Head Copy Editor
When we say “Black Lives Matter,” it means all Black lives. It includes Black people who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community, poor and/or homeless, and those who have been incarcerated.
On Dec. 10, at 9:27 p.m. EST, Brandon Bernard was pronounced dead at the Federal Correctional Center in Terre Haute, Ind. after receiving a lethal injection for a crime he committed in 1999. Bernard had been involved in a crime that killed Todd and Stacie Bagley, a couple from Texas. Bernard and four friends planned to rob the couple, but the ringleader ended up shooting both Bagleys in the head. Bernard was put on death row because of evidence that setting the car on fire — Bernard’s role in the crime — had been what actually killed the couple. This evidence, though, was questionable at best, yet it still got him killed over two decades later.
The thing is: Bernard was a perfect example of what prison is supposed to do to people. Granted, he claimed to have wanted no part in the crime in the first place, but he expressed a serious amount of remorse for his hand in what happened to Todd and Stacie Bagley. He spent the last three, almost four, minutes before his death explaining how sorry he was to the victims, the families of the victims, and his own family for what he had done. Before his death, he had taken up crocheting in prison and invited others on death row to partake in the activity with him. He strongly encouraged others to be wary of the crowds they hung around with, and begged that no one ended up on the same path that he had taken in his teenage years.
“Brandon’s life mattered. To us, his legal team; to his two beautiful and talented daughters; to his mother, brother, and sister; and to the countless people around the country who came to know him and his story in recent weeks,” said Bernard’s attorney, Robert C. Owen.
This is why the death penalty shouldn’t exist.
Yes, prisoners get to live on after committing their crimes, even violent ones, but it is not in luxury. According to the United Nations’ Office on Drug and Crimes, “Prisoners are likely to have existing health problems on entry to prison, as they are predominantly from poorly educated and socio-economically deprived sectors of the general population, with minimal access to adequate health services. Their health conditions deteriorate in prisons which are overcrowded, where nutrition is poor, sanitation inadequate and access to fresh air and exercise often unavailable.” From the same source, “Imprisonment disrupts relationships and weakens social cohesion, since the maintenance of such cohesion is based on long-term relationships. When a member of a family is imprisoned, the disruption of the family structure affects relationships between spouses, as well as between parents and children, reshaping the family and community across generations. Mass imprisonment produces a deep social transformation in families and communities.”
Being in prison is enough. There is always a small chance in every death penalty case that the wrong person was convicted for the crime. We have killed innocent people before. There is no reason that someone — a jury, a judge, etc. — is able to decide that certain incarcerated people should die for their crimes. Arguing for the death penalty feels very much like arguing for the right of a police officer to shoot citizens with minimal threat to their safety: officials are not supposed to kill people regardless of guilt. The death penalty is meaningless, and more expensive than letting prisoners serve a life sentence anyways.
Also, the fact that the Trump administration is carrying out a number of executions right before Biden takes office feels like one more power-trip move before Trump inevitably loses his right to ruin this country even more. This is the first time, in 130 years, that executions have taken place in the “presidential lame-duck” period, but what is Trump good for if not grappling for attention by being the first to do something extraordinarily f—ked up?
I’m not saying Bernard was in the right, nor did he believe that himself. The important thing in this case, though — in one of life or death — was his remorse for the crime, and the way he has been transforming himself in prison for the past two decades. Bernard didn’t want out of prison. None of us who were fighting for his life wanted that. He had a hand in claiming two tragically young lives, and, influenced to do so or not, he shouldn’t walk free again. He should, however, have been able to live out the life he had created for himself behind bars. He should have been able to watch his children grow up as they came to visit him. Our inadequate justice system took that away from him.
There’s nothing quite as hopeless, by the way, as calling, emailing, signing petitions, fighting for someone’s life, and seeing the news of their death unfold right before your eyes. It was a very overwhelming two-and-a-half hours for what felt like absolutely nothing. This just means that we have to keep fighting. It’s exhausting; I’m exhausted, but Black Lives Matter every day — past, present, and future — and we have got to make sure we are heard. We can’t silently watch Black lives be taken from us.
Featured Image: Courtesy of The Sun / Twitter