NECC Observer

The student news website of Northern Essex Community College, Haverhill and Lawrence, Mass.

Federal government’s ninth execution of the year raises questions

The Federal government’s ninth execution of the year, and the first federal execution in a lame-duck period in 130 years begs the question, Why?

Brandon Bernard’s execution on Dec. 10 marks the first execution during a presidential “lame-duck” period in 130 years. The execution was the first in a series of five executions scheduled before the transition of power on Jan. 20. If all five executions take place, President Trump will be the most prolific executioner ever with 13 federal executions in one year.

Alfred Zappala, an attorney and Lawrence native, said this, “The timing of this series of executions is purely coincidental. With just three federal executions between 1988 and 2019, Trump is only doing what he thinks is right, and that is upholding the sentence of the death penalty and executing the prisoners.”

Kathleen Holmes, a professor of Sociology at NECC, shared her expert opinion: “We are lucky that the lame duck period is much shorter now than it once was. The 20th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution established January 20 as Inauguration Day, moving it back from March 4. Many out-going presidents act in the interest of the country in the last days (the lame duck session) of their term. Reagan signed a nuclear disarmament treaty, Clinton balanced the budget, Dubya made some moves around the recession and Obama created a Pan-Asian trade agreement. However, today’s outgoing president is, let us just say, ‘different’ than the presidents most living Americans remember. His actions in his lame-duck session do not reflect an interest in the country’s future but instead seemingly reflect personal interest. He is pushing through five federal executions before January 20, 2021.

“There is no sociological theory that can explain the behavior. The death penalty, from a functionalist view, provides social cohesion on issues of ‘right vs wrong’ and establishes the rule of the government among other effects. From the conflict theorist’s view, the lame-duck period is an opportunity for outgoing politicians to create a legacy that maintains power for one group, while denying other groups access to power. The death penalty is the ultimate power held by a government and is most certainly a tool of oppression . This year-2020 — it has also been manipulated; executions took place during the height of social unrest — but they were ALL white. Now, three out of the four to be executed are black; the one woman is white, and she will be the first woman executed by the federal government since 1953.If all scheduled executions are carried out, the federal government will have executed more people than all states combined in 2020. Quite the legacy.”

Meredith Gunning, a professor of Philosophy and Ethics at NECC, said this: “During his lame duck period, I see President Trump using federal executions as a political ploy to make himself look like a law-and-order president. Some of this is political posturing but it comes at the cost of human lives. On the other hand, it is also well known that Trump himself is a strong advocate of capital punishment. This is ironic given that Trump claims to be a pro-life president. A pro-life position should not just apply to lives growing in a womb. Normally a lame duck President does not carry out any federal executions in deference to the incoming President. It could be argued that Trump is using this period to flout incumbent President Biden, given that the Democratic leader has publicized that he plans on working to advance the abolition of the death penalty. The details of the cases of some of the death row inmates slated to be executed should also raise alarm bells. Take Brandon Bernard, for instance, who was only 18 when he committed his crimes. Granted a young white married couple died because of his actions. But by all accounts, he was a truly changed person who was remorseful for the loss of life his actions inflicted. The warden along with many others, including five jurors in his original trial begged in vain for his life to be spared since he was a model prisoner who helped mentor young prisoners. He was doing more good alive than dead. Four black men are scheduled for executions. Given the prevalent problems of systemic racism in the American justice system, this ought to raise public outcry. One of those black men, Alfred Bourgeois, brutally murdered his two year old which is bound to get many riled up, wanting retribution. But evidence has surfaced that Bourgeois had an intellectual disability that was never presented to a court. This fact alone ought to show that he should no thave borne the most severe of penalties given his diminished rational capacities.

“Some of the other people being executed, including Lisa Montgomery, have records of mental illness which also ought to be considered as mitigating factors. Last but not least, why rush to have a number of Federal executions during a Pandemic? Is there not enough death already?”