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Durbin & Pressley Urge DOJ Not to Pursue Death Penalty for Buffalo Mass Shooter

In a joint statement, the lawmakers invoked President Biden’s 2020 pledge to abolish use of the federal death penalty.

Sen. Dick Durbin listens during a press conference following a Senate Democratic luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on September 28, 2022, in Washington, D.C.

Two Democratic congressional lawmakers have issued a joint statement demanding that the Department of Justice (DOJ) reverse its decision to seek a death penalty judgment for the mass shooter who killed 10 Black shoppers at a grocery store in Buffalo in 2022, noting that such a punishment wouldn’t produce any real justice for the families of victims.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Massachusetts), who co-authored a bill to abolish the federal death penalty last summer, made the statement on Wednesday, in response to the DOJ’s announcement last week that it would seek the death penalty for Payton Gendron, the white supremacist who killed the shoppers nearly two years ago. Gendron was indicted with 27 federal counts relating to the shooting, including murder and hate crime charges.

In a manifesto he wrote before the shooting, Gendron espoused many alt-right conspiracy theories, including the “great replacement theory.” He also professed beliefs in false racist tropes regarding Black people’s intelligence, sexuality and propensity for violence.

Despite Gendron’s horrific actions, the Biden administration should “reverse its position seeking the death penalty in this case,” Durbin and Pressley said in their joint statement, noting that the action was incongruent with President Joe Biden’s pledge during the 2020 election to abolish the use of the death penalty at the federal level.

The lawmakers recognized that the mass shooting was a “morally reprehensible” action, but added that “state-sanctioned killing is not justice.”

Durbin reiterated the points he and Pressley made by posting to social media additional comments regarding their request to the DOJ to change its course.

“The Justice Department should follow the President’s lead and reverse its position seeking the death penalty in this case,” Durbin wrote on X. “And Congress must pass my bill with @RepPressleyto end this deeply flawed and inhumane form of punishment once and for all.”

The decision by the DOJ to pursue the death penalty in this case has been condemned by other pro-justice organizations, including Equal Justice USA, a group “that works to transform the justice system by promoting responses to violence that break cycles of trauma.”

“The government’s decision to pursue a death sentence will do nothing to address the racism and hatred that fueled the mass murder,” Equal Justice USA CEO Jamila Hodge said in a statement. “Ultimately, this pursuit will inflict more pain and renewed trauma on the victims’ families and the larger Black community already shattered by loss and desperately in need of healing and solutions that truly build community safety. Imagine if we invested in that instead of more state violence.”

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