Democrats Call for Death Penalty Abolition After Feds Execute White Supremacist

Ayanna Pressley
Ayanna Pressley / Getty Images
• July 14, 2020 3:40 pm


A bevy of prominent Democratic lawmakers and progressive activists called for abolition of the death penalty in the wake of Tuesday morning's execution of a white supremacist and convicted child murderer.

Just hours after the execution of Daniel Lewis Lee for the 24-year-old murder, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D., Mass.) wrote on Twitter, "Abolish the death penalty." Several of Pressley's close progressive allies, including Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.), repeated her sentiment.

Pressley also refloated a 2019 proposal to abolish the federal death penalty legislatively, writing that "last night's Supreme Court decision and overnight execution have made it horrifically clear that we need to bring my bill to the House floor for a vote immediately."

The wave of statements from Pressley and allies reveals an uncompromising opposition to capital punishment on the Democratic Party's left flank, even in the case of a man who committed his crimes in the pursuit of creating a whites-only country. That opposition puts them out of lockstep with the American people, a majority of whom have supported the death penalty since the 1970s, and two-thirds of whom oppose abolition.

Pressley's call for abolition earned her support outside of her Capitol Hill clique. Jamaal Bowman, a progressive insurgent who defeated Rep. Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.) in a hard-fought primary, also backed abolition. So did Charles Booker, a Kentucky Democrat who recently lost a close primary to challenge Sen. Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) in the fall.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D., Calif.) condemned the Supreme Court's five-to-four ruling in her own tweet that said, "This form of punishment is cruel and inhumane. Ban the death penalty."

Joe Biden, the party's presumptive presidential nominee, did not mention the execution during the roll-out of an economic platform on Tuesday, and a request for comment on it to his campaign went unanswered. But Pete Buttigieg—a former 2020 contender and now a prominent Biden surrogate—wrote that "we should abolish the death penalty in America."

Liberal NGOs also signaled their opposition to executing Lee, who tortured an eight-year-old girl and then dumped her body in a bayou. Krissy Roth, a senior advocate with the anti-death penalty group Amnesty USA, issued a statement saying her group was "horrified" by the "first federal execution in 17 years."

Lee's execution marks the first time the federal government has carried out the death penalty since 2003. His death is the first of three slated for this week, with a fourth expected next month. Commenting on the execution that he himself set in motion last year, Attorney General William Barr said Lee "finally faced the justice he deserved."