by Thea Halo
Update: The following blog post was written before Donald Trump ordered a series of presidential pardons for his cohorts, and four Blackwater operatives who were tried and convicted of the mass murder of Iraqi civilians, which seems to prove the last line of this blog.
In a last ditch effort to hold people’s lives in his hands before he leaves office, Trump ordered more federal executions with the execution of Brandon Bernard on December 10, 2020. Bernard was 18 when he took part in a senseless and brutal murder “of married youth ministers Todd and Stacie Bagley, ….”1 One of his teenage accomplices, Christopher Vialva has already been executed for the crime. “Bernard is the ninth federal inmate killed since the Trump administration ended a 17-year pause on federal executions in July. It is the first during a presidential lame-duck period in 130 years.”2
The very next day, Trump put to death a Louisiana truck driver. Alfred Bourgeois “was found guilty of murdering his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, who the Department of Justice says he also abused and tortured.”3 “His lawyers argued Bourgeois had an IQ that puts him in the intellectually disabled category, saying that should have made him ineligible for the death penalty under federal law.”4 The three new executions that Trump ordered to proceed will bring “the total number of people executed by the federal government since July up to 10, the highest in a single year since 1896.”5 More are scheduled to be executed before Trump leaves office, including the only woman on Federal death row. Lisa Montgomery’s crime was also despicable. However, Lisa Montgomery is “a mentally ill victim of sex trafficking,” who was also a victim of sex abuse when she was a child, “including being raped by her stepfather, handed off to his friends for their use, sold to groups of adult men by her own mother and repeatedly gang raped, and relentlessly beaten and neglected.”6
There are most likely many people who believe that the death penalty is appropriate when they know the heinous nature of some of the crimes committed, as in the Bourgeois, Brandon, and Montgomery cases. So perhaps the question is not whether the punishment fits the crime. Perhaps the question is whether we should have a double standard of a ‘right to life.’ By allowing the government to order and carry out the execution of anyone, even those criminals who don’t honor that same principle of the ‘right to life’ for others, can we, as a nation, really claim to believe in and preach the right to life without asking about the quality of life Americans have a right to expect?
Although in rallies Trump claimed he included the born and the unborn to a ‘right to life’—sometimes referred to as ‘Pro life’—the term is usually used by anti-abortionists, and refers to the unborn fetus. So perhaps the term should be adjusted to: the right to life for the unborn, because in our government’s sometimes cruel laws, like the death penalty, and the denouncement and/or neglect of the poor, once a child is born, he or she is often on their own and, therefore, their lives are sometimes at risk.
“Nearly half of women who have abortions live below the federal poverty level.”7 Yet those Americans who often claim their most cherished beliefs are God and family, often complain about the poor needing government assistance. It’s as if we are saying to a poor child that was saved from abortion: your parent, who is sometimes an unwed teenage mother, may not have the means to feed and cloth you, or give you a proper education and medical care once you’re born, but too bad on you and your parent. We don’t want you on our welfare roles or ruining the prestige of our cities by sleeping on our streets.8 We just want to show how humane we are by not killing you before you were born.
In fact, as noted in earlier blogs, this government is so disinterested in the quality of life for struggling Americans, that even during a pandemic when it’s clear that millions are struggling, sometimes through no fault of their own, Trump tried to deny food stamps to 700,000 Americans. He also tried to wipe out Obama’s healthcare initiative without a replacement, which would leave millions of Americans uninsured during the pandemic. So apparently, according to Trump, and many of his loyal Trumpies, God and family, and the right to life, doesn’t necessarily mean the right to a good or healthy life. Nor does it seem to acknowledge any right to compassion. It simply means a right to life for the unborn, even if once born, the child winds up living, or dying, in the gutter.
So perhaps we need better government slogans, such as: The right to eat. The right to be housed. The right to a proper education. The right to be clothed. The right to health care. The right to have a government that doesn’t take bribes from big business to allow the destruction of our environment, and medicine and healthcare prices to skyrocket; that doesn’t allow our food and water to be contaminated, or reward bankers who take a grand holiday on government bailout money after causing a financial disaster that resulted in the foreclosure of 10 million home.
And how do invasions of other countries and the lives crippled and/or lost on both sides of that crime, square with the ‘right to life’? We need another slogan about the billions or trillions of dollars our government spends on those needless invasions of other nations, and the prolonged human and financial toll that entails… a slogan that redirects that money to improving our schools, paying teachers a proper wage, and properly training our police force to know when lethal force is actually necessary, and when compassionate help is the right way to address a problem.
The right to life should mean… the right to a decent, educated life, so young men like Brandon Bernard don’t turn to crime. No. It won’t wipe out all crime. And it certainly won’t stop some Welfare cheats who are just too lazy to work unless forced, just as the threat of exposure or prison never stopped some in the banking industry from indulging in their illegal activities, or those in the pharmaceutical industry from committing their crimes. It also doesn’t seem to stop some members of Congress, who took an oath, yet indulge in insider trading,9 and accept huge campaign contributions that often come with strings attached, whether spoken or unspoken. There will always be those who can’t help themselves, apparently including Donald Trump. So to complain about the many who are in need—because of the laziness of the few—as an excuse to withhold aid and compassion, without holding Trump and Congress members responsible for their own alleged crimes, simply demonstrates an unreasonable bias, and the height of hypocrisy. A proper education for the less fortunate among us, with the possibility of a decent life for themselves and their families, would surely reduce the incentive to commit crimes. So would a society that doesn’t marginalize some of these youths, who sometimes have parents who are also struggling and ill-equipped to know how to guide their own children, because of their own poor education.
Perhaps a personal story is in order here:
When I attended school as a child, I was always in the ‘smart’ classes. However, when I was 12 years old, I attended 7th grade in a different neighborhood in order to take care of my sister’s son after school, so she and her husband could work. There too I was in the ‘smart’ class. Near the end of the term, however, I made a teacher angry by grabbing her wrist when she smacked me on the back for chewing gum in the hallway. I’ve never been a fan of using one’s hands when words could do the job. My homeroom teacher then gave me three Ds to punish me. When I returned to my own neighborhood for the 8th grade, those three Ds landed me in what was commonly known as ‘the dumb class.’
Perhaps it’s true that some things happen for a reason. It was only by attending that ‘dumb class’ that I realized calling it a ‘dumb class’ was way off base. Without that experience, I may have gone through life believing that some people are just dumb. What the class should have been called was the class in which the students couldn’t possibly get a proper education, because half the class were non-English-speaking Puerto Ricans who, presumably, had recently arrived on the mainland and needed English instructions. The other half of the class were Black students who did speak English. Our teacher—who would later become my Spanish language teacher—was wonderful, but overwhelmed by the task at hand. She immediately recognized that I didn’t belong in that class. She asked if I would teach the Black students while she concentrated on the Spanish speaking students until she could transfer me to a proper class. I was not quite 13 years old, but I immediately said yes. True to her word, by the next day she had me transferred to the most advanced 8th grade class. Looking back, I could only surmise that—unless those students were extremely lucky or incredibly determined—both the Black students and the Spanish speaking students were destined to go to the factory, the military, or prison, because none of those students could possibly have had a proper education through no fault of that teacher, and through no fault of their own. It also seemed that it wouldn’t be until the 9th grade in my own neighborhood school, that we were being taught the lessons we had learned in 7th grade in my sister’s neighborhood.
I can’t pretend to know what our education system is like today in NYC and elsewhere in the country, but those poorly educated students most likely became parents and grandparents. I also can’t pretend to know what kind of parents and grandparents they became. I only mean to imply that lack of a proper education, often leads to marginalized and improperly trained parents and grandparents who struggle to make a living, which in turn sometimes leads to the next generation also being marginalized, if the failure in our schools continued. Feeling marginalized then sometimes induces at least some to turn to drugs, or to the only ‘family’ that understands them, i.e. other like-minded disenfranchised youth—sometimes with a chip on their shoulders—who are looking to belong to anything that makes them feel less alone and powerless. Those are sometimes gangs that give them a feeling of importance and faux belonging, because without a proper education, it often feels impossible to mingle with those who have had a proper education.
So perhaps we should finally develop a slogan that says our citizens have a right to a healthy, properly educated life, that gives them a chance for a bright future. Perhaps then we will all be safer from disenfranchised young men such as Brandon Bernard and his companions.
Although Donald Trump claimed on numerous occasions: “I will always defend the sacred right to life,”10 Trump’s rush to order executions before he leaves office, demonstrates that those claims are simply rallying cries for his anti-abortion supporters. Many of us remember when Trump “infamously took out full-page ads in New York City newspapers calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty in conjunction with the arrests of the five [Black] teenagers accused of the brutal rape of a white female jogger in Central Park three decades ago.”11 The young men were later found to be innocent after spending so much of their lives behind bars.
And what of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have died from the Coronavirus because Trump was more interested in the stock market, than he was in warning Americans about the dangers we faced and how we could properly protect ourselves? Trump and his cohorts, Ben Carson, and Rudy Giuliani, only spent three days in hospital, Chris Christie spent four. They were privileged to receive the rare drug ‘cocktail’ that reduces the effects of the virus. Perhaps that privilege allowed Trump to be cavalier with the lives of those who have no chance of receiving the drugs, those he decided should be Guinea pigs for his ‘herd immunity’ debacle.12
The question is: Did Crede Bailey, head of the White House security office receive the ‘cocktail’ when he came down with the virus? Crede spent more than two months in the ICU with irreversible damage. “McCrobie’s big toe on his left foot as well as his right foot and lower leg had to be amputated.”13
So when and if Donald Trump gets charged with tax fraud and/or other crimes, should he be given a pardon when he mainly reserved his own pardon powers to the most privileged? In Trump’s world, apparently only some have a sacred right to life.
1.Paul Best, Brandon Bernard put to death Thursday night after Supreme Court denies stay of execution. 4 more inmates are scheduled to be put to death before Biden is inaugurated. Fox News, December 11, 2020.
2. Jaclyn Diaz, U.S. Executes Brandon Bernard After Supreme Court Denies Stay, NPR, December 11, 2020.
3. Madeleine Carlisle, The Trump Administration’s Unprecedented Spree of Executions Is Scheduled To Continue This Week. Here’s What To Know, Time, December 9 2020.
4. Associated Press, Trump administration puts second man to death in two days, The Guardian, December 11, 2020.
5. Madeleine Carlisle, The Trump Administration’s Unprecedented Spree of Executions Is Scheduled To Continue This Week. Here’s What To Know, Time, December 9 2020.
6. Melissa Jeltsen, U.S. To Execute Only Woman On Federal Death Row 8 Days Before Biden Inauguration, Huffpost, November 24, 2020.
7. Meera Jagannathan, Nearly half of women who have abortions live below the federal poverty level, Market Watch, October 4, 2019.
8. Sarah Ruiz-Grossman, Trump Says Homeless Californians Are v Cities’ ‘Prestige’, Huffpost, September 17, 2019.
9. Mark Kelly, Senators Accused Of Insider Trading, Dumping Stocks After Coronavirus Briefing, Forbes, May 20, 2020.
10. Mary Margaret Olohan, President Trump: “I Will Always Defend the Sacred Right to Life” LifeNetNews. com Sep 23, 2020
11. Sara Boboltz, ‘Central Park Five’ To Trump: Death Penalty Ad Put A ‘Bounty On Our Head’, Huffington Post, 06/08/2019.
12. Bess Levin, “Who Cares”: A Trump Administration Official Wanted to Purposely Infect “Infants, Kids,” and the “Middle Aged” With COVID-19, Vanity Fair, December 17, 2020.
13. Yaron Steinbuch, White House security official reportedly loses leg in fight against COVID-19, New York Post, December 15, 2020.