Maryland Must Support Victims’ Families

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The abolition of the death penalty in Maryland mattered to many victims’ families; that’s one of the reasons it passed. Also important for these families was the funding originally attached to the repeal bill that would have provided real tangible support for families who lose loved ones to homicide. Support that pays for counseling, that helps mitigate the loss of a breadwinner, or that helps pay for funeral costs.

The funding provision was stripped from Maryland’s repeal bill, but promises were made, by the Governor among others, that the funding would be covered in the state’s budget. Well, the first supplemental budget has been submitted, and funding to support victims’ families is NOT included.

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“I Had No Idea What I Was Getting Into:” Amnesty’s Death Penalty Repeal Campaign in Maryland

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After decades of work towards abolition, activists were finally rewarded when the Maryland House of Delegates passed the death penalty repeal bill (Photo Credit: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images).

After decades of work towards abolition, activists were finally rewarded when the Maryland House of Delegates passed the death penalty repeal bill (Photo Credit: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images).

INTRODUCTION

Last week we had great news – Maryland’s General Assembly voted to repeal Maryland’s death penalty! The bill is now in the hands of Governor Martin O’Malley, who will certainly sign it as one of the most outspoken proponents of the bill.

Amnesty activists celebrated last week – but the victory came after years of hard work. Amnesty International has campaigned for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty since 1977, the same year that the USA restarted executions after 10 years without capital punishment. In 1978, Maryland passed a law reinstating the death penalty. Amnesty volunteers and staff, as part of an increasingly broad and dynamic coalition, have been working to repeal that law for most of its existence. This year, 35 years after its reinstatement, Maryland’s death penalty looks at last to be on its way out.

This week’s special blog series tells the story of Amnesty International’s involvement in this campaign, featuring the memories and insights of volunteers and staff who played critical roles over more than three decades.

Take action to thank Maryland’s leadership for their support of death penalty repeal and urge them to ensure that funding to support victims’ families in included, as originally promised, in this year’s state budget.

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Maryland Legislature Passes Death Penalty Abolition!

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Today the Maryland House of Delegates followed the lead of the state Senate and passed the death penalty repeal bill. The bill now goes to Governor Martin O’Malley who almost certainly will sign it, making Maryland the 18th state to abandon capital punishment (Photo Credit: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Today the Maryland House of Delegates followed the lead of the state Senate and passed the death penalty repeal bill. The bill now goes to Governor Martin O’Malley who almost certainly will sign it, making Maryland the 18th state to abandon capital punishment (Photo Credit: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Today the Maryland House of Delegates followed the lead of the state Senate and passed the death penalty repeal bill. The bill now goes to Governor Martin O’Malley who almost certainly will sign it, making Maryland the 18th state to abandon capital punishment, and the 6th state in 6 years to join the abolition club.

This culminates a decades-long campaign, stretching back to the 1980s, in which Amnesty International – in coalition with other groups – has always played an integral part. For me personally, it caps 6 years of thoroughly meaningful and rewarding work with a terrific collection of Amnesty staff and activists and coalition partners.

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Maryland’s March Towards Death Penalty Repeal

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Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley and Lt. Governor Anthony Brown with Amnesty activists calling for death penalty repeal in Annapolis, Feb. 14, 2013.

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and Lt. Governor Anthony Brown with Amnesty activists calling for death penalty repeal in Annapolis, Feb. 14, 2013.

On Valentine’s Day, in overflowing hearing rooms in both the House and Senate, Maryland legislators heard testimony from victim’s family members, former prison wardens, religious leaders, an innocent man who once faced execution in Maryland, the state’s Lieutenant Governor, and Governor Martin O’Malley. And what they heard, over and over, is that the death penalty must be abolished.

As in past years, those testifying in favor of repealing capital punishment far outnumbered those speaking for retaining it. That’s nothing new, but in other ways this year has been different. The crowds that gathered to witness the hearings were larger. The high-level political engagement has been stronger and more focused.  And the understanding that the votes exist to pass death penalty abolition into law is now fully entrenched in the Annapolis political landscape.

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Race, Politics and Maryland’s Lingering Death Penalty

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Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley

Maryland Governor O’Malley Joins Pastors’ March on Annapolis to repeal the death penalty in Maryland in 2009.

While a New York Times editorial highlights the fact that states are “retreating” from capital punishment due to “evolving standards of decency,” very little evolution is evident in Maryland’s political circles, where a stacked Senate committee has for years been the one and only stumbling block to death penalty repeal.

As Gerald Stansbury of the NAACP writes in the Baltimore Sun, 75% of murder victims in Maryland are African American, and almost 50% of murders go unsolved each year. Yet the capital punishment system diverts a massive amount of resources to cases in which the victims were white – all 5 Maryland inmates executed and all 5 current residents of Maryland’s death row were convicted of killing white victims.

There is only one African American on Maryland’s 11 member Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee (despite the state’s 31% overall African American population). As Stansbury puts it: “right now, the Judicial Proceedings Committee has jurisdiction over all criminal justice issues but fails to adequately represent those who are affected by these issues the most — people of color.”

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