In one of Donald Trump’s most grotesque displays of racism and hypocrisy, this vile president ramped up executions of men on federal Death Row — the last four of them Black — while pardoning the four white men who carried out a massacre of 14 Iraqi civilians.
My Sunday column in The Baltimore Sun focused on the double standard of the Republican Party when it comes to justice. Tethered to Trump, the GOP leadership abides his crimes, his pardons and his politicization of the Justice Department while insisting on “law and order” everywhere else and for everyone else.
The ramp-up of federal executions was disgusting. With 13 in the last six months, no president in more than 120 years oversaw as many federal executions. Juxtaposed with the Blackwater pardons of December, Trump and his then-Attorney General, that good Catholic William Barr, brought the double standard to a breathtaking level.
I thank Dr. Beryl Rosenstein, professor of pediatrics emeritus at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, for the focus on this.
“To me,” he wrote in an email, “the greatest travesty of Trump’s use of the presidential pardon was his [December] pardon of the four Blackwater security guards convicted by a federal jury in 2014 for the murder of Iraqi citizens, including women and children. It is no coincidence that Blackwater was the private security firm founded by Erik Prince, brother of Betsy DeVos, until recently [Trump’s] Secretary of Education. This is in stark contrast to Trump’s recent rush, before leaving office, to execute 13 federal inmates. Another example of Trump’s misguided double standard of law and order.”
Misguided is a kind word. Hypocritical works, of course.
Mainly, it’s racist. The Blackwater pardons essentially declared the lives of Iraquis worthless, and it’s a fact that four of Trump’s last five federal executions were of Black men. (The fifth was a white woman.)
The Federal Government will have executed more than three times as many people in the last six months than it had in the previous six decades. . . .Justice Sonia Sotomayor
Many studies have proven the death penalty racist. Maryland, among other states, has banned it primarily for its racist and geographically uneven application. Only five states carried out executions last year — Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas — and the United States is one of only 20 countries in this whole, wide world that still puts inmates to death.
Dustin Higgs (in photo at top) was the last of the 13 Trump executions. He was put to death early Saturday after the Supreme Court lifted a stay.
“After seventeen years without a single federal execution, the Government has executed twelve people since July,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in her dissent. “They are Daniel Lee, Wesley Purkey, Dustin Honken, Lezmond Mitchell, Keith Nelson, William LeCroy Jr., Christopher Vialva, Orlando Hall, Brandon Bernard, Alfred Bourgeois, Lisa Montgomery, and, just last night, Corey Johnson. Today, Dustin Higgs will become the thirteenth. To put that in historical context, the Federal Government will have executed more than three times as many people in the last six months than it had in the previous six decades. . . .
“Throughout this expedited spree of executions, this Court has consistently rejected inmates’ credible claims for relief. The Court has even intervened to lift stays of execution that lower courts put in place, thereby ensuring those prisoners’ challenges would never receive a meaningful airing,” Sotomayor wrote. “The Court made these weighty decisions in response to emergency applications, with little opportunity for proper briefing and consideration, often in just a few short days or even hours. Very few of these decisions offered any public explanation for their rationale.
“This is not justice. After waiting almost two decades to resume federal executions, the Government should have proceeded with some measure of restraint to ensure it did so lawfully. When it did not, this Court should have. It has not. Because the Court continues this pattern today, I dissent.”
Trump and Barr pushed for the executions because they knew the Biden administration would not — and that the new president might very well commute the remaining death sentences to life. I hope President Biden does that and more. The federal death penalty needs to be abolished. We need to shake ourselves of Trumpism, of racism and of violence as an answer. No society that calls itself civilized should be conducting state executions.