Attorney General Seeks Death Penalty for White Supremacist Mass Shooter in Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Just a few months after taking office, Attorney General Merrick Garland enacted a moratorium to halt federal executions, a clear departure from the 13 carried out under his predecessor in six months. The Justice Department saw no new death penalty cases under Garland’s leadership, a decision made in alignment with President Biden’s promise to end the death penalty.

Friday marked a significant shift as federal prosecutors announced their intention to seek capital punishment for a white supremacist responsible for the deaths of 10 Black individuals at a Buffalo supermarket. Despite the decision to pursue the death penalty, the moratorium on federal executions remains in place, underscoring the complexity of the death penalty in the U.S.

The Justice Department, under Garland’s leadership, has demonstrated a shift away from the frequent use of capital punishment employed during the previous administration. While President Biden pledged to abolish the death penalty, his actions in office have not fully aligned with this promise. The department’s approach appears inconsistent, with a notable reluctance to use the death penalty, although certain cases have warranted its use.

The decision to pursue the death penalty in the Buffalo case received no objection from White House spokesman Andrew Bates, who emphasized that individual cases are best left to the appropriate authorities. Under Garland, the Justice Department has reversed more than two dozen decisions to seek the death penalty, opting to pursue only a select number of cases where evidence points to extreme harm to the country.

The trial for the defendant, Payton Gendron, who targeted a predominantly Black neighborhood in a racially motivated mass shooting, will undoubtedly draw attention to the complexities and ethical considerations involved in capital punishment cases. While the pursuit of the death penalty sends a strong message, the broader conversation around the death penalty and its implications for racial discrimination and mental health remains ongoing.