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Questionable institutions with unquestionable power: Abolishing the death penalty in Nevada (opinion)


Submitted by Thomas Hassen

All it took was a phone call from some neighbors on the street over from where I lived to warrant four firearms in my face. I was thirteen and tried to explain to the Nevada law enforcement officers that I was just waiting for a friend, but I guess I wasn’t convincing enough.

As disturbing as that might sound, it’s by no means extraordinary. From the Black codes to mass incarceration, racial undertones and overtones overshadow much of the history of the legal apparatus established to enforce the laws of American society.

Though some may debate the reasons for existing disparities, what we can largely agree on is that something is deeply wrong here. If only 24% of U.S. adults have confidence in our criminal justice system (Gallup, 2020), a crucial question must be asked: why should such a distrusted system have the power to make a decision as permanent as death?

As a Black Nevadan, I’ve seen firsthand that the flaws we are so quick to criticize in other states’ legal systems are just as present–and dangerous–right here in our home state. It doesn’t take an experience like mine to understand that we are not an exception to the rule of racialized policing, though it does serve as a blunt reminder.

From the murder of George Floyd to the conviction of the Central Park Five, the death penalty is just another arm of the same institutions we are rightfully reexamining, and we need to start treating it that way. This system of punishment is not working the way we think it should, and the only way to stop it from making mistakes we won’t be able to fix is to support AB 395 and abolish the death penalty in Nevada.

Thomas Hassen is a senior pursuing dual bachelor’s degrees in Criminal Justice and Political Science at the University of Nevada, Reno. He’s completed studies at Penn Law’s Global Institute for Human Rights, and currently serves on the Human Rights Commission for the City of Reno.

Editor’s Note: AB 395 was heard by the Assembly Judiciary Committee March 31, 2021.

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