NAACP leaders joined with Governor Martin O’Malley and other civil rights leaders to call for ending the death penalty in Maryland this week.
NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous opened the conference saying that Maryland needs to replace the death penalty with life without the possibility of parole.
A press conference was held at Lawyer’s Mall outside the Maryland State House.
“Blacks in Maryland are two and a half times more likely to receive the death penalty than whites,” said Maryland Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown. According to statics, African Americans make up 13 percent of the country’s population, 37 percent of prisoners and 41 percent of death row inmates.
There are currently five men, four of whom are African American, on Maryland’s death row. The state hasn’t had an execution since 2005.
Jealous called the death penalty “cruel and unusual punishment that needs to be abolished nationally.”
Historically, the NAACP has opposed the death penalty for a variety of reasons, including racial disparities in how it is applied.
Jealous specifically referenced Anthony Gray, a Maryland man, who spent seven years in prison for a rape and murder he did not commit before being exonerated and released in February 1999. Gray pleaded guilty to the murder and rape believing it would allow him to avoid the death penalty. The use of DNA testing eventually helped police find the real perpetrator.
The NAACP has also been involved in efforts to remove the death penalty in states like Georgia. Most recently, the NAACP worked to stop the execution of accused cop killer Troy Davis. Davis was convicted of the 1989 shooting of Officer Mark MacPhail. Despite much doubt surrounding Davis’ involvement, he was executed in September 2011.
“We should never have to worry about the state executing poor people and not rich people, people of color and not whites,” Jealous said, after referencing killed Gray and Davis.
Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley affirmed Jealous’ position, saying that the state and the country as a whole should get rid of the death penalty.
“We should stop doing things through our government that are expensive and do not work,” said O’Malley.
O’Malley announced that the repeal of capital punishment will be a top priority in the upcoming legislative session and he will submit a repeal bill to the legislature later this week. If it is passed, Maryland would become the sixth state to abolish capital punishment since 2007.
The governor attempted to get capital punishment repealed during the 2009 session, but couldn’t get the necessary votes in the Senate. However, with backing from the NAACP, Legislative Black Caucus, Maryland Citizens Against State Executions and various other groups, O’Malley believes this year’s attempt will be a success.
“If you look over the last 30 or 40 years, the death penalty was on the books, and yet Baltimore still became one of the most violent and addicted cities in America,” O’Malley said.
The governor suggested that investing in law enforcement, strengthening relations with police officers and better DNA technology are among the various alternatives that have proven to be more effective and cost efficient than the death penalty.
He added that states with the death penalty have higher murder rates.
The governor also mentioned the results of a 2008 commission in Maryland that found that “the administration of the death penalty clearly shows racial bias” as evidence of injustice.