On a Killing Spree: Trump/Pence Regime’s Department of INJustice

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On July 14, Daniel Lewis Lee was executed by lethal injection at the U.S. penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. This was the first execution of a federal prisoner since 2003. Last week, Trump’s “Justice Department” (DOJ) announced that, in addition to two executions already scheduled before Trump’s term in office is set to end, it intends to execute three more inmates on federal death row. If all these executions proceed, it means that the fascist regime will have executed 13 prisoners since July. This will be the deadliest period of federal executions since at least 1927, according to Federal Bureau of Prisons data. Allison Cohen, a spokesperson for the anti-death penalty group Death Penalty Action, told the Salon website, “We’re really in the middle of an unprecedented execution spree.”

Among those already executed or scheduled for execution:

Lezmond Mitchell, a Navajo man who had no history of violence, and who denied carrying out the brutal murders on Navajo land for which he was convicted. The DOJ sought the death penalty against the explicit wishes of the victim’s family and the Navajo Nation, and despite the fact that a federal law from 1885 prohibits the death penalty for crimes committed on tribal land unless the affected tribe decides to allow it. He was tried and convicted by a jury of 11 whites and one Native American. Mitchell was executed on July 26.

Lisa Montgomery, convicted of murder and kidnapping a pregnant woman. Diane Mattingly, her half-sister, told Elle magazine of the violence, rape, child prostitution, and other abuses that Montgomery suffered from childhood into her young adulthood, and left her “diagnosed with bipolar disorder and complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and (someone who) regularly dissociates and hallucinates.” As one of her lawyers wrote, “Executing Lisa Montgomery would be yet another injustice inflicted on a woman who has known a lifetime of mistreatment.” Montgomery is scheduled to be executed at Terre Haute on January 12, 2021. If it goes ahead, she will be the first woman executed by the federal government since 1984.

Bringing Back the Firing Squad

William Barr, the Christian fascist head of the DOJ, has pushed forward new rules that allow for “expanded execution methods” to “avoid delays” in state-sponsored killings. Along with the barbaric lethal injections now favored, these methods include firing squads and the electric chair. The fascists still in power want to ensure that executions can be carried out relatively quickly, even in states that currently aren’t equipped to carry out lethal injections. If a federal prisoner is sentenced in a state that currently doesn’t permit death sentences, Barr’s new measure also enables a judge to designate another state with the laws and capability to carry out the executions.

“It’s going to be black person after black person after black person”

Monica Foster, a federal public defender in Indiana, says that if federal executions proceed, eventually “it’s going to be black person after black person after black person.” History and facts about the prison population back up what she says.

Political authorities, both Democrat and Republican, have whipped up and orchestrated support for executions by focusing huge public attention on the death penalty by convicting and executing white men for horrific crimes, then turning the machinery of death mainly upon Black and Latino men. This approach, as the “thin end of the wedge,” is an attempt to avoid the overt expression of the white supremacy underlying federal—and other—executions, as the percentage of Black men on federal death row is hugely disproportionate to the percentage of Black people in the overall population. According to the list of federal death penalty prisoners, 44.4 percent are Black, and 40.7 percent are white, while Black people are about 13 percent of the U.S. population.

In Texas, the trial and 1984 execution of the “Candyman”—a white man who poisoned his own son — opened the floodgates to the state prison in Huntsville becoming an execution grounds. Soon, people like Clarence Brandley and Shaka Sankofa were sent to the death chamber. Clarence Brandley, a Black man who was railroaded by an openly racist D.A. and convicted by an all-white jury for a crime he did not commit, spent 10 years on death row before finally being released after repeated protests and appeals that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court; Shaka Sankofa was a revolutionary-minded Black man who had been convicted and condemned to death on the basis of flawed testimony of one witness and no physical evidence, was executed. As the poison coursed through his body, Shaka Sankofa said, “This is a lynching that is happening in America tonight. There’s overwhelming and compelling evidence of my defense that has never been heard in any court of America... We must continue to stay strong all around the world, and people must come together to stop the systematic killing of poor and innocent Black people.”

The Intercept website reported that “From the moment Attorney General William Barr first announced the federal execution dates, it was clear that the cases had been carefully chosen.” All of the people on Barr’s list had been convicted of gruesome crimes, and “Most of the condemned were white men, which struck many people as no accident.”

A Fascist Regime, an Unjust System

Widespread use of the death penalty in this society preceded the Trump/Pence regime. But in recent years it has largely fallen into disapproval, even in states infamous for its widespread use.

The aggressive moves by Trump and Barr to reactivate the federal death penalty are not just an election-year ploy for votes, as some have suggested. They are an indication of the cruel and extreme lengths the fascists are willing to go in carrying out heartless repression, especially against Black and other oppressed people. They reveal the extent of punishment the fascists want to inflict upon people whose lives, minds, and spirits have been twisted and torn apart by the putrid social relations and culture of racism and misogyny concentrated in this country.

The new regulations issued by Barr’s DOJ will continue after the fascist regime steps aside, until they are explicitly taken out by a future administration. Biden has “pledged to eliminate the death penalty” as the New York Times put it. Whether that happens, when and if that happens, and how it would apply on the state as well as federal level, are uncertain. But what is clear are the murderous intentions of not just Trump and Pence, but the entire fascist movement they spearhead. The new death penalty regulations are now “on the books” and can’t be removed quickly, and they are intended to facilitate execution on a more massive scale than has previously existed in this country.

Clear also is the utterly unjust application of the death penalty throughout the entire history of this country, as the ultimate punishment in a society of gaping inequalities, systemic oppression of entire peoples, and institutionalized abuse of women and children.

Lezmond Mitchell


Lisa Montgomery



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