Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) said she will introduce a bill abolishing the federal death penalty after Attorney General William Barr directed the Department of Justice to resume capital punishment for crimes prosecuted in U.S. courts for the first time in nearly two decades.
Pressley’s legislation would prohibit the use of capital punishment for violations of federal law and require that any person already sentenced to die for a federal crime be resentenced.
Pressley referred to the death penalty as a “racist, vile policy,” and pointed to President Donald Trump’s own calls for the execution of the Central Park Five — five teenagers of color who were wrongfully imprisoned ― and later exonerated ― in the 1989 rape of a white woman in New York.
“The same racist rhetoric coming from the occupant of the White House ― who called for the execution of the Exonerated 5, is what led to this racist, vile policy,” Pressley said in a statement. “It was wrong then and it’s wrong now ... The cruelty is the point ― this is by design.”
The last federal execution took place in 2003, and 62 inmates are currently on federal death row. Barr on Thursday directed the federal Bureau of Prisons to schedule the execution of five of these prisoners, beginning later this year. Many states also allow the death penalty for crimes prosecuted in state courts, but 21 states have outlawed the punishment amid a growing outcry.
Over 75% of people who have been executed in the United States since 1976, when the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty, were sentenced for killing white victims, despite the fact that about half of all homicide victims are African American, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
“The Justice Department upholds the rule of law ― and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system,” Barr said in a statement announcing his decision on Thursday.