Brandon Bernard, 40, is scheduled to be executed Thursday, making him the ninth prisoner to be put to death under the resurgence of federal executions. The case revolves around a 1999 double murder and robbery which claimed the lives of Todd and Stacie Bagley, two white pastors.
Civil rights advocates are fighting for Bernard’s clemency, after his co-defendant Christopher Vialva, 40, was executed by lethal injection in September. That made Vialva the first Black man put to death when Trump’s administration resumed a 17-year hiatus on federal executions in July. After Vialva, a Black man named Orlando Cardioa Hall, 49, was executed on Nov. 19, marking the first execution of Trump’s lame-duck presidency.
The death penalty is a polarizing subject that sits at the crux of moral subjectivity and its racialized history in the United States which stems from slavery, segregation and lynchings.
Between July and September, seven people were executed by lethal injection in America, where Trump set a record for the most federal executions under a sitting president. Out of the 13 death row inmates put to death or scheduled for execution from July 2020 until Trump’s departure, six are Black.
And while Black people only make up 13 percent of the population, they are disproportionately jailed and scheduled for execution. In 2020, 42 percent of inmates on death row are Black, while 41 percent are white according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
“Since executions resumed in 1977, 295 African-American defendants were executed for the murder of a white victim, while only 21 white defendants have been executed for the murder of an African-American victim,” a 2020 study by the DCPI states.
After Bernard, four prisoners are scheduled to be put to death leading up to the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden on January 20. Three of them are Black: Alfred Bourgeois 56, scheduled to be executed Dec. 11; Cory Johnson, 52, Jan. 14, and Dustin John Higgs, 48; Jan. 15.
Like Bernard, some of the abovementioned prisoners on death row did not receive full access to justice under the law. Their cases are asterisked with failed legal representation, mental illness and mostly white jurors who did not reflect a community of their peers.
“No-one has ever attempted to carry out so many executions at the federal level,” Robert Dunham, the director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told Newsweek. “No-one in modern American history has attempted to carry out so many executions in such a short period of time… and no-one has done so in a manner that so closely disregards the rule of law.”