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Repealing Capital Punishment in Maryland

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Thank you very much. It's wonderful to be here with all of you. Lt. Governor, thank you for those heartfelt and very principled remarks. And thank you all for stepping up and for being here on this issue. County Executive Ike Leggett, it's good to see you. County Executive Rushern Baker, Chairman Frosh, so many that are here,… Senator Gladden, Delegate Rosenberg.

It would seem to me that, especially in tough times, if there if something that we're doing through our government that is expensive, and does not work, then we should stop doing it.

The death penalty is expensive and it does not work. And for that reason alone, I believe we should stop doing it.

So this week, once again, I will be filing legislation to repeal the death penalty in Maryland. And I want to share with you how I come to this issue. I want to share with you my reasons for doing this once again. And I thank all of the delegates, and senators,… Lt. Governor, and county executives for being here and being supportive of this repeal of the death penalty in Maryland.

Investing In Strategies that Work

Anyone who has ever looked in the eyes of a young boy or a girl,… or has sat to comfort a mom or a dad whose life has been turned totally upside down by the loss of a child,… by the violent taking of the life of a loved one,… who has felt the despair of entire neighborhoods, and entire cities because of violence, and the violent taking of life. The degradation of violence. The violent destruction of violence. The ripping apart of the fabric of life that others have sewn for themselves and their families,… understands that the most fundamental responsibility we have as a people is to safeguard the lives of people.

To govern is to choose. And particularly in an era of limited budget resources, every dollar that we choose to spend on a policy that is wasteful and does not work -- when instead we could be doing more of the things that do work to protect life -- seems to me to run counter to the pragmatic "do the things that work" governance that is the hallmark of our State, and what our people desire.

The death penalty does not work in terms of preventing violent crime and the taking of human life. If you look over 30 or 40 years, the death penalty was on the books, and yet Baltimore still became the most violent and addicted city in America. Having the death penalty on the books did nothing to keep the homicides from rising.

Conversely, over these last several years, we've been doing the things that work. We've been making our police departments more effective. We've been deploying to where the crime is. We've been using DNA technology and DNA evidence to solve crimes, as well as to exonerate those who were wrongly accused. We've been putting technology in the hands of law enforcement. We've been solving cases.

And as a result of doing the things that actually work, we've been able to drive violent crime down to three decade lows. We've been able to save scores and scores of lives that otherwise would have been taken by rising homicide numbers.

We know what works. Investing in law enforcement. Investing in data-driven policing. Increasing the availability of drug treatment. Performance measurement. Strengthening partnerships between police and neighbors. Investing in the latest crime fighting technologies, DNA analysis, healing vulnerable families -- these are the things that work to reduce violent crime and save lives. The death penalty does not work.

Justice

Good people on both sides of this issue have, in the past, disagreed about the morality of the death penalty. I think there is increasingly less disagreement about its effectiveness, especially in our State. I wanted to shift to another topic, which is the justice and the morality of the death penalty.

Year after year, states which have a death penalty have actually had a higher murder rate than states which do not have a death penalty. That would seem to indicate to me that the death penalty, again, does not work as a deterrent.

And the other facts are even more troubling,… In 2008, the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment that was led by distinguished son of Maryland, former United States Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti, took a look at this issue with dedication, with fairness, with a lot of different perspectives around the table, and with a respect for differences of opinion. They did very good work. They held hours of hearings and considered in a very open, transparent, and also compassionate way, days of testimony from citizens who came at this issue from a variety of perspectives. And, quite frankly, a lot of personal pain.

The Commission found that for every 8.7 Americans sent to death row, there has been one innocent person exonerated.

It was near unanimous in reporting that quote "the administration of the death penalty clearly shows racial bias." It determined that no administrative fixes could end these disparities.

And it found that the cost to taxpayers of pursuing a capital case is three times as much as the costs of pursuing a non-death penalty homicide conviction, where a person receives a life sentence without parole.

Who We Choose to Be

So, in conclusion, who do we choose to be?

To govern is to choose. All of us have to ask ourselves, "Is it worth wasting taxpayer dollars on a policy that does not work?"

And perhaps there is another question we might ask, which is "Who do we, as a People, aspire to be?"

Across our ever more closely linked world, the majority of executions take place in seven countries: Communist China. Iran. Iraq. North Korea. Saudi Arabia. Yemen. And the United States of America.

On the other hand, 141 countries have chosen to abolish capital punishment. I won't read you that list, but as you might conclude, it is a much more expansive community than the number who still use the death penalty.

So who do we choose to be? In whose company to we choose to walk forward?

Will we be a society guided by the notion that two wrongs somehow make a right?

Or will we be a society that's guided by the fundamental civil and human rights that we understand are bestowed on humankind by God? A society guided by the dignity of every individual. A society that is always moving forward to what's right.

Today is the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who taught us that "Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction."

The choice is really ours. We know what works. We know what does not work. And we know that the way forward is always found through greater respect for the human dignity of all.

Thanks very much.


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