The United Nations Human Rights office has called the Trump administration’s reinstatement of the federal death penalty after almost 20 years, something that “goes against the domestic and international trends to abolish or halt executions.”
The UN’s statement comes as three men were executed by firing squad in Bahrain on Saturday morning, triggering fears that America’s decision would have an impact globally.
The reinstatement of the death penalty has also raised fears about what it could mean for Blacks and other minorities on death row, particularly as Trump seemingly has ramped up racial rhetoric in recent weeks.
That fear seems palpable when considering that, of the approximately 1,500 men and women executed in the U.S. since the 1970s, 513 were Black and 127 were Latino, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
That means approximately 43 percent of U.S. executions have been carried out against minorities.
In 1972, the Supreme Court ruled the death penalty as unconstitutional. And although it would be quickly restored in most states, the federal death penalty would not be reinstated until 1988 with the caveat that it would be applicable for the “most extreme cases.”
However, in 1994, the federal death penalty would be expanded with the exclusion of Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and a few other jurisdictions that continued to reject capital punishment.
D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton remains opposed to the death penalty for District residents. She said the Department of Justice should concern themselves with more important issues than focusing on the death penalty — particularly as it relates to the District.
“I went through this. I had a big fight in D.C. because the government, or members of Congress, can impose their will on the District of Columbia and there was this death penalty issue 10 years ago during which they attempted to impose it here,” Norton said.
The longtime congresswoman said she went to bat against the measure, appearing on television and radio shows virtually every day to foster discussion.
“Finally I got them to say that they would have a referendum on the death penalty and it was a real victory — I’m prepared to take that fight up again,” she said.
District-based attorneys Jessica Brand, who serves as the legal director of The Justice Collaborative; and Callie Heller, a staff attorney with the American Bar Association, both sat on the 2019 Summer Forum, Criminal Justice and the Death Penalty.
Together, they penned a blog that noted that those executed have not met the mandate of being “the worst of the worst, despite the Supreme Court’s requirement that capital punishment be limited to society’s most culpable.”
They also noted that the Court established “bright line rules prohibiting the execution of certain groups,” finding it cruel and unusual in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
“And yet numerous cases arise where people may be intellectually disabled or insane, but are nevertheless on death row,” the lawyers wrote for The Appeal, which produces content about criminal justice.
Democratic Rep. Ayanna Pressley said the death penalty has “no place in a just society.”
The Massachusetts congresswoman said she plans to introduce legislation that would abolish capital punishment in the U.S.
“The same racist rhetoric coming from the occupant of the White House, who called for the execution of the #Exonerated5, is what led to this racist, vile policy,” Pressley wrote on Twitter, in referencing to Trump’s previous claims that the wrongly-convicted Black and Latino quintet of young men known as “The Central Park Five” should face the death penalty for their alleged crimes.
Editor’s Note: It should be noted that had those five men been executed, we may have never known that they were in fact innocent. Their deaths, and the number of years they served behind bars, would have therefore been nothing less than a travesty and an abomination of the right to equal justice and a fair trial of one’s peers, as the U.S. Constitution guarantees for all citizens.