OPINION: Abolishing the Death Penalty

Crystal Kalin

Many remain outraged and saddened following the tragic execution of 40 year old Brandon Bernard, on December 11th, for a crime committed when he was an adolescent. To fight for justice Virginia citizens have been using their voices and signing petitions to ultimately abolish the cruel and unjust death penalty punishment.
Brandon Bernard was pronounced dead on December 11th at approximately 9:27pm, making him the youngest person in the U.S to receive the death penalty in nearly 70 years for a crime committed when he was 18. Many wonder how Brandon Bernard even got into his situation to begin with. According to a CNN article, In June 1999, Brandon was only 18 years of age and proven guilty for playing a role in the murder of two married youth ministers Todd and Stacie Bagley. Although Brandon played a role in the murder he did not physically kill anyone (according to evidence discovered after the incident) which cannot be said of his accomplice, Christopher Vialva, who shot both victims in the head. Because of this Vialva was immediately executed while Brandon was sentenced to the death penalty.

Brandon’s execution drew the attention of many anti-death penalty activists, social media influencers, and a significant number of celebrities across the United States. Brandon’s case was so widespread that weeks and days leading to Brandon’s execution date many pleaded for the Justice Department to delay the execution, including the famous social media influencer, Kim Kardashian. Kim even went out of her way to share Brandon’s story all over her social media platforms as well as expressing her feelings on the situation. Kim said that her heart breaks for everyone involved; however, she ultimately believes that “what Brandon did was wrong, but killing him won’t make things right.” Even with all the requests the Justice Department refused to delay Brandon’s executions as well as 4 others that were to take place before the presidency being handed to President-elect Biden.

Brandon’s case helped many more people across the United States become aware of the death penalty and it’s many flaws. Citizens who support the death penalty argue that it is fair punishment however, studies on this “blind-justice” system beg to differ. Studies taken on the condition of death row inmates show that the mentally ill, people of color, and poor make up the majority of the inmates. According to Mental Health America “Between 5-10% of prisoners on death row have a severe mental illness as well as black people making up over 40% of the prisoners with a death sentence.”

In today’s society the legal system cannot be relied on for justice. Because of this the death penalty is far too serious of a punishment. It makes today’s society fearful and violates our human rights. Not only is allowing the death penalty to exist unjust, but allows the possibility for corrupt governments to use execution for their own purposes. It becomes clear when looking at studies and cases that authorities using the death penalty unsystematically are not interested in justice but rather suppression and control. In a statement by Brandon’s attorney Robert Owen, he says “Brandon’s execution is a stain on America’s criminal justice system. But I pray that even in his death, Brandon will advance his commitment to helping others by moving us closer to a time when this country does not pointlessly and maliciously kill young Black men who pose no threat to anyone.”

The death penalty is not only inhumane, unjust, and arbitrary but it often claims innocent lives guilty with little to no reasoning to back the claim. People make mistakes in their lives and their wrongs should be punished. However, people can also learn from their mistakes and better themselves as they progress through life. For example, in Brandon’s case, his attorney argued that he should be given life in prison without parole as he maintained a good record throughout his time in prison. Bad people can grow and change, although it can never truly make up for their wrong doings, any form of death punishment should never be the answer. According to Amnesty International, there are 106 countries where the law prevents the death penalty. Many countries around the world are ending the death penalty in legal systems because, it is simply wrong so it is about time that all nations including the U.S do the same.