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BY GUTHRIE GRAVES-FITZSIMMONS

March 8, 2019
Paul Manafort outside the courthouse.
"In a hearing in Alexandria, Virginia, Judge T.S. Ellis III sentenced Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman, to 47 months in prison on bank fraud and tax-evasion charges. That falls well below the 19 to 24 years recommended by the sentencing guidelines, and while Robert Mueller’s team didn’t ask for a specific sentence, they pressed Ellis to throw the book at Manafort. The judge declined, and his decision represents the most prominent defeat that Mueller has suffered so far." - via the Atlantic

There are caveats: Yes, Ellis had already tangled with prosecutors during Manafort’s trial. Yes, Mueller will get another chance with Manafort in a separate sentencing hearing next week in the District of Columbia. Yes, it’s still a huge deal that the president’s former campaign head committed multiple felonies and will serve nearly four years in jail. But it’s also impossible to view this as anything other than a setback for Mueller.
Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. - Proverbs 31:9
Open Your Mouth 
"There are black people in pre-trial confinement that have spent more time in prison waiting for a trial than Manafort will spend for being convicted and sentenced." That's how activist Linda Sarsour responded to the news of Manafort's sentencing. Elizabeth Warren put it this way: "Trump's campaign manager, Paul Manafort, commits bank and tax fraud and gets 47 months. A homeless man, Fate Winslow, helped sell $20 of pot and got life in prison. The words above the Supreme Court say 'Equal Justice Under Law' - when will we start acting like it?" 
 
We can't wait for our criminal (in)justice system to start acting right. We have to do our part. That requires us to open our mouths about the need for criminal justice reform. 
 
Judge Righteously 
We are called to judge, but to always judge righteously. And one important righteous judgment we need right now is the Mueller investigation. President Donald Trump said this morning that those involved in Paul Manafort's case affirmed there was "no collusion" with Russia, according to NBC News. "But that's not what the judge overseeing the case said. Before announcing Manafort's sentence Thursday, Judge T.S. Ellis reminded the court that the longtime political operative's crimes were not related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s chief mandate — Russian election interference and whether Trump campaign officials colluded with the Kremlin."
 
We must continue to pray for the Mueller investigation and that Donald Trump's cronies will be brought to justice. And we must pray that the American people will judge Trump's presidency to be a failure at the ballot box in 2020.  
  
Defend the rights of the poor and needy
A rich white man getting off easy in our criminal justice system shouldn't surprise us. Special Counsel Robert Mueller recommended 19 to 24 years for Manafort's crimes. He got less than 4 years. It's clear that's Manafort's wealth and race played a factor. 
 
According to the Sentencing Project, "Sentencing policies, implicit racial bias, and socioeconomic inequity contribute to racial disparities at every level of the criminal justice system. Today, people of color make up 37% of the U.S. population but 67% of the prison population. Overall, African Americans are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences. Black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men and Hispanic men are more than twice as likely to be incarcerated as non-Hispanic white men."
Get involved with Live Free. "With over 118 million people attending weekly services in over 350,000 congregations across the U.S., we believe that a social justice revival within our faith institutions would transform our nation’s hearts and minds, and ultimately, the policies and practices that perpetuate the evils [of mass incaceration and gun violence]."
Divine Judge, the prophet Amos says, “may justice roll down like a river, and righteousness like a never-failing stream.”  But we look around our cities, nation, and world with disbelief. Where can we find justice? We lament the racial and economic injustice of our legal system. We yearn for a day when all people will live free. And we unite our voices with sacred resisters around the country who fervently lift up the work of the Special Counsel's office - may it help to bring our leaders who have abused their power to justice. Amen.
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