After losing the election, Trump is on a killing spree
A rush of federal executions during the transition -- of mostly Black men -- unparalleled by any president in 131 years
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While much of the country was swept up in the horrors of the escalating coronavirus pandemic, or focused on the unprecedented assault on the election by Donald Trump and his GOP enablers, the U.S. government has been carrying out more executions than at any time since the federal death penalty was reinstated by the Supreme Court in 1988.
Last night 40 year old Brandon Bernard was executed after the Supreme Court refused to halt his death by lethal injection. He’d been convicted of being an accomplice to a crime in Texas at age 18. The three liberal justices dissented, with Justice Sonja Sotomayor writing in her opinion:
Today, the Court allows the Federal Government to execute Brandon Bernard, despite Bernard’s troubling allegations that the Government secured his death sentence by withholding exculpatory evidence and knowingly eliciting false testimony against him.
Jessica Schulberg at HuffPost covered the story and the aftermath:
Bernard, who is Black, was sentenced to death by a nearly all-white jury in 2000 for his role in a botched car-jacking that ended in the killing of married couple Todd and Stacie Bagley. Bernard was not present when his friends abducted the Bagleys and he was not the one to shoot them dead. Christopher Vialva, the man who shot the Bagleys in the head, was executed in September. Prosecutors claimed Bernard was the one who set the car on fire with the Bagleys inside, although the government’s cooperating witness admitted at trial that he didn’t actually see who lit fire to the car.
At 18 years old, Bernard was just barely legally eligible for the death penalty. The teens who participated in the crime and were under 18 received more lenient sentences, even those who were more culpable than Bernard in the Bagleys’ deaths. Two have completed their 20-year sentences; a third is serving a 35-year sentence.
In 2018 Bernard’s lawyers found evidence that was covered up by government prosecutors and would have helped his case, as Justice Sotomayor noted. A majority of the jurors who sentenced him have now said it would have changed their minds. But Bernard was turned away by courts from presenting that evidence before being put to death.
The Justice Department, with Trump’s urging, had scheduled 13 executions beginning in July, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. Since the federal death penalty’s reinstatement in 1988, there had only been three federal executions, all under George W. Bush’s administration — one of them Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. There had been no federal executions since 2003.
Bernard is one of five men — four of them Black — scheduled to be executed by the federal government since Trump lost the election. With the scheduled execution of Alfred Bourgeois today, Trump will have executed more people in a year than any president in 131 years. No president in more than a century has carried out executions after losing an election and during the lame duck period, traditionally a time when most major actions are put off until the next administration.
On top of that, there have been coronavirus outbreaks at the sites of these executions, among prison guards, prisoners, chaplains and others, since the government — and Trump himself — have refused to halt these brutal actions amid the pandemic.
Trump is determined to kill. It’s almost as if he’s exacting revenge on Black people for helping to defeat him in the election. Certainly it is Black votes he’s trying to throw out in his assault on the election, trying to invalidate ballots in largely Black cities like Atlanta, Milwaukee, Detroit and Philadelphia — and now attempting in a long-shot legal case with his GOP allies to get the cities’ entire states’ votes invalidated at the Supreme Court.
Trump has infamously shown zeal in killing men of color. The so-called Central Park Five, Black and Latino young men who were wrongly accused of raping a female jogger in New York in 1989, were exonerated by DNA evidence (after another man confessed to the crime) after serving many years in prison. Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam and Korey Wise, who were awarded $41 million by New York City in 2014, a decade after some filed a lawsuit, were the subjects of Ava DuVernay’s award-winning 2019 crime drama series, “When They See Us.”
At the time of the sexual assault, Trump spent $85,000 on newspaper ads, calling for the accused men to be executed, before they’d even had a trial. The headlines of the ads blared, "BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!"
After the men were exonerated, Trump refused to apologize or even accept the reality. After the lawsuit was settled, he doubled down in an op-ed in the New York Daily News:
My opinion on the settlement of the Central Park Jogger case is that it's a disgrace. A detective close to the case, and who has followed it since 1989, calls it "the heist of the century.”
This is complete bullshit — denial of the truth that is typical of Trump, who’s dodged the question ever since he ran for president in 2016, refusing to admit he was wrong, just as he refused to admit that the birther conspiracy he propagated about President Obama was a lie. It’s flat out racism.
Controversial Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who was on Trump’s legal team during his impeachment, and right-wing former prosecutor Ken Starr, who argued against Trump’s impeachment (and undertook the bogus investigations that ultimately led to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment), joined Brandon Bernard’s legal team in his last hours, fighting to stop the execution and allow him to present his case. Kim Kardashian West, who successfully lobbied Trump in the past on criminal justice reform, implored Trump to halt the execution.
But Trump ignored these pleas from allies. Trump is on a killing rampage as he rages on, infuriated by losing the election.
Black men, overrepresented in the criminal justice system, are disproportionately sentenced to death — one among many reasons why the death penalty, a barbaric punishment, must be abolished. In November of 2019 a Gallup poll found that 60% of Americans supported ending the death penalty, the highest number seen in that poll, as support for the death penalty is on the decline. And executions in the states have trended downward.
But as more Americans have supported ending the death penalty and as fewer people were executed at the state level, the federal government has ramped it up under Donald Trump, a sadistic tyrant fulfilling the wishes of a rabid, violent base. No matter what you think about the death penalty, you can’t deny Trump’s actions are based not on seeking justice but on his love of torture and death of people he sees as beneath him, a racist authoritarian out of control.
In these last days of his presidency, Trump is rushing through so many horrific actions, including rolling back environmental protections, trying to build as much border barrier as possible and stripping rights of LGBTQ people and others.
Though damage will have been caused, many of these actions can be undone by President Joe Biden. What can’t be undone are the executions, including those like that of Brandon Bernard, a Black man who now won’t get a chance to ever show new evidence in court that could have prevented his being put to death.
Trump is reveling in that, addicted to the power, and determined to use it until his last day in office.