When I wrote my essay on prison abolition, I began by explaining the historical relationship between prisons and slavery. It was imperative for me to critically examine the purpose of incarceration and how the criminal legal system has disproportionately placed Black people in cages since correctional facilities were established. And it would be wrong of me to overlook one key aspect of a system that loves to torture and murder Black civilians– the death penalty as modern day lynchings. Today, Attorney General William Barr announced that the federal government will resume killing incarcerated people on death row after 16 years without doing so. Although many states have executed people in prisons for years, the federal government itself neglected the tactic for almost two decades. In that time, no person imprisoned in a federal facility has been murdered by the government (as opposed to the thousands of people in state penitentiaries).
The death penalty was established as a new form of lynching as it’s been proven to be racist, unjust, biased, inaccurate, and immoral. The Equal Justice Initiative wrote a harrowing excerpt about executions:
Modern death sentences are disproportionately meted out to African Americans accused of crimes against white victims. African Americans make up less than 13 percent of the nation’s population, but 42 percent of the over 2700 people currently on death row are black, and 34 percent of those executed since 1976 have been black. The victim was white in over 75 percent of the cases resulting in execution since 1976, although only 50 percent of murder victims nationwide are white. The chief prosecutors in death penalty states are overwhelmingly white; only about one percent are black.
Not only is the act incredibly racist, but it’s also wildly inaccurate, causing innocent people to either be murdered by the government, or be released prior to their killing. In 1972, the Supreme Court even declared the death penalty to be unconstitutional (which of course, doesn’t bother the current federal government). Since 1973, at least 166 incarcerated people on death row have been exonerated of all charges. It is currently estimated (In a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) that 1 in 25 or 4% of all people on death row are completely innocent of all charges. Four percent!! Completely innocent!! Can you imagine? 4% of people awaiting their own murder should not be on death row in the first place. My favorite author and academic mind, Clint Smith, said it best, “We would never allow planes to fly if they had a 4% chance of crashing. We would never allow a restaurant to serve food that had a 4% chance of killing people.” It is fundamentally outrageous that the federal government is now going to inject a concoction of drugs into imprisoned people’s arms and wait for their body to fully shut down. It is outrageous that the federal government is going to murder people because they want to show that murder is wrong. And they’ll argue that they’re fighting for the victims as camouflage for their racism and xenophobia. At this point I’m just rambling because there is nothing else I can say than the death penalty is murder. It’s a barbaric and sadistic act and I hate that the federal government wants to kill its imprisoned citizens. I hate that people want to use victims as props and I hate that they argue that executions bring justice. I’m just so angry and it feels like there’s nothing I can do about it.