Stop Federal Executions
Update 6/23/2020: After a six-month stay, the federal government has once again moved forward to schedule federal executions. While this is always wrong – due to the bias, arbitrariness, and error we've seen again and again with the death penalty – during a pandemic it's particularly egregious, putting the health of prison staff, religious officials, and witnesses who participate at risk. Demand AG Barr immediately cease the plan to resume these federal executions.
State by state, our country is moving away from the death penalty because it's racist, arbitrary, inhumane, and prone to error. Attorney General Bill Barr, however, has directed the federal government to resume capital punishment for the first time in 17 years. This move goes against public opinion, which increasingly opposes the death penalty, as well as some family members of the victims Barr claims to be representing.
Immediately after announcing this change, the Justice Department scheduled back-to-back executions. Hundreds of relatives of murder victims, as well as law enforcement officials, former judges, and prosecutors, have asked Barr and Trump to stop the executions. A court-ordered injunction has blocked the executions for now, but the Justice Department is already trying to overturn this ruling.
There are numerous, serious reasons why capital punishment is losing public support. Since 1973, more than 165 people have been exonerated after being wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death. The death penalty, at both the state and federal level, also has a long and disturbing record of racial bias. Racism infects the system at every level – including the race of the accused, the race of the victim, and the race of who is permitted to serve on the jury.
People who are sentenced to death are not the worst of the worst – they have the worst lawyers, and are often the most vulnerable. Many people on death row grew up experiencing poverty, abandonment, neglect, physical and sexual abuse, or pervasive family and neighborhood violence. A number are mentally ill, suffer from brain damage, or have intellectual disability. And some are innocent. All too often, people get sentenced to death because of the quality of their lawyers. In the words of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “People who are well represented at trial do not get the death penalty.”
There is no reason to resume federal executions as more and more people – and states across the country – are opposing capital punishment each year. Let's raise our voices and demand that the Justice Department revoke its plan to reinstate federal executions.