Professor and activist sees Attorney General William Barr and Trump’s interest in reinstating the death penalty as a tool to continue to oppress marginalized communities, including advocating using the death penalty against drug dealers
EDDIE CONWAY Welcome to this episode of Rattling the Bars. I’m Eddie Conway. Recently, the attorney general William Barr announced that the federal government would execute five prisoners. Since Trump has came to office, he had been campaigning for reinstating the death penalty.
DONALD TRUMP You kill one person, you get the death penalty. You kill 5,000 people with drugs because you’re smuggling them in and you’re making a lot of money and people are dying and they don’t even put you in jail. They don’t do anything. These people are killing our kids and they’re killing our families and we have to do something.
But if we don’t get tough on the drug dealers, we’re wasting our time. Just remember that. We’re wasting our time. And that toughness includes the death penalty. We believe criminals who kill police officers should get the death penalty.
EDDIE CONWAY Joining me now is professor and activist Davey D from California to explain what’s happening with this new federal death penalty. Davey D, oh. Thanks for joining me for this episode of Rattling the Bars
DAVEY D Thank you. Good to have, be on here. Eddie, how are you doing?
EDDIE CONWAY I’m good. I’m good. Tell me a little bit about this new federal policy to execute five people this year, December and January. What brought that on and what do you know about it?
DAVEY D Well, I think there’s always going to be an official type of reason. It’s the narrative that’s always been around to justify the death penalty. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. There were people that committed “heinous” crimes and they needed to be punished for the sake of the victims or the family of the victims of that heinous crime. And when you place it like that, there are a lot of people that will not necessarily argue with that. The problem that you have is that we’ve found over the years there’s been a number of people that have been put on death row who are actually innocent. And the mindset that many who oppose the death penalty have is that I’d rather have you sitting in jail, living, so in case we come up with new evidence, we’re able to let you free and correct it the best to our ability.
Society, as a society versus, you know, you being gone and a mistake was made. With the restoring of the death penalty, if you ask me why I think that’s happening, I can’t separate it from the other things that are going on in society right now. The separation of children from their parents who are at the border, increased police brutality with no end in sight and no way to be accountable. Holding up and making hate speech seem like it’s a constitutional right that should be protected even though that hate speech is directed at marginalized communities. And meanwhile if me or you get up here and say, “hey, let’s boycott Israel” or we speak out against the police or something, there are laws in place, you know, that could accused us of violating and in the case of Israel, some sort of law, against the boycott. Or if we talk about police and others, we could be accused of being terrorists.
So I think what we have is an act of terrorism and the restoring of the death penalty, knowing that there are communities that are already under stress and strife now have this to deal with as well. I think it’s something that is calculated to add to the type of angst that many people are feeling. So I don’t separate it from these other things. If you know, to give it shorthand, I think this is the president and this administration trolling marginalized communities. I’m going to tell you that I’m going to call out people and accuse them of being terrorists and tell them to go back to their country as he did with the four congresswomen. I’m going to tell others that they oversee rat infested communities even though it’s my people or my grandson or son-in-law who owns the buildings that are rat infested, in the case of Trump and his son-in-law. And I’m also going to really reinstate the death penalty. So that’s how I see it. This is just adding more fuel to this wave of oppression.
EDDIE CONWAY And I noticed earlier in, throughout his speeches, he’s been advocating using the death penalty against drug dealers and people that are engaged in drug use, drug sales, et cetera. That seems to be directed at certain communities. And I was wondering, there’s a relationship between that kind of attitude and what’s happening in the Philippines.
DAVEY D Right. Well that’s the first thing. I mean that’s a page out of President Duarte playbook where you have, you know, tens of thousands who have been killed. Does it stop crime? Can you go to the Philippines and say that everything is hunky dory and it’s a pristine society? Or do people walk around as we seen in some dictatorship type countries, you know, with the atmosphere of fear. The other person that will probably try to come on board with this will be, I forget how to pronounce his name, I want to say Brusallis or whatever his name down in Brazil.
EDDIE CONWAY Bolsonaro.
DAVEY D Yeah, Bolsonaro, down in Brazil. So this is a way to maintain power. And you already have two countries that are already down that road and that’s Russia and China, where they use these laws, the death penalty and other type of repressive laws to maintain power, keep dissent down, criminalize dissent and really keep people who are in power ruling forever.
So this is the trajectory that this president is attempting to follow. And sure, if you kill drug dealers in their communities, I mean, what did we just have in Chicago with the two women, the two mothers that were killed, your visceral reaction to that is like, yeah, they need to go. The six year old kid that was just killed in Gilroy the other day and the 13 year old, very few people are going to say, “Nah, let’s forgive and restorative justice.” They’re like “man, kill him.” Especially since we know it was a white nationalist. And they may do a few … the death penalty may be applied to a few of these folks. Those would be the ones that make the headline. Those will be the ones that are held up. So we all cheer and get on that boat. But it will be all these questionable cases that follow that may not make the headlines, that that’s where the carnage will take place. And so I would be cautious about green-lighting this and I would also be cautious about disconnecting it from the larger things that are going on nationally and globally.
EDDIE CONWAY Mhm. It seems like 21 states including your state, California, have put moratoriums or outlawed the use of the death penalty. So the trend seems to be on the state level to get rid of and back away from the death penalty. What do you think is going to be the reaction around the country?
DAVEY D Well, I mean if this is a federal situation, there’s not much that can be done and I don’t know if there is an anti death penalty movement where we’re going to see people out in the streets. And again, the reason why is that people are out in the streets over children being separated from their parents at the border. People out in the streets protesting police brutality. People are out in the streets, out in the streets cause they are homeless right now. They’re sitting out here with no homes. Folks are fighting a number of battles on different fronts. So this is just another one. And I don’t know if you’re going to have the political resources as well as just the people power to really mount the type of opposition that I think would be needed to turn that around. I mean, if it was me, the best opposition is to put somebody else in office who is going to be against the death penalty and call it a day. You know, put somebody in office who can make an executive order as this president did to say, “no, we’re not doing that” and keep it moving. So in some ways this could also be a distraction.
EDDIE CONWAY Okay. Davey D, thank you for joining me and thank you for giving us that insight.
DAVEY D Okay, hope it made sense. And thank you for having me.
EDDIE CONWAY Thank you for joining me for this episode of Rattling the Bars.