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South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster speaks to a crowd during an election night party on November 3, 2020 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

South Carolina Gov Signs 'Inhumane' Bill Forcing Death Row Inmates to Choose Firing Squad or Electric Chair

"The cruelty is the point. Abolish the death penalty," said Rep. Ayanna Pressley.

Jake Johnson

Civil rights organizations and Democratic lawmakers reiterated their calls for an end to the death penalty nationwide on Monday after South Carolina's Republican Gov. Henry McMaster signed into law a bill requiring death row inmates to choose between the electric chair and a firing squad as their method of execution.

The new law aims to restart executions in South Carolina after a 10-year pause due to a shortage of lethal injection drugs. Under previous state law, people facing execution were given a choice between a lethal drug cocktail—the default method—and electrocution.

"This is brutal, inhumane, and does nothing to deter crime. The death penalty needs to be abolished."
—Charles Booker

S. 200, which won final approval in the GOP-controlled South Carolina legislature last week, adds the firing squad as a method of execution and makes the electric chair the default. At present, there are 37 people on death row in South Carolina.

"The cruelty is the point. Abolish the death penalty," Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), a leading congressional proponent of death penalty abolition at the federal level, tweeted in response to McMaster's signing of the bill.

Charles Booker, a former Kentucky state lawmaker who is exploring a second run for U.S. Senate in 2022, echoed that message.

"This is brutal, inhumane, and does nothing to deter crime," Booker said. "The death penalty needs to be abolished."

As the Associated Press reported Monday, it's unclear how long it will take South Carolina to resume executions under the new law. The outlet notes that South Carolina officials are conducting "preliminary research" into how firing squad executions are carried out in Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Utah—the only other states that currently allow the method.

"It blows my mind to see my state heading backwards," South Carolina State Rep. Justin Bamberg, a Democrat, said Sunday. "There's no humane way to kill a human being. I don't view the firing squad any better than the electric chair."

In a statement after S. 200 cleared its final hurdle in the South Carolina Senate last week, Frank Knaack, executive director of the state's ACLU chapter, said that "South Carolina's capital punishment evolved from lynchings and racial terror, and it has failed to separate its modern capital punishment system from this racist history."

"Despite clear and incontrovertible evidence that South Carolina's capital punishment system is racist, arbitrary, and error-prone, today our legislators passed a bill to keep the state's machinery of death moving," said Knaack. "The death penalty is modern-day lynching. It must be abolished."

On the campaign trail, President Joe Biden promised to "work to pass legislation to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level" as former President Donald Trump carried out an execution spree during his final days in office.

But Biden has been silent on the issue since taking office, frustrating criminal justice reform activists who were hoping for swift action on the death penalty from the first president to publicly oppose the death penalty and express support for its elimination.

"There are mounting calls from criminal justice, law enforcement, and other leaders for the president to seize this moment as an increasing number of governors in states like Virginia have moved in the direction to abolish the death penalty," Miriam Krinsky, executive director of the legal advocacy group Fair and Just Prosecution, told CNN last month. "The death penalty should end in the federal landscape once and for all and in a way that can't be resurrected by a future administration."


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