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.
Even after the failed coup attempt and with a second impeachment looming, the Trump regime continued to kill federal prisoners. One of the last people Trump killed while in office was Lisa Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row and the first woman to be executed by the US government in 67 years. As Bush and Pressley remind us, Ms. Montgomery's case was "a unique and sobering reminder of the need for immediate clemency." Lisa Montgomery committed a terrible crime; it is not in doubt. But that crime doesn't tell her whole story.
Lisa Montgomery endured what has accurately been called a lifetime of torture. She was born with permanent brain damage due to her mother drinking during her pregnancy. She was raped and sexually tortured for almost her entire life. Her stepfather beat and raped and sodomized her with a pillow over face, more than once a week from the time she was 11 years old. When she tried to fight back, he slammed her head against a concrete floor, resulting in a traumatic brain injury. She was regularly gang-raped by her stepfather's friends, in attacks that would last for hours. Montgomery's own mother trafficked her as a sex slave, selling her body to men for favors and money.
Before the government killed Lisa Montgomery, a court ruled that she could not "rationally understand the rationale for her execution." After the execution, Montgomery's lawyer, Kelly Henry, said, "I don't believe she has any rational comprehension of what's going on at all."
Like the congresswomen said in their letter to the new president,
[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.
Bush and Pressley note that President Obama commuted the sentences of two death row prisoners and established a moratorium on federal executions. But the Obama administration's failure to commute more federal death sentences "allowed the Trump administration to reverse course and pursue a horrifying killing spree over the final seven months of his presidency." They remind Bide that, "[a]s President, you can exercise your executive clemency power by commuting the sentences of all those on death row and ensuring a fair re-sentencing process," and "[c]ommuting the death sentences of those on death row and ensuring that each person is provided with an adequate and unique re-sentencing process is a crucial first step in remedying this grave injustice."
In addition to commuting existing federal death sentences, the congresspeople ask the president to "establish[] clear executive guidelines prohibiting federal prosecutors from seeking the death penalty" and call on Congress to pass HR 262, the Federal Death Penalty Prohibition Act.

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.

[House.gov / Guardian / The Appeal / ProPublica]

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Jamie Lynn Crofts
Jamie Lynn Crofts is sick of your bullshit. When she’s not wrangling cats, she’s probably writing about nerdy legal stuff, rocking out at karaoke, or tweeting about god knows what. Jamie would kindly like to remind everyone that it’s perfectly legal to tell Bob Murray to eat shit.

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