Jul 8, 2022

Don't execute the Buffalo shooter

Don't execute the Buffalo shooter
Photo by Maria Oswalt / Unsplash

President Biden faces a critical moment.

I’m Isaac Saul, you are reading a subscribers-only edition of Tangle. Feel free to forward this email to friends and family, just ask them to subscribe to Tangle.

After the last few months of horror in the U.S., one can excuse Americans for fervently seeking "justice."

In a matter of weeks, we've had to endure an intense concentration of brutal crimes. A mass shooter targeting a Buffalo grocery store because of the neighborhood's heavily Black population. A mass shooter attacking his own grandmother, then killing elementary school children and teachers. A mass shooter opening fire from atop a building into a Fourth of July parade (potentially, it seems, a targeted attack against Jews).

The nature of these crimes provokes a basic, instinctual response from many in society, including me. I want these killers to face serious repercussions. I want to see them endure something as unendurable as the pain and suffering they've inflicted on so many family and friends of their victims. If I'm totally honest, I want to see them suffer, and there is even a part of me that wants to see them die for their crimes.

I don’t think one has to deny this response. But, like everyone else, I also know I should try to manage that instinct. I know that, in order to live in a civil society, as cliche as it sounds, we should strive for something better.

In New York, the death penalty has been banned. Last summer, under pressure from civil rights groups, Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a moratorium on federal executions (President Donald Trump carried out 13 in his final six months in office). President Biden opposed the death penalty on the campaign trail but has not pushed for a federal ban on executions since taking office. 23 states have already abolished the death penalty, and California, Oregon and Pennsylvania have moratoriums in place.

But in mid-June, a judge asked federal prosecutors in the Buffalo case if they were going to seek capital punishment. So far, the Justice Department — led by the Biden-appointed Garland — is yet to respond.

The families of the victims are reportedly divided about whether to seek the death penalty, with some supportive and others unsure. That's not exactly surprising when you consider the fact that 60% of U.S. adults still support the death penalty for someone convicted of murder. The percentage would surely go up for someone convicted of mass murder whose guilt is certain. Given that, and the heinousness of the Buffalo shooter's crime, including the fact that it was racially motivated, it's not exactly surprising Garland is considering the idea.

But whatever he does will be a strong signal to other states and the country as a whole about how this administration views the death penalty, and what direction the United States is headed on this issue.

Which is precisely why Garland should tell the judge no.

The death penalty is cruel and unusual. Fundamentally, this is all it should take for Americans to abolish it, though there are many other strong arguments (which I'll touch on in a moment) to make my case.