Attorney General William Barr announced July 25 that the U.S. government will resume carrying out executions, reversing a de facto moratorium that has been in place for 16 years.
This takes place in the face of declining public support nationwide for this barbaric weapon in the hands of the capitalist state that’s meant to intimidate the working class. Workers have watched in horror as state prisons have experimented on those facing the death penalty by using untried mixtures of toxic substances that have caused agony and torture.
The move comes as the rulers’ political crisis deepens with factional rivalries growing more heated heading into the 2020 election. President Donald Trump has called for an extension of crimes covered by the death sentence. Former President Barack Obama called capital punishment “deeply troubling,” a posture echoed by most Democratic presidential candidates today, but his administration did nothing to abolish it.
During their occupancy of the White House from 1993 to 2001, Bill and Hillary Clinton brought in the largest expansion of crimes subject to judicial murder, “some 60 offenses overall,” wrote Jack Barnes, national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, in The Clintons’ Anti-Working-Class Record: Why Washington Fears Working People.
Bill Clinton signed into law the grotesquely-named “Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.” This had a devastating impact on working-class families, especially those who are African American.
“Under administrations of both parties,” Barr said, federal prosecutors have “sought the death penalty against the worst criminals.” He said that “five murderers” will be put to death at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, in December or January, adding there would be more to come.
The list of five, including a white supremacist, has been carefully chosen. All have been convicted of murdering children and the elderly, shocking crimes that elicit maximum revulsion among working people.
In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the death penalty was unconstitutional in violation of the Eighth and 14th Amendments in three cases, effectively placing a four-year moratorium on its use. But the black-robed justices reinstated it on the state level in 1976 and at the federal in 1988. Since then, there have only been three federal executions, one, in 2001, of Timothy McVeigh, the ultra-rightist Oklahoma City bomber.
There are 62 people on federal death row today, 26 of whom are Black. Twenty-one states have abolished the death penalty, the latest was New Hampshire in May. Nationwide, 2,673 prisoners are on death row.
“Capital punishment is a weapon of terror in the hands of the capitalist rulers meant to intimidate the working class and its vanguard fighters,” Alyson Kennedy, Socialist Workers Party candidate for president in 2016, said July 27. “The Socialist Workers Party fights for its total abolition.”