The death penalty—a thing supposedly reserved for perpetrators of the most heinous crimes, typically involving intentional and cold-blooded murder—arguably makes sense in theory; but in practice, its flaws and potential for racial discrimination are undeniable. According to figures compiled by the NAACP, Black people represent 42 percent of inmates on death row and 35 percent of those executed, despite making up only 13 percent of the U.S. population. And if the death of Brandon Bernard—who was an accomplice to murder, but not a killer himself—by lethal injection Tuesday doesn’t drive home the point that not everyone executed actually deserves to die, I’m just not sure what will convince pro-death penalty advocates of that.
On the same day Bernard was put to death, more than 40 Democratic members of Congress and members-elect signed a letter to President-elect Joe Biden urging him to put an end to “the barbaric and inhumane practice of government-sanctioned murder” on his first day in office.
With the current administration using its final weeks in power to fast-track federal executions—and even proposing to bring back firing squads—people who oppose the death penalty are hoping that the incoming administration takes a more progressive stance on capital punishment.
NBC News reports that three more federal death row inmates are scheduled to be executed at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Ind., days before Biden’s inauguration next month. The letter—which was pushed by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.)—addresses that directly.
“With a stroke of your pen, you can stop all federal executions, prohibit United States Attorneys from seeking the death penalty, dismantle death row at FCC Terre Haute, and call for the resentencing of people who are currently sentenced to death,” the letter reads. “Each of these elements are critical to help prevent greater harm and further loss of life.”
The letter also addresses the biased nature of the death penalty, calling it “unjust, racist, and defective,” and pointing out that it is “disproportionately applied to people who are Black, Latinx, and poor.”
As NBC notes, Pressley introduced legislation to ban the death penalty last year, but that didn’t pan out because soon-to-be-former Attorney General William Barr directed the Department of Justice to reimplement it into federal practice after past administrations had put capital punishment on pause for nearly two decades.
Hopefully, the incoming administration will take another look at the death penalty and how it’s practiced in America—and a look that’s focused on justice and fairness, not bloodthirst.