South Carolina Firing Squad Bill Prioritizes Executions Over Justice - Advocacy Group

WASHINGTON (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 08th May, 2021) US state of South Carolina lawmakers by backing firing squads without reforming the justice system are prioritizing executing prisoners over fairness, Death Penalty Information Center Executive Director Robert Dunham told Sputnik.

Earlier this week, South Carolina's House green-lighted firing squad executions as an option amid the unavailability of lethal injection drugs. The state's senate is widely expected to pass the measure, which the governor has already vowed to sign.

"Before the state thinks about this, [firing squads] it needs to be thinking about the many problems around the criminal justice system and the death penalty," Dunham said. "The South Carolina legislators have made their choice and their choice is to make a priority, make it more important to execute prisoners than ensure that it is fair."

Dunham, who has headed the advocacy organization since 2015, said if this bill passes, South Carolina will become the 4th state - along with Oklahoma, Mississippi and Utah - to authorize firing squads as a backup to executions.

"South Carolina has now gone 10 years without an execution. Given the state's history with capital punishment, one has to question whether this is the appropriate reform to make," he said.

The state also has a long history of discrimination in capital punishment, he added.

"This simply continues a system that has long been a symbol of racial injustice," Dunham said.

Even as South Carolina lawmakers follow this tact, Dunham said most states nationwide are moving away from the death Penalty.

"The prior administration created a lot of political polarization. And that polarization is clear when you look at the way states respond to the Death Penalty," Dunham said. "This continues to lose support among the American public but in some of the states in which it is an entrenched part of state's culture, we're seeing legislators trying to expedite executions without regards to fairness."

Dunham also said it is clear, based on statistics, that South Carolina juries are far less interested in the death penalty.

"South Carolina juries have imposed only three death sentences in the past decade and that compares with an average of 6.5 death sentences per year 2 decades ago," he said.

Dunham said the murder of George Floyd and subsequent protests has affected the conversations around the death penalty.

There have been shifts in public perception and widespread demands for accountability and responsibility of law enforcement, he added. One prominent example, Dunham said, was the state legislature in Virginia being the first state to repeal the death penalty.

"The American public has become more aware of the disparities in the criminal justice system. But no single factor will produce change," he explained. "Changes always comes with/through coalitions. This - the racial reckoning - will increase the momentum in states and municipalities. It is one of many factors at play."