Joe Biden’s administration has opted to pursue the death penalty for Payton Gendron, the white supremacist responsible for the killing of ten black individuals at a Buffalo, New York, grocery store in 2022. This decision comes as a surprising turn of events, considering Biden’s stance as a death penalty abolitionist during his 2020 presidential campaign. The move has raised questions about the President’s consistency with his earlier promises.
According to a court filing from the United States Justice Department on Friday, January 12, 2024, Gendron, driven by ‘animus toward Black persons,’ is now facing the death penalty, despite having pleaded guilty and receiving a life sentence in February 2023, as reported by Reuters.
Gendron committed the mass shooting at the age of 18, and during his initial legal proceedings, his defense lawyers had suggested that he would plead guilty to federal charges, including hate crime and firearm offenses if the death penalty was not pursued. However, the Biden administration’s recent decision appears to have sealed Gendron’s fate.
President Biden, at 81, was notably the first to campaign on abolishing the federal death penalty. His commitment to this cause during the 2020 campaign garnered support, particularly from the black community. However, the recent pursuit of the death penalty in Gendron’s case has led to criticism and accusations of backpedaling on his earlier stance.
Since 1973, over 160 individuals in this country have been sentenced to death and were later exonerated. Because we can’t ensure that we get these cases right every time, we must eliminate the death penalty. https://t.co/o9LQHWwmt7
The Justice Department has staunchly defended its decision on the death penalty, even in cases where concerns such as intellectual disability, severe mental illness, racial bias, or prosecutorial misconduct are present, as reported by Salon.
Gendron’s court-appointed attorneys, MaryBeth Covert, and Anne Burger, argued in a statement that the federal government’s efforts would be better directed at addressing the root causes of such crimes, including access to deadly weapons and the failure of social media companies to moderate hateful rhetoric.
This case marks the first instance under the Biden administration where the Justice Department has sought capital punishment, making it both historic and contradictory in light of the President’s prior stance against the death penalty.
During his campaign, Biden pledged multiple times to abolish the death penalty at the federal level. However you feel about capital punishment, it should bother you that he's breaking an explicit promise the moment it became politically useful to do so. https://t.co/0eE6cjo3qG