Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Trump using executions as ‘political tool’



Trump using executions as ‘political tool’

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
US President Donald Trump participates in a Thanksgiving teleconference with members of the United States Military, at the White House in Washington, DC on November 26. AFP

Trump using executions as ‘political tool’

‘Tragic” and “political” is how Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer who is to receive the Right Livelihood Award on December 3, describes the frenzy of federal executions scheduled by US President Donald Trump before his departure from office.

Stevenson told AFP in an interview: “For every nine people we’ve executed in the United States, one innocent person on death row has been identified.”

The 61-year-old African-American attorney is to be honoured with three other rights activists on December 3 with the Swedish foundation award established in 1980 which has been described as the “Alternative Nobel Prize”.

The founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, Stevenson has been able to prove the innocence or commute the sentences of 130 condemned prisoners, a fight which is recounted in his book Just Mercy and a movie of the same name starring Michael B Jordan.

For Stevenson, mistaken convictions should have resulted in an immediate “shutdown” to executions.

He said: “Like in aviation . . . when a plane crashes, we have to figure out why. We don’t allow planes to fly.

“In health and food and safety we do the same thing, but somehow in our justice system, not only do we continue executing people, we don’t even try to figure out why it is the rate of error is so high.”

The Trump administration resumed executions of federal prisoners in July after a 17-year hiatus.

There have been eight since then and five others are scheduled, including one on January 15, just five days before President-elect Joe Biden is to be inaugurated.

Until July, there had been only three federal executions in the past 45 years.

“It think that’s tragic,” Stevenson said of the resumption of federal executions under Trump. “I actually would love to see the federal death penalty abolished.

“It’s clearly being used in a political way . . . and the last few months have shown that it is a political tool, at a minimum,” he said.

‘Hopeful’

Biden has pledged to work towards abolishing the death penalty at the federal level but he will need the approval of Congress to do so and Democrats will need to take back the Senate.

For Stevenson, the death penalty embodies some of the shortcomings of the US judicial system including the criminalisation of mental illness and incarceration of minors, but above all discrimination against African-Americans.

Orlando Hall, a Black man who was executed last month, “was convicted by an all-white jury after 80 per cent of the African-Americans were excluded by a prosecutor with a history of racial bias”, Stevenson said. “Our courts refused to address that issue.”

The nationwide “Black Lives Matter” protests following the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in May focused attention on police brutality in the US towards African-Americans.

But Stevenson said prosecutors and judges can also exhibit racial bias.

He said: “There’s a presumption of dangerousness and guilt that gets assigned to black and brown people which makes them very vulnerable in a very aggressive, predatory criminal justice system.

“So we have lots of Black people who get wrongly accused and wrongly arrested, wrongly convicted.”

Stevenson is speaking from personal experience.

He added: “I’m an African-American attorney. I went to Harvard Law School . . . I’ve been pulled out of my car and threatened by police who said they were going to blow my brains out.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Phnom Penh curfew starts today

    A two-week curfew from 8pm to 5am starts today in Phnom Penh, a day after a sub-decree detailing administrative measures to contain Covid-19 was issued by Prime Minister Hun Sen. “Travelling in Phnom Penh is temporally banned between 8pm and 5am,” said Phnom Penh governor

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Cambodia gears up for muted New Year festival

    The recent curfew and restrictions imposed in the capital and other Covid-19 hotspots were intended to break the chain of transmission, Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine said as municipal and provincial authorities issued new directives banning certain activities during the upcoming Khmer New Year

  • Vaccination open to foreigners in Cambodia

    The Ministry of Health on April 8 issued an announcement on Covid-19 vaccination for foreigners residing and working in Cambodia, directing the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and local authorities to register them. Health minister Mam Bun Heng, who is also head of the inter-ministerial

  • Covid-19 vaccination now obligatory

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on April 11 issued a sub-decree making Covid-19 vaccination compulsory for individuals unless they have a medical certificate proving they have pre-existing health conditions that prevent them from doing so. «This applies to all members of the armed forces and civil servants

  • Time to Rise by rapper, chapei legend is viral hit with ancient-modern mix

    Kong Nay is known internationally as the master of the chapei dang veng, a traditional Cambodian instrument resembling a long-necked lute or guitar with two nylon strings that he was already playing professionally by the age of 15. Nay is sometimes referred to as the Cambodian