Thursday 3rd December 2020
Alternative Nobel Prizes awarded
Lawyer: Trump exploits the death penalty
Stevenson sees the fact that US President Trump is again executing death sentences at the federal level as a “political instrument”. The civil rights activist has been fighting against the death penalty for decades. For this he receives the Alternative Nobel Prize. He shares it with three others – including the Iranian women’s rights activist Sotudeh, who is in prison.
The US civil rights activist Bryan Stevenson, who was awarded this year’s Alternative Nobel Prize, has accused President Donald Trump of instrumentalizing the death penalty. The death penalty at the federal level is clearly “used politically,” said the lawyer. “It is not credible if it is a political instrument. And the past few months have shown that it is a political instrument.”
The Trump administration began executing federal death sentences again in the summer after a 17-year hiatus. Eight inmates have been executed since then. Five more executions are planned by the end of Trump’s tenure on January 20. The elected president is an advocate of the death penalty and called himself the “president of law and order” during the election campaign. Election winner Joe Biden, on the other hand, wants to abolish the death penalty at the federal level and create incentives for states to follow suit. It is unusual for prisoners to be executed at the federal level during the transition from one US government to the next.
Stevenson shares the Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded in the evening, with the democracy activist Alex Bjaljazki from Belarus, the Iranian women’s rights activist Nasrin Sotudeh and the civil rights activist Lottie Cunningham Wren from Nicaragua. Only Belyatski could receive his award personally. Sotudeh was sent back to prison and sent her thanks as an audio message. The award is a great honor for her, she said in it. “Under these difficult conditions, he gives me and my family new energy to continue on my path,” her words were translated. The Iranian regime sees her as an enemy of the state and has been sentenced to more than 30 years in prison.
One in nine convicted innocent
The Right Livelihood Award, commonly known as the Alternative Nobel Prize, is presented each year by the Right Livelihood Foundation. It honors people who work for peace and a more just and sustainable world, often at high risk. This also applies to this year’s award winners. “Everyone is fighting against the threat to democracy and giving others the courage to stand up,” said Ole von Uexküll, the foundation’s executive director.
Like Cunningham Wren, Stevenson could not be personally present at the awards ceremony in Stockholm due to the corona. The 61-year-old has been fighting the death penalty in the United States for decades. “For every nine people we executed in the United States, there is one person on death row who has been identified as innocent,” said the 61-year-old. That should actually lead to an immediate stop to executions. “As in aviation. If an airplane crashes, we have to find out why. We don’t allow airplanes to fly for so long.”
Racism in the courtroom
The founder of the Equal Justice Initiative sees the discrimination of African-Americans in the US justice system as a central problem. This does not only affect police officers, as Stevenson said with a view to the Black Lives Matter protests against police violence against blacks. Prosecutors and judges could also harbor racist prejudice. “There is an assumption that people with black or brown skin are dangerous and guilty,” said Stevenson, himself an African American. “That makes them very vulnerable in a very aggressive, predatory judicial system. Many blacks are falsely accused and arrested, falsely convicted.”
The law graduate of the elite Harvard University had the experience first hand: “I’ve already been pulled out of my car and threatened by police officers who said they were shooting my brain out of my head.” The United States should deal with the problem of racism much more comprehensively than before, demands Stevenson.