Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Death penalty repeal halted in Maryland


Death penalty repeal halted in Maryland

MARYLAND isn't shutting the door on its death row--yet. The state Senates
Judicial Proceedings Committee blocked legislation to repeal the death
penalty by a single vote earlier this month. Maryland had a chance to
become the first state to abolish the death penalty since the
reinstatement of capital punishment in 1976. With mounting doubts about
lethal injection halting executions from California to Florida,
legislators are considering repeal bills more seriously than ever before.

Momentum toward abolition in Maryland began to pick up in December, when
the state Court of Appeals, considering the case of Vernon Evans, ruled
that Marylands lethal injection protocols were introduced without the
public review required by law. The decision produced a de facto moratorium
on executions.

Activists launched a comprehensive campaign to push for repeal: organizing
demonstrations, letter-writing campaigns and panel discussions that
included death row exonerees, murder victims family members, along with
call-ins from death-row prisoners.

When the newly elected Gov. Martin O'Malley came out strongly for
abolition, victory finally seemed to be within reach. But the repeal bill
was never even debated on the Senate floor--the Judicial Proceedings
Committees vote stopped it.

According to the Baltimore Sun, state Sen. Alex Mooney, the most promising
of the potential swing votes on the committee, declared that "a full and
absolute repeal of the death penalty under all circumstances is not in the
best interest for the common good of Marylands citizens."

One might wonder which of Marylands citizens Mooney was referring to.
Certainly not the African-American men on death row, who a
state-commissioned study found were many times more likely to get a death
sentence because of their race and the jurisdiction they were tried in.
Certainly not people like death row exoneree Kirk Bloodsworth, who would
have been executed if not for the discovery of DNA evidence proving his
innocence. Certainly not murder victims or their families, since states
(like Maryland) that practice capital punishment actually have higher
murder rates than those that don't.

Mooney can only be speaking for the class of citizens who benefit from a
"justice" system that places a higher priority on locking people up than
rehabilitating them. By pinning the blame for society's problems onto the
exploited and oppressed rather than the exploiters and oppressors, the
criminal justice system tries to keep working-class communities paralyzed
with fear--and validate public policy that sacrifices social services like
education and welfare in favor of building more prisons and saturating
city streets with cops.

The death penalty is the ultimate emblem of this ideology, scapegoating
individuals who we supposedly have no choice but to kill in cold blood if
we wish to be safe and free. The racism, class bias and ineffectiveness of
the death penalty are endemic to the system as a whole.

This is why judges and lawmakers are currently focusing on procedural
problems with lethal injection. If they were to abolish the death penalty
based on the overwhelming evidence of racism and class bias, the whole
criminal justice system could then be called into question.

But the system has begun to crumble under the weight of its own
contradictions. As the facts about the barbarism of lethal injection and
the fallibility of sentencing are exposed, pressure to change it is
growing throughout society.

This dynamic could lead to a better chance at abolition in Maryland during
next years legislative session. Abolitionists sent an early signal that
they won't give up with a demonstration outside the Supermax prison in
Baltimore--home of Maryland's death row--on March 24.

With a moratorium still in place and the level of public discussion
rising, abolitionists are in an advantageous position to build the
movement to shut down Maryland's death row once and for all.

(source: World Socialist)

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