The Justice Department will reinstate the death penalty at the federal level, according to an announcement made by Attorney General William Barr on July 25. Previously, there hadn’t been any federal executions in sixteen years.
Attorney General William Barr quickly moved to schedule five executions after the announcement. Under his direction, the Bureau of Prisons recorded the five inmates’ capital punishments for December 2019 and January 2020. According to the Justice Department, additional executions are slated for a later date.
Barr said, in a statement: “Congress has expressly authorized the death penalty through legislation adopted by the people’s representatives in both houses of Congress and signed by the President. Under Administrations of both parties, the Department of Justice has sought the death penalty against the worst criminals, including these five murderers, each of whom was convicted by a jury of his peers after a full and fair proceeding.”
“The Justice Department upholds the rule of law—and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system,” he continued.
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Ruth Friedman, director of the Federal Capital Habeas Project, argued that the federal death penalty applied to only the worst offenders who committed a small class of crimes.
“The federal death penalty is arbitrary, racially-biased, and rife with poor lawyering and junk science. Problems unique to the federal death penalty include over-federalization of traditionally state crimes and restricted judicial review,” Friedman said.
Friedman’s argument would be valid given the racist tirade Trump went on 1989 when he took out full-page advertisements in New York City newspapers urging elected officials to “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY” following the rape of a jogger in Central Park. “If the punishment is strong,” he wrote then, “the attacks on innocent people will stop.”
Those 5 men went on to be exonerated.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, there are currently 62 people on death row in America’s federal prison system. Although Blacks only make up 13 percent of the population in the United States, 42 percent of death row inmates are Black. In a report written by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the race and color of the defendant color heavily impacted the decision of who should receive the death penalty in America.
Of the 62 people on death row, 27 of them are Black. Studies have shown Black defendants in homicides of white victims were more likely to get the death penalty. As stated in the same report, “twelve people have been executed where the defendant was white and the murder victim black, compared with 178 Black defendants executed for murders with white victims.”
As of 2016, the United States executed the sixth-highest number of people in the world. The countries that killed more people were Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, China, and Iraq.