Brian Evans is the DPAC Acting Director. This blog series tells the story of Amnesty International’s involvement in Maryland’s historic death penalty repeal campaign, featuring the memories and insights of volunteers and staff who played critical roles over more than three decades.
I started working for abolition of the death penalty when I lived in Texas. Texas is not a place where you can ignore capital punishment. They use it, at notorious levels. At the time of my initial involvement, in the late 1990’s, executions and death sentences were surging, both in Texas and across the country.
Little did I know that this was the peak of America’s love affair with the death penalty. As the century turned, as more and more innocents were exonerated, and as the death penalty abolition movement gained in strength and sophistication, support for and use of the death penalty began to decline.
When I moved to the Washington, D.C. area in 2007 and began working for Amnesty International’s Program to Abolish the Death Penalty (now called Death Penalty Abolition Campaign), I discovered that there were actually states that were close to abolishing the death penalty. It took a while for me to wrap my head around that concept, but when New Jersey successfully repealed its death penalty in December of 2007, I became a believer.
As other states followed suit – New Mexico (2009), Illinois (2011), Connecticut (2012) – I became more and more immersed in the campaign in my state of residence: Maryland. Amnesty International has been an integral part of the coalition pushing for repeal in Maryland for decades. Backed by the 20 years of hard work and persistence of Amnesty International’s long-serving State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator (SDPAC) Cathy Knepper, by over a decade of first-class organizing by Field Organizers Mona Cadena, Breanna Peterson and now Jiva Manske, and by the skilled grass-roots and social media outreach of our current SDPACs Andrea Hall and Kevin Scruggs, it has been a pleasure to be a part of Amnesty International’s contribution to a campaign on the verge of a major success.
And more states will follow. Activists in Colorado, Delaware, Kansas, Montana and other states are in the midst of campaigns similar to the one we have here in Maryland. Even in Texas, they are more organized than ever. Death sentences are down, public skepticism is up. Alternatives are being embraced that are better for victims’ families and better for state budgets. It really feels like capital punishment is on its way out.