Letters to the Editor

February 25, 2009

Why local NAACP chapter backs death-penalty repeal

To the editor:

The Herald-Mail of Feb. 17, contains two interesting items about the death penalty. On page A2, Gov. Martin O'Malley asks for help to support his repeal of capital punishment in Maryland.

He noted that Maryland now has a de facto moratorium on the death penalty and that this has been accompanied by the second-biggest reduction of homicide since 1985.

On page A4, Walter King of Timonium, Md., encourages people to write to their representatives and ask the representatives to stand firm against the abolition of the death penalty. King states, "After all, if only one life was saved by executing a murderer, it would be worth it."


Anyone who insists that the death penalty is applied in a reasonable and fair way should read about Dan White's five years in jail for assassinating San Francisco public officials Harvey Milk and George Moscone.

Anyone who believes that money does not play a part in who gets the death penalty should read about Leopold and Loeb, whose parents could afford Clarence Darrow. Anyone who believes that race does not play a role in who gets convicted of murder should read of the death of Emmett Till and of Look Magazine paying the exonerated murderers $4,000 to tell the details of the killing.

African-Americans make up 13 percent of the U.S. population but 7 percent of the cases in which the U.S. Attorney General chooses to seek the death penalty and almost all the 3,500 Americans awaiting execution have low-income backgrounds and most are black or Latino. A study in California found out that those who killed whites were more than three times more likely to be sentenced to death than those who killed blacks (Re: NAACP talking points worksheet.)

Since 1973 more than 120 people have been released from state death rows with evidence of their innocence (Re: June 28, 2007 statement NAACP leaders made before the Senate Judiciary Committee.)

Considering all of the above, is seems obvious that if, as King asserts, lives are being saved by executing people, most of the people being executed will be poor, black and a significant percentage of them will be innocent. King's statement would be more accurate if it read, "After all, if only one life is saved by executing mostly poor, nonwhite and occasionally innocent people, it will be worth it."

Such a position is unacceptable. The information in this letter and other supporting information is what has led to the NAACP statement, "The race and class bias which permeates the American justice system results in this most extreme punishment being handed out almost exclusively to the poor and people of color. For this reason the NAACP continues to call for an end to the barbaric practice of state-sponsored executions."

Washington County Unit 7030 of the NAACP supports the national NAACP's position and the governor of Maryland's position that the death penalty as it is now used in this country is unfair.

Since the death penalty probably cannot be made fair, it therefore should be eliminated.

Russell Williams
Unit 7030 Washington County NAACP

Samuel Key
immediate past president
Unit 7030 Washington County NAACP

Executing inmates eliminates
any chance of rehabilitating them

To the editor:

So the death penalty is rattling Maryland once again. Well, for my part, I fully support the death penalty, but I am totally against executing convicts. Ah, there's a dilemma.

Our justice system is based on the principle of dissuasion. When the legislator enacts a law, it accompanies that law with clauses that establish punishment for violations. Of course, the legislator does not do this in hopes that lots of people will violate the law and can then be "corrected" - no, the legislator does this in hopes that the mere threat of punishment will deter potential violators.

Naturally, no threat of punishment is ever severe enough to deter everybody from breaking the law. There will always be some perpetrators, and if we catch them we have to apply the punishment prescribed by the law. We do this not for retribution and not to "correct" the perpetrator, but to keep the threat of punishment credible.

Does the death penalty deter? You bet it does - not absolutely, but neither does any other form of punishment. Is the death penalty cruel? It sure is - as are all other forms of punishment. Punishment without an aspect of cruelty would in fact be called "reward."

There just is no good argument against the death penalty short of abolishing our justice system altogether.

There is, however, a very good argument against executing convicts: Once executed, a defendant who has been wrongfully convicted cannot be rehabilitated. We are all humans, judges, jurors, prosecutors, lawyers, police officers, and eye witnesses, we all make mistakes. And no matter how hard we try not to make mistakes - we still make mistakes. And as a result, justice errors are not just possible but unavoidable, even in death penalty cases.

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