The death penalty needs to go


Lawmakers in Virginia have decided to abolish the death penalty, making it the first Southern state and 23rd state in the U.S. to do so. With Virginia’s long history of capital punishment, officials were reluctant to do so but the Senate and House of Delegates eventually voted to ban the state’s death penalty. VA Governor Ralph Northam has stated that he plans to sign the bill into law which would be a huge step in the right direction. For a long time, the death penalty had been connected to racial injustice, especially in Virginia with its history. 


President Biden has voiced his opinion on the death penalty during his campaign advocating for its elimination. Before Biden and Harris took their place in office, former president Donald Trump put 13 inmates to death. In Biden’s campaign website, he emphasizes that because we cannot ensure we get death penalty cases right every time, he will work to pass legislation to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level. Many Democrats seem to agree with him and it’s just a matter of time until he passes legislation for this.


This comes after Dustin John Higgs was executed on Jan. 15, 2021 for an alleged crime committed in 1996. Higgs was the final and thirteenth inmate executed on death row under the Trump administration. The petition to stop the execution had gained over 1.5 million signatures, but it didn’t make a difference.


“The execution of Dustin was devastating and there was no reason for him to be executed. It shows how unjustful America is with people of color and that they will kill them at any chance given.” junior Tiffany Parade said. “When I first heard about Dustin Higgs execution, it immediately reminded me of a similar case of another Black man being sentenced to death for his indirect cause of someone’s death, Brandon Bernard.”


Brandon Bernard was also sentenced to death in December 2020. Bernard was complacent in a robbery in June 1999 with Christopher Vialva when he was 18 years old. Vialva shot some people after robbing them and then proceeded to put their bodies in the trunk of a car. Vialva pointed a gun at Bernard and told him if he didn’t set the car on fire, he would shoot him. It was argued that Bernard was forced to set the car on fire and was given no other option but death, but the jury decided Bernard was guilty of killing the couple and was then sentenced to death. 


“It’s definitely heartbreaking to watch the justice system destroy lives unnecessarily. Since the death penalty is something that is so controversial, you would think judges would be careful about ending lives, but unfortunately Black lives don’t matter to them,” sophomore Ruftana Beyene said. “It upsets me that people will admit that cruel deaths like these were unnecessary, but ignore that this is a repetitive source of trauma that too many Black people experience.”


The death penalty is surely a controversial and sensitive topic for many, but it’s important to have these disussions and normalize calling out those who are in the wrong. Too many people of all races have lost their life to the death penalty. How does it make sense to have a law against the killing of another person and yet we allow our own government to do so? Is that not a contradiction? Are we not hypocrites for this? 


Dustin John Higgs did not deserve to die. Brandon Bernard did not deserve to die. They were not completely innocent from all crimes, but there was so much doubt around both incidents that they did not deserve the death penalty for a crime they possibly did not commit. How many more potentially innocent people must die in order for us to see how inhumane it is to take away a life from a person based on their mistakes in the past? It is cruel and unusual punishment and should not be legal.