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Death-penalty repeal opponents petition for referendum

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Published on: Wednesday, May 22, 2013

By Tauren Dyson

On May 2, Gov. Martin O’Malley, joined by NAACP National president Ben Jealous and NAACP Maryland State Conference President Gerald Stansbury, signed into law a repeal of Maryland’s death penalty.

“Maryland becomes the first state south of the Mason-Dixon line to repeal the death penalty,” Jealous said. “This is a great day for Maryland and a great day for justice. … We are confident we will abolish capital punishment in its entirety throughout the United States within our lifetimes.”

For years, many opponents of the death penalty have argued it unfairly and disproportionately targets black offenders. Currently in Maryland, 80 percent of death row inmates are African-American, according to a statement from Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown’s office.

Opponents also say the race of the perpetrator and the victim play a key role in death penalty sentencing. Nationally, cases involving white victims and black perpetrators represented only 23 percent of “death-eligible” crimes, but these cases accounted for 70 percent of death sentences given out since 1978.

But some Maryland lawmakers don’t agree with the repeal and want the measure put to a vote by the people.

“The question we have today is, what if?” Delegate Neil Parrott, R-Washington, said to the Baltimore Sun. “What if it was the Baltimore Marathon bombing? What if a bombing occurred right here at Camden Yards? What if a terrorist attack happened here at the Ravens’ stadium? With the repeal of the death penalty, we would not have an adequate answer to solve the problem of ‘what if.’”

Parrot contends that the death penalty repeal will take power away from the justice system to properly punish criminals that commit death-eligible crimes. To fight the repeal, Parrot launched a petition on to put the death penalty to referendum, arguing that the death penalty “preserves public good,” “makes Maryland prisons safer” and “deters future crime.”

MDPetitions also released the following statement: “Every life has value, and it is the government’s job to protect the innocent. When you consider the heinous crime of first-degree murder, there is no other acceptable, just punishment than the murderer, who stole someone else’s life, forfeiting his or her own life as proper societal punishment. This punishment is supported by our nation’s history in jurisprudence.”

Upon learning of the petition, Maryland NAACP President Gerald Stansbury fired back in opposition.

“This petition drive seeks to subvert the will of our legislators, costs Marylanders thousands in tax dollars, and will ultimately fail,” Stansbury said. “This is a needless distraction at a time when there are so many other priorities for the state, including the need to address health care and education disparities. But, if we are called to the fight, then fight we will.”

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