Political use of executions should make the case for abolishing the death penalty

Getty Images | SP Memory
Getty Images | SP Memory
Jean Oelwang
by Jean Oelwang
9 December 2020
On 10 December, Brandon Bernard is scheduled to become the latest human being executed by President Donald Trump's administration in a wave of unprecedented state-sanctioned killings.

After 17-year hiatus, Bernard would be the ninth person executed by the US Federal Government in the name of the American people this year. Four more people are scheduled to die in January before the end of Trump’s term in office.

Our hearts go out to the families who have lost loved ones from unacceptable acts of violence. It is impossible to imagine the suffering of those closest to the innocent victims. Nothing can ever justify the killing of another human being.

Perpetuating this cycle of violence is also not the answer.

We don’t believe the government should kill people. But even for those who do, so many death penalty cases have serious complicating factors that should give proponents pause. Bernard’s case is a good example. He was a teenager who participated in a botched robbery that ended with one of his friends shooting a young couple. There were multiple missteps in his trial; important evidence was withheld from his defence team for years.

Five of the jurors who sentenced Bernard to death and a former prosecutor who defended his death sentence against an appeal are now part of a growing number of people across the country working to save his life.

Despite the growing support for clemency, Brandon is still scheduled to be killed tomorrow in the federal death chamber in Terre Haute, Indiana.

The Trump administration began this horrific spate of killings in July, in the midst of the pandemic, as part of what many saw as a political show of force.

Civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson is among many experts who have raised questions about the reliability and credibility of the death sentences scheduled for this year, including Bernard’s. Until the rush began, most prosecutors working on these cases were trying to resolve those questions. But now, with eight people killed so far, many of those questions will forever remain unanswered.

Stevenson, who was interviewed on MSNBC 1 December, called this surge in federal executions “a really dramatic example of reckless political use of this power in a way that is unprecedented in American history. These executions are being expedited on a schedule for political points”.

Bryan Stevenson on Trump ramping up federal executions

While scheduling these executions, Attorney General William Barr has also initiated the process of authorizing additional execution methods, including the firing squad and the gas chamber.

" This is all spectacle. It’s not really about justice, it’s not about fairness, it’s about demonstrating power,” said Stevenson.

This abuse of power ought to serve as a clear indication that no one, including the President of the United States, should have the right to execute another human being. This barbaric act perpetuates violence, is far more costly for taxpayers than a sentence of life in prison, and does not dissuade criminals from carrying out acts of violence. It is also prone to horrific miscarriages of justice: the US has exonerated 170 people in the last 50 years, and the number of innocent people executed is unknown.

The death penalty has no place in a modern society and is a stain on all Americans.

It is time to stand up and abolish this outdated, cruel and morally corrupt practice. To take action visit helpsavebrandon.com

This blog is co-authored by Jean Oelwang and Joshua Wiese