By: Aaron Greene, member of the Black Alliance for Peace (BAP) & a coordinator for the JLS Right2Vote Movement.
The U.S. death penalty has always been a symbol of white supremacy and a violation of human rights law. Having already executed 11 people this year, the Trump administration plans to execute five people (four of them Black) during a lame-duck session. This would be the first time a president has carried out executions during a lame-duck session since the Cleveland administration carried out the execution of an Indigenous man in 1890.
The profound anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells once said: “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” She and many others advocated tirelessly to stop the lynching of Black children, women, and men. She was moved to this work after the People’s Grocery Lynching in 1892 when three Black men (Thomas Moss, Will Stewart, and Calvin McDowell) were lynched by a white mob while in police custody. This lit a fire in Ida as she could not sit idle while Black Blood was dripping from leaves across the country.
Ida B. Wells has been on my mind this week after learning that the Trump administration plans to execute five people before there is a change of power. Trump is the first president in 17 years to reinstate federal executions. Since executions were permitted in July of 2020, 11 people have been put to death. This is more than any previous year in the 20th or 21st centuries. Only three people had been executed by the federal government from 1970 to 2019.
The Trump administration is planning to continue this lynching by law. Below are five people that are scheduled to be executed:
- Brandon Bernard (Black Man) – Currently incarcerated in Terre Haute, Indiana. Brandon was 18 years old when first incarcerated and now is 40 years old. Brandon was only an accomplice to the alleged crime and five of the nine surviving jurors for his case no longer view the death penalty as a necessary punishment. Brandon would be the youngest executed in 70 years and his scheduled date of execution is December 10, 2020 (Human Rights Day).
- Learn more about Brandon’s Case: https://www.helpsavebrandon.com/
- Dustin Higgs (Black Man) – Currently incarcerated in Terre Haute, Indiana. Dustin was sentenced to death on January 3, 2001. Dustin was convicted as an accomplice to three murders in 1996, even though he actually did not pull the trigger, but was guilty by association under the so-called law of parties theory. He is scheduled to be executed on January 15, 2021, which would be the last federal execution carried out by the Trump Administration. January 15, 2020, is the birth date of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther, King, Jr.
- Learn more about Dustin’s Case here: http://www.savedustinjhiggs.com/
- Lisa Montgomery (White Women) – Currently incarcerated in Forth Worth, Texas. Lisa was sentenced to death on October 22, 2007. Lisa suffers from severe mental illness and experienced relentless physical, emotional, and sexual abuse including being trafficked by her own mother. She is the only woman under a federal death sentence and would be the first woman executed in 70 years. Execution date of January 12, 2021.
- Learn more about Lisa’s case here: https://www.deathpenaltyworldwide.org/project/savelisa/
- Cory Johnson (Black Man) – Currently incarcerated in Terre Haute, Indiana. Cory was sentenced to death in 1993. His lawyers have continuously argued that he suffers from an intellectual disability, which should prohibit him from being executed under federal law. Cory is one of the longest serving people now on federal death row. His execution date is January 14, 2020.
- Learn more about Cory’s case here.
- Alfred Bourgeois (Black Man) – Currently incarcerated in Terre Haute, Indiana. Alfred was convicted and sentenced to death in 2002. Alfred is intellectually disabled and should be constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty. He is scheduled to be executed on December 11, 2020.
- On December 2, 2020, Alfred Bourgeois attorneys asked the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay of Dec. 11 scheduled federal execution and review of intellectual disability claim. Read the press release, cert petition, stay motion here.
If these five executions are carried out, the Trump administration will have executed 16 people in 6 months. This reality should serve as a reminder that the Ku Klux Klan not only wears white robes, masks, and carries shotguns but also wears fake smiles, tailored suits, and utilizes a legislative pens. With this terror of violence weighing on our communities, one must ask the same question Ida B. Wells asked some decades ago: “Where are our “leaders” when the race is being burnt, shot, and hanged? Holding good fat offices and saying not a word.” Where are our leaders when Brandon Bernard is scheduled to be executed on Human Rights Day? Where are our leaders when this administration plans to execute the youngest person in 70 years and the first women in 70 years? Where are our leaders when five nooses have been positioned once again on the United States Bloody Oak Tree? Where are our leaders to declare and exemplify that Black Lives in Prison Matter? Where are our leaders to affirm that all life is precious and that a civilized state should not engage in ritualized murder posing as justice?
Organizations like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the United Nations must not remain mostly silent but instead should urgently resist all five executions and also highlight the contradiction of Brandon Bernard being scheduled to be executed on International Human Rights Day. As Attorney Jaribu Hill has stated: “The death penalty is the ultimate human rights violation.” Organizations like the NAACP should stop practicing leadership by avoidance but instead should walk in the prophetic tradition of its’ cofounder Ida B. Wells by shining light on this grave injustice and organizing urgent actions. Leaders should stop begging President-elect Joe Biden for highchairs in his administration, but instead should pressure him to take an
aggressive stance to prevent these five executions. Joe Biden is not an innocent bystander, he is the author of the 1994 Crime Bill which included, the Death Penalty Act, this created 60 new federal death penalty crimes.
The execution of five people is on the docket, but we still have time to resist these scheduled lynchings by law. We have a responsibility to respond with resounding action whenever we see the Blood on the Leaves. The Lynching Tree and Execution by law are all interconnected as weapons of terror used in an attempt to silence the oppressed. We cannot be silent but must stand with our backs straight demanding that these lives be saved.
What can you do to help? Below are actions you can take to raise awareness:
Take Action here to help Brandon Bernard.
Take Action here to help Dustin Higgs.
Take Action here to help Lisa Montgomery.
Take Action here to help Cory Johnson.
Take Action here to help Alfred Bourgeois.