What If The Feds Stopped Killing People?
One of the last things Donald Trump did before leaving office was to go on a killing spree.
I'm not talking about the five people who died at the Capitol during the insurrection. Or even the 400,000-plus people who lost their lives to COVID-19 after his reckless response to the deadly pandemic.
Although Trump does bear responsibility for those deaths, the ones I'm talking about were much more direct. In his last seven months in office, Donald Trump executed 13 people. And in an unprecedented move, he kept on killing even after he was voted out of office.
Reps. Cori Bush and Ayanna Pressley have sent a letter to President Joe Biden about their "grave concerns regarding the federal death penalty," urging the president "to immediately commute the sentences of all those on death row."
"Night after night in the final days of the Trump administration," write the congresswomen, "the American people bore witness to the cruel and heinous practice of executions."
Obviously, a new presidential administration doesn't magically fix all of the problems in our country. We are still in the midst of the pandemic. White supremacist insurrectionists haven't gone away now that Trump has left office. And, of course, we still have the likes of Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to worry about in the 50-50 Senate.
One immediate benefit of getting rid of Trump, though, was an end to the killing spree embarked on by him and Bill Barr. As Bush and Pressley's letter reminds the new administration, there are a number of steps Joe Biden can take to ensure that no future president can do what Trump did from July to January. The congresswomen remind President Biden that "[t]his moment demands a series of meaningful actions to ensure that no President can authorize the killing of Americans through the death penalty," and emphasize:
The legacy President Trump left behind is one of carnage and unrestrained violence that must be rectified immediately. Beginning in July of 2020, the Trump administration oversaw a killing spree never before seen in American history.
[Lisa Montgomery] was a woman in desperate need of a government that cares for and protects the people among us who have the least. Instead, our system failed her, but we cannot afford to fail the many more like her who are now facing the same fate.
The letter was signed by at least 35 other members of Congress, including AOC, Rashidad Tlaib, Marie Newman, and Pramila Jayapal.
Joe Biden has a complex history with the death penalty. He helped write the law that widely expanded the availability of the federal death penalty, which used to only be available in a handful of cases each year. Now, however, Biden says we need to get rid of capital punishment and has committed to supporting legislation to end the federal death penalty. Thus far, he has remained mum on whether he plans to commute any existing death sentences.
I hope Joe Biden listens long and hard to Ayanna Pressley and Cori Bush.
The fact of the matter is that these death sentences are not about justice. They are about who has institutional power and who doesn't. Like slavery and lynching did before it, the death penalty perpetuates cycles of trauma, violence and state-sanctioned murder in Black and brown communities. We urge the Biden-Harris administration to correct these injustices using every tool available, including the extraordinary power to grant clemency. With the stroke of the pen, you can end the death penalty and establish a clear commitment to justice and equity.
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