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Martin Luther King III reacts over black death sentences by Trump administration

Martin Luther King III is the oldest son of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.In 1957, my father, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was asked whether God approves of the death penalty for certain crimes. He responded “I do not think that God approves the death penalty for any crime, rape and murder included,” King said. “Capital punishment is against the better judgment of modern criminology, and, above all, against the highest expression of love in the nature of God.”

President Trump and his Justice Department, in their unprecedented barrage of executions, have disregarded all of the principles of humanity, decency and justice that my father preached. After a 17-year hiatus of federal executions, the Trump administration carried out a shocking 11 executions in the past seven months and scheduled two more for the final days of Trump’s time in office. It is worth noting that this bloodbath exceeded the executions of all states combined in 2020.

To cap off its killing spree, the Trump administration had planned two more executions: On Thursday, it would execute another young Black man, Cory Johnson, convicted of multiple gang-related murders whose intellectual disability should preclude his execution. And on Friday, it would execute Dustin Higgs, another young Black man convicted for his involvement in the murder of three women, though he didn’t personally kill anyone. This week, a U.S. district judge issued a stay of execution for both men because they contracted the coronavirus .

On Thursday, a federal appeals court vacated a stay of execution for both cases, meaning only the Supreme Court can intervene to stop the executions from taking place.

Friday would have been my father’s 92nd birthday. Nothing could dishonor his legacy more profoundly than if these executions go forward.


Over the past year, we have lost too many Black lives to police violence and a pandemic mismanaged by this administration. The federal government should not be needlessly taking more Black lives, and to do so on my father’s birthday would be shameful.


My father would be disheartened, but not surprised, by the racial disparities that permeate the federal death penalty system today. The government might have tried to obscure that inequity by selecting White men for its first several executions, but the facts are unavoidable. Well more than 50 percent of the 51 people on federal death row today are people of color, including 22 Black men. Some of those Black men were convicted by all-White juries.


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