for the crime, have come and gone. Michael has seen prison guards come in, serve their entire career, and retire while he’s been in prison. It’s an abomination. 

I’ve called Gretchen Whitmer. 

I’ve emailed Gretchen Whitmer. 

I’ve sent her mail. 

I’ve pleaded with her friends. 

I’ve begged her staff. 

I spoke to the Lieutenant Governor. 

And nothing. I am left at this point to conclude that she doesn’t care. She wants Michael Thompson to suffer. As Governor, she could release him today. 

But let me tell you what I think is actually happening. I’ve seen Democrats do it for generations. When I started fighting for Michael to be released, Gretchen Whitmer wasn’t necessarily in the national spotlight. She had not yet given the Democratic response to the State of the Union that she gave this past January. She wasn’t yet rumored to be on the shortlist for VP. 

But now that she is, she’s doing what all Democrats think they have to do to look tough. She’s sparing nobody. My governor in New York, Andrew Cuomo, is basically doing the same thing. When her star began to rise, my heart began to sink. I told friends and colleagues that what I thought would happen is exactly what’s happening. 

She’d freeze. She’d be so careful on every single decision, that she’d stop making decisions like this one altogether. And here we are. 

Over the past few weeks, Michael’s attorneys and advocates have started to ask her to release him just to prevent him from catching the coronavirus in prison, where he would likely die if he contracted it. Still, nothing. Crickets. 

It’s heartbreaking. We celebrate electing Democrats, but here we are, she’s in office, secure as ever, and she won’t use her power to help a man in need.

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