The NAACP is urging the Maryland legislature to abolish the death penalty.
The organization’s action comes on the heels of efforts to stop the execution of Troy Davis last year. But, the tone of that move represents a marked shift in which death penalty critics are increasingly framing the issue within the context of cost rather than as a moral imperative or as a way to highlight racial disparities. The hope is that states like Maryland, pressed for money during hard economic times, will take a second look at the practice and do away with it.
At a recent news conference, NAACP President Ben Jealous said that Maryland’s death penalty is causing the state to spend needless dollars on capital executions, while that money could be directed toward solving homicides, improving victim services, and “getting killers off the streets.”
“The state of Maryland continues to waste money on the death penalty, continues to put citizens’ lives at risk by not investing enough in homicide victims services, so that a few politicians can feel tough on crime,” said Jealous.
While the NAACP has taken up the charge to abrogate capital punishment for years, social media appears to be transforming how the organization is spreading the word.
Jealous said that last year’s Twitter campaign to free Davis, which drew in hundreds of thousands of participants around the globe, evidenced the growing interest and support in advancing the cause.
“… literally tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of young people made the Troy Davis Case the most tweeted about issue in the world after Beyoncé’s pregnancy … second only to Beyonce’s pregnancy this was the issue that young people most tweeted about in the world last year,” said Jealous.
Still, Davis was executed amid cries for a stay.
The conference was also attended by Gerald Stansbury, president of the NAACP Maryland State Conference, Hilary Shelton, NAACP Washington Bureau Director and Senior Vice President for Advocacy, and representatives from the Maryland Citizens Against State Execution and faith community.
Maryland politicians, including state Senator Lisa Gladden (D-Baltimore), Maryland House Delegate Samuel Rosenberg, (D-Baltimore) (who is sponsoring anti-death penalty legislation in the Maryland House of Delegates) and former Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glen Ivey – all who supported repeal of the death penalty – were present as well.
Proponents of the death penalty have primarily contended that it serves as a deterrent to committing crime and exacts fairness and proper retribution to families of crime victims.
However, the NAACP has charged that the punishment is unfairly applied.
“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 that whites who kill whites, and 3.5 times more likely than blacks who kill blacks,” the organization maintains in a statement.
According to published reports, Maryland’s legislature has considered banning the death penalty in the past to no avail.
As the new legislative session commences, Rosenberg said there is “a constitutional majority in both houses who have indicated to us that they would support repeal of the death penalty.” But, Gladden, who is the primary sponsor of anti-death penalty legislation in the Senate, said movement of the Senate’s bill to that chamber’s floor is being stalled in a committee.
Meanwhile, the NAACP appears committed to moving the needle on the issue in Maryland and several states. Maryland is a priority considering it holds one of the largest concentrations of Black populations in the country, not to mention its considerable Black political clout.
Shelton spoke of the national office’s support of the Maryland state conference’s efforts.
“Of course the national NAACP is here to support our state conference … as they move to eliminate this awful scourge on the state of Maryland,” Shelton told Politic365.
“We must understand all the challenges with the death penalty, from its very racially discriminatory and racial application, but also the overall cost. Not just the moral cost but economic costs maintaining such a broken system,” argued Shelton. “It’s time to eliminate it, we think that people are seeing the writing on the walls.”
“People are looking at it from different reasons from those in the faith community who recognize the moral imperative of eliminating it to those who see that it really is an unnecessary financial burden on the state, at a time when hard decisions have to be made about how to spend the decreasing state resources on programs that are important.”