Congressional Democrats are calling for an end to the death penalty for federal crimes, with Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois calling capital punishment racist.
“The death penalty is deeply flawed and disproportionately imposed on black and brown and low-income people in America,” Durbin said.
“State-sanctioned murder is not justice, and the death penalty, which kills black and brown people disproportionately, has absolutely no place in our society,” Pressley said.
“Ending the federal death penalty— which is as cruel as it is ineffective in deterring crime—is a racial justice issue and must come to an end. We must finally abolish this inhumane form of punishment and put an end to Donald Trump’s unprecedented killing spree,” Pressley said, referring to the 13 federal executions carried out in the final six months of Trump’s presidency. “I am grateful for the partnership of incoming Chairman Durbin and my colleagues in this effort.”
In addition to Durbin and Pressley, the bill has support from 10 senators and more than 60 House members, according to the Washington Free Beacon.
Pressley has said she wants President-elect Joe Biden to halt executions when he assumes office.
“President-elect @JoeBiden has the power to halt all federal executions and call for the re-sentencing of those on death row on Day 1. He must use that authority,” she tweeted.
The death penalty is unjust, racist, and has no place in any society.
President-elect @JoeBiden has the power to halt all federal executions and call for the re-sentencing of those on death row on Day 1.
He must use that authority. https://t.co/hJG2e9jzM8
— Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (@RepPressley) December 15, 2020
“I’m calling on him to use that full authority with the stroke of a pen to halt all federal executions and save lives,” Pressley said, according to Wyoming Public Media. “He should also require the Department of Justice to no longer seek the death penalty for future cases, and permanently dismantle the Terre Haute facility where those federal executions take place.”
Biden “opposes the death penalty, now and in the future, and as president will work to end its use,” Biden transition spokesman T.J. Ducklo said, according to NPR.
Biden is the first president elected in the modern era who openly supports ending capital punishment, according to the Free Beacon.
Many who favor ending the death penalty focus on race as the reason it should be abolished.
“Capital punishment doesn’t deter violent crime, and its application is levied in a racially biased way, applied disproportionately to Black Americans. It’s time to make capital punishment a thing of the past,” Lauren-Brooke Eisen, director of the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, said on Durbin’s website.
“The death penalty is a punishment with irrevocable consequences, broken beyond repair. Like the rest of the U.S. criminal legal system, it is rooted in racism dating back to slavery, Black codes, Jim Crow, and lynching, when the death penalty was used based on the race and status of people unrelated to the severity of the crime or harm done,” Kristina Roth, senior advocate for the Criminal Justice program at Amnesty International USA, also was quoted as saying in the release.
“Racial bias, sentencing of people with severe mental and intellectual disabilities, and flawed legal representation are pervasive through the federal system.”
On Saturday, Dustin John Higgs was executed for killing three women after he kidnapped them in 1996. Higgs, 48, who was black, was convicted of federal charges in 2000 but maintained his innocence until his death, according to CNN via a pool report.
Six of the 13 executed were black and one was Native American, according to NBC News. People of color have accounted for 43 percent of all executions since the death penalty was reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
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