The Trump Administration Is Rushing to Carry Out Last-Minute Executions. Tell Them to Stop

January 8, 2021

Person in an orange prison jumpsuit in front of a prison door.

In 2020, we witnessed some of the largest protests in our nation’s history. Americans from all walks of life rallied together to speak out against racial injustice and police violence after the murder of George Floyd.

It was a video of that murder that really brought people into the streets—millions of people across the country and the world witnessed a Black man die at the hands of law enforcement. But lately we’ve been thinking about unjust deaths that remain largely out of sight and, therefore, out of mind: federal executions.

There were more federal executions in 2020 than there were in any year since 1896. That’s a tragedy, and it’s made even worse by racial bias. While Black and white people each make up a little more than 40% of the federal and state death row population, the overall US population is 13% Black and 76% white. That’s just one of many reasons why it’s time to end the death penalty today.

Take Action Now!

Demand that the Trump Administration stop all federal executions

The World Comes Out Against Capital Punishment

The criminal justice system is supposed to be set up to promote and protect public safety, but the death penalty doesn’t make us safer. It doesn’t deter crime. In fact, in the US, states with the death penalty have higher homicide rates than states without it.

Most global governments seem to have accepted this fact. Just last month a majority of the United Nations General Assembly again reaffirmed support for ending the death penalty around the world. The resolution was first introduced in 2007 and has been adopted eight times since then. Initially, only 104 countries supported the resolution, but this year 123 countries signed on.

The death penalty has already been abolished in more than 70% of the world’s countries. Today most executions happen in just a handful of nations: China, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and... the United States of America. Among our closest allies and other democratic nations, the U.S. remains the only country that still puts its citizens to death as a matter of state policy.


Crime and Punishment

The death penalty was first adopted here in 1608, during colonial times. But even then there were efforts to reform and abolish it. Before becoming our nation’s third president, Thomas Jefferson fought to reform Virginia’s death penalty laws. Other framers of the Constitution, like John Adams and James Madison, also had serious reservations and concerns about capital punishment.

Today 60 different offenses can result in a death sentence under federal law. Those do not include crimes that can be punishable by death in 28 states. While many convictions qualify for the death penalty, its use as punishment has declined at both the state and federal level over the last few decades as public opinion against it has solidified.

In fact, the federal government had not executed anyone for 17 years until the Trump administration revived capital punishment in 2019. Since then, the federal government has been on an execution spree, ending the lives of more people in 2020 than any year since 1896. This cruel and enthusiastic revival of capital punishment has led to renewed calls from activists, policymakers, and religious leaders to abolish the death penalty altogether.

Actually, in 1972, the Supreme Court did just that... before reversing its decision four years later. Why did the court flip-flop?

Take Action Now!

Demand that the Trump Administration stop all federal executions

Racism on Death Row

One word: Racism. The Supreme Court originally found that death penalty laws were discriminatory and in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Upon reconsideration a short time later, the court overturned its decision, ruling that the problem had been fixed by recent state reforms. But… that turned out to be just 100% wrong. In fact, the Supreme Court itself tossed a  death penalty conviction as recently as 2019 after deciding that race played a role in jury selection.

The scales of justice are tipped against Black and Brown people in this country. What’s true elsewhere in the criminal justice system is true when it comes to death penalty cases as well:

  • Black people make up 13.4% of the US population, but 42% of federal death-row prisoners are Black.
  • About 60% of federal death row prisoners are people of color (Latinx people are also disproportionately represented on death row)
  • 87% of Black people have had their death sentence overturned because of official misconduct, compared to 67% of white people. 
  • Defendants convicted of killing white people are way more likely to be sentenced to death than those convicted of killing Black people

Set against the backdrop of President Trump pardoning his rich, white allies for federal crimes, it’s clear who is afforded mercy and who is not. Bottom line: The chances of being sentenced to death are greater for the poor and innocent than for the rich and guilty.


Abolish the Death Penalty

The Trump Administration has carried out more executions than any administration since Grover Cleveland was president more than 100 years ago. And they’re taking the historically unprecedented step of executing three more people in January before Inauguration Day. It’s been 130 years since an administration put anyone to death during the presidential transition period.

The last scheduled execution under the Trump Administration will take place on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. Dr. King opposed the death penalty. When asked during an interview to share his thoughts on capital punishment, he replied that it “is against the better judgment of modern criminology and, above all, against the highest expression of love in the nature of God.” Let us all, especially political leaders, be guided by Dr. King’s words. Join us and the ACLU today and demand that the Trump Administration stop federal executions!

Take Action Now!

Demand that the Trump Administration stop all federal executions