Bring­ing back ex­e­cu­tions in US a mis­take

Baltimore Sun - - FROM PAGE ONE -

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ci­sion to start ex­e­cut­ing fed­eral death row pris­on­ers af­ter a 16-year lull is a bad idea that reeks of pol­i­tics rather than a sound de­ci­sion based on the ef­fec­tive­ness of capital pun­ish­ment as a crime-fight­ing tool.

If the ad­min­is­tra­tion truly sup­ports crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form, as it claimed back in De­cem­ber when it sup­ported a pack­age of changes to the jus­tice sys­tem, in­clud­ing re­duc­ing manda­tory min­i­mum sen­tences, then it needs to re­think re­viv­ing a prac­tice that has been shown to be dis­crim­i­na­tory, un­just, prone to er­ror and in­ef­fec­tive at de­ter­ring crime.

It’s cu­ri­ous that as use of the death penalty has waned across the coun­try, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump would sud­denly want to re­vive it. In 2017, the num­ber of pris­on­ers sen­tenced to death de­clined for the 17th year in a row, ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­leased this month by Mr. Trump’s own jus­tice depart­ment. Many states, in­clud­ing Mary­land, no longer al­low the killing of crim­i­nals as pun­ish­ment. The last fed­eral ex­e­cu­tion was in 2003, and there have only been three since 1988.

That will change now that the ad­min­is­tra­tion has or­dered the ex­e­cu­tion of five in­mates in De­cem­ber and Jan­uary. That’s right, the coun­try will kill more in­mates in two months than in 31years.

We see through your po­lit­i­cal tac­tics, Mr. Trump. The death penalty is an­other one of those di­vi­sive and par­ti­san wedge is­sues you be­lieve will rile up your base, present you as a tough on crime politi­cian and Democrats as soft on the is­sue. The sub­ject is sure to di­vide the par­ties. It’s of a piece with Mr. Trump’s con­stant play­ing of the race card and use of dog-whis­tle pol­i­tics to re­mind a cer­tain seg­ment of white vot­ers he has their backs.

The prob­lem is that Mr. Trump is play­ing with peo­ple’s lives here. Life with­out pa­role is a far bet­ter sen­tence given that death row process has been shown to be far from per­fect.

Far too many peo­ple have been sent to death row only to be de­ter­mined in­no­cent later. Since 1973, 166 for­mer death row pris­on­ers have been ex­on­er­ated of all charges and set free, ac­cord­ing to the Death Penalty In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter. If you’re African Amer­i­can you are more likely to be sen­tenced to death. (More than half of in­mates on fed­eral death row are black or Latino.) Same if you’re poor and can’t pay for good rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

On top of that, all the re­sources used to pur­sue these cases don’t keep us any safer and could be used on other crime fight­ing tac­tics.

States with­out the death penalty have lower murder rates than those with it, and the South has more than 80% of the na­tion’s ex­e­cu­tions and the high­est murder rate in the United States, ac­cord­ing to Con­ser­va­tives Con­cerned About the Death Penalty.

Yes, that’s right, “con­ser­va­tives” and Repub­li­cans are con­cerned about bring­ing back the death penalty as well. They have come out to ex­press their dis­agree­ment with their idea.

If the in­jus­tice isn’t bad enough, there is also the trauma the death row process can in­flict on the fam­i­lies of vic­tims. The ap­peals process can take decades, open­ing new wounds with each ap­peal and trial. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Barr said in a state­ment that “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.” A life sen­tence may ac­tu­ally be more hu­mane for these fam­i­lies.

This same is true for ex­e­cu­tion­ers, a group that peo­ple are less likely to think about in the con­ver­sa­tions about the death penalty. Many of them also say they ex­pe­ri­ence a cer­tain trauma from tak­ing some­one’s life.

We doubt any of this matters to Mr. Trump, who­has long been a staunch sup­porter of the death penalty. His ob­sti­nacy on the is­sue was made clear when re­fused to apol­o­gize to the Cen­tral Park Five, a group of black and Latino teenagers he made the poster chil­dren for the death penalty af­ter they were ac­cused of rap­ing a white woman in Cen­tral Park in1989. They were cleared of the crime years later, but that wasn’t enough for Mr. Trump.

Ap­par­ently his sup­port of crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form only goes so far. For the sake of jus­tice, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment doesn’t need to bring back ex­e­cu­tions, but our pres­i­dent would pre­fer to take the coun­try back in time.

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