After a Supreme Court hearing on Oct. 13, we can expect the federal death penalty to be reinstated for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev after it was pushed by the Biden administration, which originally promised to end capital punishment while on the campaign trail.
The Supreme Court, which is of conservative majority, appeared to be fully committed to reinstalling capital punishment for Tsarnaev, according to statements from Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Samuel Alito and others.
What does this mean about President Joe Biden’s administration?
Biden has turned his back on several campaign promises, and this is just one example. Consistently throughout his 2020 campaign, Biden condemned capital punishment and vowed to abolish it, urging states to do the same.
Biden’s approval rating is presently incredibly low. At 44.6%, perhaps the president and his administration believe that a staunch stance on terrorism will win them brownie points with the GOP. Perhaps the president thinks that a hard stance on crime will win over the red party, much like his predecessor Bill Clinton did.
The COVID-19 pandemic has polarized the two- party system, and party moderates are few and far between.
His sudden change of heart may send a message to terrorists, sure, but terrorists are not the majority of this country's death row. The administration’s actions will disproportionately affect marginalized communities and maintain the Machiavellian ideal of revenge over rehabilitation.
These actions will not impede the actions of jihadist extremists like Tsarnaev in the future. Instead, these actions will impact people like Carlose DeLuna,
Larry Griffin, Leo Jones, Gary Graham, Brian Terrell, Domineque Ray, Nathaniel Woods, Robert Pruett and countless others.
All of the aforementioned people were executed despite evidence that they were potentially innocent.
These actions will affect people like Brandon Bernard, who was executed in December 2020 at age 40 for a crime he committed when he was 18.
There is no textbook manual for enforcing fair implementation of the death penalty. People like Bernard are executed for lesser crimes than others, like Spokane serial killer Robert Yates Jr., who is living out his life in prison. Often, the criminal justice system doesn’t play even by their own rules.
For instance, the Atkins v. Virginia Supreme Court case in 2002 ruled that intellectually disabled persons cannot be sentenced to death under the Eighth Amendment. Yet, Pervis Payne, a man with a mental disability, was sentenced to death for a 1998 crime and is currently on reprieve.
The criminal justice system is foundationally flawed, not just via the over-policing of Black neighborhoods or through the lasting effects of Ronald Reagan’s War on Drugs and mass incarceration. The criminal justice system is systemically racist on all levels to this day.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, a study in North Carolina shows that qualified Black jurors were struck from juries at more than twice the rate of qualified white jurors. As of 2010, 20% of North Carolina’s death row were sentenced by an all-white jury. This doesn’t only happen in North Carolina. Racial implications affect death rows on the state and federal level.
Historically, 75% of defendants convicted of drug trafficking from 1988 to 1994 under the “drug kingpin” law were white. Yet, in drug trafficking cases where the prosecution sought the death penalty, only 11% of the convicted were white, but 89% were Hispanic or Black.
Low-income defendants are more likely to be subject to capital punishment, as they cannot afford a private lawyer. When considering the intersectionality between low-income communities and minority groups, the overlay is astounding. The death penalty doesn’t typically punish the rich, white man. The death penalty punishes those living below sustenance. The death penalty overwhelmingly punishes people of color. The death penalty is in no way fair.
This is not to say that the crimes that the inmates on death row have committed are excusable, nor is it to say that they are undeserving of some form of rebuke. We proudly call America one of the most developed nations in the world, but can we call our nation civilized? Are we a civilized nation if we allow death at the hands of the state, at the hands of our government?
Biden is no longer fighting to abolish the death penalty. He is no longer fighting for the people who elected him. Instead, Biden has chosen to endorse capital punishment, sending the message to state governments that it is quite all right to do the same. The president is giving his stamp of approval for state-sanctioned murder.
As philosopher Albert Camus once said, “Capital punishment is the most premeditated of murders.”
Biden is a treacherous hypocrite, and the implications of his actions will far outlive his legacy.