Common Dreams: After Alabama Executes Nathaniel Woods, Ayanna Pressley Leads Fresh Calls for US to Abolish Death Penalty

March 6, 2020
In The News

After the state of Alabama on Thursday night executed 44-year-old Nathaniel Woods despite serious concerns about injustices in his case, Rep. Ayanna Pressley and other lawmakers and civil rights advocates implored Congress to abolish the death penalty nationwide.

The Massachusetts Democrat took to Twitter Friday morning to call out the trauma inflicted on Woods' family, condemn the nation's "INJUSTICE" system, and demand significant reforms. As Pressley put it: "We need a system that centers shared power, freedom, equality, safety, and dignity."

The congresswoman specifically highlighted her proposed People's Justice Guarantee legislation and a bill (H.R. 4052) she introduced in July 2019 that would "prohibit the imposition of the death penalty for any violation of federal law, and for other purposes."

Pressley unveiled H.R. 4052 after U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced that the Trump administration would resume the use of capital punishment for the first time in over 16 years. Barr claimed at the time that "under administrations of both parties, the Department of Justice has sought the death penalty against the worst criminals."

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)—along with fellow "Squad" members Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.)—is among over 30 Democrats co-sponsoring Pressley's bill to ban the death penalty. Ocasio-Cortez reiterated her opposition to the practice Thursday in response to reporting on Woods' execution:

Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.), who famously ditched the Republican Party last year, is the only co-sponsor of H.R. 4052 who isn't a Democrat. After a series of tweets about Woods' execution Thursday, Amash urged Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) to bring the bill to the floor.

Woods was killed about three hours after his execution was initially scheduled, due to a U.S. Supreme Court stay that was ultimately lifted. Leading up to Thursday, Woods' family, civil rights advocates, and people across the country called on courts and Alabama's Republican governor, Kay Ivey, to intervene.

Woods' execution elicited a wave of fresh calls for ending the death penalty:

In the Republican-controlled upper chamber of Congress, Pressley's death penalty bill (S. 2390) is sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and backed by 11 of his colleagues, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a 2020 Democratic presidential primary candidate. Writer and activist Shaun King, a surrogate for Sanders' campaign, was one of the high-profile advocates who fought to save Woods' life.

King concluded a long Twitter thread about Woods' execution late Thursday with calls for outlawing capital punishment and electing Sanders, whose racial justice platform explicitly states that a Sanders administration would "abolish the death penalty."

Journalist John Nichols took to Twitter shortly after midnight Friday to point out Sanders' statement from July 2019, when Barr announced the federal government's return to the death penalty.

Nichols is a national affairs correspondent at The Nation, which endorsed "Sanders and his movement" Monday.