The fight for the Right to Marry and the Right to Life by abolishing the Death Penalty has cemented the organization’s once dwindling reputation in the minds of many
Over the past decade, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has seen its memberships decline and it public persona obliterated based on its perceived inaction and its relevance in the 21st century. However, the past year may have changed all that with the leadership of President Benjamin Jealous and its young, attractive and very outspoken Chairwoman, Rosyln Brock. From its controversial yet successful fight for the right to marry to its push for the right to life in abolishing the death penalty; the oldest and the boldest civil rights organization in the country has set out to silence their critics.
In an apparently coordinated communications blitz, the chairwoman and president – both under the age of 50 – took to social media sites and articulated their message through constant e-blasts that paved the way for success in several states across the country voting on same-sex marriage this November; and have now turned their attention to their promise to former political prisoner Troy Davis – to repeal the death penalty. In an email sent out by Brock entitled, ‘Look what YOU did’; the 47-year old pleaded for donations and memberships as she highlighted the successes of local activists.
“When great injustices were seen in Sanford, Florida and New York City, you turned heartbreak and anger into action. You marched, you rallied, you made your opposition to racial profiling heard. When new voting laws threatened the rights of millions of people, you helped register 432,935 new voters and bring 1.2 million voters to the polls; and most importantly, you voted. And when we had the chance to repeal the death penalty in Connecticut, you did the work necessary to make it happen. We’re one step closer to fulfilling Troy Davis’ dying wish!”
Davis, a former political prisoner in Georgia who was executed despite overwhelming evidence pointing to his innocence, has been the rallying cry for many abolitionists across the country who believe the death penalty is inhumane and should be considered cruel and unusual punishment. And while Connecticut seems to only be the starting point for the national organization that had great success as a part of our National Right to Vote campaign – which also started with an initial victory in Connecticut – they now have turned their attention to Maryland once again, targeting a liberal state that has a very powerful and sympathetic supporter.
Governor Martin O’Malley, the former zero-tolerance, tough on crime Mayor of Baltimore – who had thousands of innocent blacks incarcerated at an alarming rate during his six years as the city’s leader – has been a stalwart leader opposed to capital punishment. Yet his push to abolish the death penalty in 2009 led to blow back from the state’s Republican Party and even some of his own Democratic colleagues, such as the powerful Senate President Thomas ‘Mike’ Miller, who believes the system of capital punishment should remain an option and possible deterrent to crime.
Yet, while O’Malley’s fight led to much stricter regulations for prosecutors seeking the death penalty, it almost remains a mute point at this time as Maryland has held a quasi-moratorium on capital punishment during the entire O’Malley administration – thanks to O’Malley’s inaction in approving the necessary process for executions set forth after a 2006 Maryland Court of Appeals decision in Evans v Maryland.
But Jealous believes that you can’t bank on that based on it being up to the discretion of who resides in the Governor’s Mansion – as O’Malley only has two years remaining in office; therefore, the 39-year old leader is honoring his word to Davis by seeking the demise of the death penalty in every state across the country. “We made a promise to Troy Davis in the final days before Georgia executed him despite his innocence — that we would end the death penalty in the United States, once and for all,” says Jealous. “And state by state, we’re working to do just that.” And he is leaving no stone unturned, as he too has sent out constant reminder emails to supporters, calling on them to contact their ally in Annapolis, Governor O’Malley, to urge him to put the full weight of his office behind a call on Senator Miller to let the bill come to the senate floor for a vote.
“Governor O’Malley has an opportunity to do what he’s promised in the past — rid the state of Maryland of this terrible punishment; and we’re asking the Governor to meet with Senate President Mike Miller — who can bring it to a vote,” says Jealous. The bill’s uncertainty in the Judicial Proceedings committee worries many, as it has remained ‘dead on arrival’ coming up one-vote short each time; but Miller has the power to use a procedural measure to by-pass the committee vote and bring it straight to the 47-members of the senate for an up or down vote. “A majority of state legislators in both houses support repealing the death penalty — and now is the time for action; repeal is within our reach!”
However, a majority of Marylanders still favor capital punishment, arguing that life without parole should not be a maximum penalty for the death of another individual. “Data shows that life with or without parole is not a deterrent, where as the possibility of receiving the death penalty is,” says Towson University professor of mass communications, Richard Vatz. A death penalty advocate, the well respected political commentator took to debating the need for the death penalty with panelists on the Sunday morning political talk-show, Square Off w/Richard Sher. “We need legislation to effectively go after gang leaders and crime, and the death penalty does that” Vatz says. “Why are we so eager to rehabilitate criminals?”
But these are the main arguments opponents of capital punishment point to, and argue that the racial disparities attributed to administering the death penalty – especially in Baltimore County – cannot be overlooked. “Look at the five on death row right now, you cannot separate the two,” says Robyn Murphy. “Black man kills white woman, death row; but that same black man kills another black and they get 10-20 years at best? That is a very disturbing reality!” Currently, the five people on Death Row now are made up of a majority of African Americans, two convicted in Baltimore County (Vernon Evans and Anthony Grandison), along with John Booth-El (Baltimore City), Heath Burch (PG County) and Jody Miles (Wicomico County).
And while President Jealous says his meeting with Governor O’Malley went well, others criticize Maryland’s democratic leader for not showing enough political muscle when carrying the abolitionist agenda. “He didn’t mind twisting folks arms when it came to passing Gay Marriage or the Dream Act legislation, but all of a sudden he’s asking a civil rights leader to gather the necessary votes for passage before he considers putting his name on it,” questioned independent political analyst Shaun Louis.
“It’s too little too late by then, for that is his job; to muster the necessary votes in each chamber – I mean he is the Governor of this state right? I guess abolishing the death penalty isn’t a part of his Presidential agenda in 2016 huh? Gay Rights and illegals getting an education – i.e. the Latino vote – seem to outweigh the need to save innocent people’s lives in some cases [like Kirk Bloodsworth] huh?”
But Jealous says that the fight to stop these executions doesn’t stop here [in Maryland], as their goal is to abolish the death penalty in at least 26-states throughout the country. “The magic number is twenty-six, as once 26 states repeal the death penalty, we can then make a case to the United States Supreme Court to outlaw the practice nationally,” says a very confident Jealous. “The people of Maryland have led the nation in the fight for civil rights; so let’s continue leading by championing the cause of justice and pressing our leaders to stand for justice.”
And as the Baltimore Branch of the NAACP recently marked its 100-year anniversary, what better way to honor our great leaders – such as the recently deceased civil rights icon Senator Clarence Mitchell III – then to take on a fight that would certainly be tops on their wish lists. “The spirit of people like C3, Parren and Clarence Mitchell Jr., Thurgood Marshall and others should be enough motivation for African Americans to rise up and assist in this fight,” says Louis. “This fight is real for so many people, not just those on death row, but for the family members and loved ones who are having to deal with this vicious cycle of continued violence. As my father always told me, ‘two wrongs don’t make it right’!”
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