NAACP & Maryland Civil Rights Leaders Call For Abolishing the Death Penalty

ANNAPOLIS, MD – The Maryland State Conference of the NAACP and Maryland civil rights leaders joined state legislators today to call for repeal of the death penalty, citing systemic flaws and racial disparities in the capital punishment system.

At a morning meeting National NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Jealous met with several community leaders in Annapolis to share with them that the time has come “to make the death penalty a part of Maryland and America’s past.”

Maryland is one of a handful of states in which the NAACP is currently focused on abolishing the death penalty. The push by the NAACP and other organizations follows the September execution of Troy Davis in Georgia. The case, in which many key witnesses later recanted their testimony, galvanized support for ending the death penalty, and refocused attention on major flaws in the nation’s capital punishment system.

“Troy Davis’s tragic execution last September has renewed commitment to ending the death penalty throughout our country,” said Mr. Jealous.  “As Troy’s case demonstrated, there are enormous flaws in how the death penalty is sought and racial disparities are rife in its application. The death penalty is a wasteful, ineffective tool, and no longer has a place in Maryland or anywhere in this country.”

The Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment identified several problems with the state’s death penalty system in 2008 and called for ending capital punishment. Among its findings, the commission concluded that racial disparities exist in Maryland’s capital punishment system. It also cited the high cost of applying the death penalty and the toll it takes on the family members of murder victims.

In 2009, the General Assembly tightened the requirements for the evidenced required in capital cases but failed to address other problems cited by the Commission.

“Maryland’s death penalty statute was not ‘fixed’ in 2009,” said Jane Henderson, executive director of Maryland Citizens Against State Executions. “Its application is still highly arbitrary, it drains resources from the criminal justice system and it continues to create lingering pain for the families of murder victims. The system remains broken and it’s time for Maryland to end capital punishment and re-focus its resources on crime prevention and helping victims cope with violent crime.”

Maryland’s death penalty is among the most racially infected in the country. A 2003 study by a University of Maryland researcher found that when the death penalty is sought, blacks who kill whites are 2.5 times more likely to be sentenced to death than whites who kill whites, and 3.5 times more likely than blacks who kill blacks.

The five prisoners currently on death row and the five prisoners executed since the death penalty was reinstated in Maryland in 1978 were all convicted of killing white Marylanders. Yet every year, three quarters of Maryland murder victims are black.

“Racial bias continues to infect the Maryland death penalty system,” said Gerald Stansbury, president of the NAACP Maryland State Conference.  “This cannot be tolerated in a state committed to equal justice for all.”

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