She's doing great and important work, but what does that say about our justice system?
Over the past two years, Kim Kardashian West has made her brand synonymous with criminal justice reform.
Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that she has subsumed the criminal justice cause into her brand. Her colossal celebrity status has already proven its power by elevating her entire family to the height of reality TV royalty—even providing the springboard for the world's youngest "self-made" billionaire. Combine that with her legal ambitions and husband Kanye West's strange position as the most prominent black celebrity to join the MAGA cause, and she is suddenly positioned perfectly to work as an advocate fighting wrongful convictions and excessive sentencing.
Beginning with convincing Donald Trump to pardon Alice Johnson—who was serving a life sentence for non-violent drug offenses in the 1990s—Kardashian West has had a string of high-profile successes in her advocacy. She was instrumental in getting President Trump to negotiate A$AP Rocky's release from a Swedish prison, and helped secure early release for Momolu Stewart. She is starring in a forthcoming documentary with Oxygen called Kim Kardashian West: The Justice Project, has partnered with Lyft in a program to provide former inmates with free rides to job interviews, and according to MiAngel Cody—lead counsel of the Decarceration Project—was involved in freeing 17 inmates from prison over a three month period. So perhaps it's no wonder that Kardashian West was present at the pivotal moment in another high-profile case this week.
At the center of the case, Rodney Reed, a man sentenced to death for the rape and murder of Stacey Stites. He was scheduled to be executed this Wednesday in Texas, despite multiple witnesses coming forward with testimony against the victim's then-fiancé—Jimmy Fennel, a former cop who has since been convicted of rape in a separate case—and despite the fact that no DNA tests were ever performed on the murder weapon. The case has prompted a massive online movement and several petitions for Governor Greg Abbott to grant Reed a stay of execution. Is it a coincidence then, that when that stay of execution finally came through, Reed was meeting with none other than Kim Kardashian West?
It very well might be, but considering the monolithic force that Donald Trump represents within the modern Republican Party—and the amount of sway that Kim and Kanye seem to have over Trump—it's not hard to imagine that a Republican governor could give such a case some extra consideration when Kardashian West is involved. At the very least, the timing is curious, but if we're going to believe that Kim Kardashian West is in some way responsible for the governor's sudden moral turn, we have to consider what that means for our criminal justice system.
Was a petition signed by nearly three million concerned citizens not compelling enough for Governor Abbott to give the evidence another look? As Kim herself put it "you had everyone from Ted Cruz to Shaun King on this case," yet it wasn't until she was meeting with Reed that his stay came through. More to the point, in a state that executes more prisoners than any other, shouldn't the governor give thorough consideration to each of these lives, regardless of public outcry? Shouldn't the entire justice system be willing to reexamine its past decision to eliminate bias and use the best evidentiary standards available today? If we are going to spend billions of dollars each year keeping people locked away from their former lives, shouldn't we be willing to spend the money to ensure that those people are guilty of the crimes they're being punished for?
The work that Kardashian West has been doing for criminal justice is genuinely amazing. For someone who, not that long ago, seemed like a purely vapid symbol of the disease of celebrity worship, she has managed to channel her status into an immense amount of positive change in a very short time. I would never want to say anything to discourage her from continuing—or other celebrities from following suit—but it still feels important to point out that this is not the way criminal justice is supposed to work.
The difference between a person's freedom and imprisonment should not be subject to the attention of someone with 100 million followers on Instagram. Justice should not be as fickle as fashion trends. We can't rely on Gigi Hadid to get woke so we can end the carceral state. I don't have a better solution. I don't have the Kardashian-level status to even propose one seriously. I just think it's important for us to all take a moment, before we go back to praising Kim's work, to just acknowledge that this is f*cked up.
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