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VIEWS AND VOICES
Politicians throw away lives of those on death row
Real people, real death

March 23, 2007 | Page 8

AFTER WEEKS of lobbying by anti-death penalty activists, a bill to repeal Maryland's death penalty was narrowly defeated last week when the state Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee voted 5-5 on it--one vote short of the number needed to move the bill forward.

Although a similar bill is still pending in the state's House Judiciary Committee, without the Senate's backing, the House is not expected to move repeal of the death penalty forward.

But activists are vowing that the fight against capital punishment in Maryland is far from over. Here, Baltimore activist ALANA SMITH tells of her experience working to stop executions in the state.

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WITH DEATH penalty repeal legislation introduced in Maryland and supported by Gov. Martin O'Malley, a lobby night was called by Maryland Citizens Against State Executions (CASE) to try and sway legislators who were still on the fence.

Many of us had to travel to Annapolis, the state capital, after work, so by the time we got there, very few delegates and senators were left in their offices. But we were able to talk to a few.

I wanted to share my experience speaking with a senator who was supposedly a "swing vote" on the death penalty repeal bill, because I think it clearly shows the moral and political bankruptcy of those who support the death penalty in our legislature.

After knocking and loudly calling his name as we searched the labyrinthine hallways, two other women and I finally found Democratic state Sen. Nathanial McFadden at his desk in a far corner office in the Miller Senate Office Building.

Although he didn't respond to us until we were standing right in front of him, he would later make a point of saying that he hadn't hidden from us and that he had freely allowed us to speak with him. This patronizing tone saturated every word he spoke to us that evening.

Like a stereotypical politician, he answered our arguments with the simple phrase, "We'll talk," over and over again--while we stated that talking is what we were doing right then and there. Met with our unflagging persistence, Sen. McFadden said, "You girls have a lot of energy; I like that," in the most paternalistic and demeaning way.

There is nothing surprising about this superior and dismissive attitude coming from a legislator, but he did have some things to say about the death penalty that I did find shocking.

McFadden would never directly say that he was in favor of the death penalty, but he would not agree to vote for the repeal bill, either. Every argument we made about why he should oppose the death penalty was countered with another story about the horrendous murder of a cop he knew or a neighbor he had, while at the same time he tried to sound sympathetic to us by claiming that he personally knew people who had been on death row.

At one point, he said, "I know Vernon Lomax and his whole family." Not knowing whether he meant Vernon Evans, who is currently on Maryland's death row, or Walter Lomax, a man who was exonerated from a life sentence, I asked, "Do you mean Walter Lomax?" He assured me that yes, he knew Walter Lomax and his whole family.

Much later in the conversation, when we brought up the case of Vernon Evans as a counterargument to his examples of innocent murder victims, Sen. McFadden said that he had told us before, he knew Vernon Evans and his whole family--clearly not making any distinction at all between the two men. (In fact, later that evening, one of Vernon's cousins who frequently attends anti-death penalty events, Donnie Evans, would go and speak to Sen. McFadden without being recognized by him at all).

More disgusting than failing to recognize these men as individuals, however, was Sen. McFadden's failure to recognize them as human. When he asked me to imagine standing in an alley with a gun pointed at my face, I asked him to imagine having a needle stuck in his arm with burning lethal chemicals meant to kill him for a crime he didn't commit. Sen. McFadden's response was, "I'm talking about real death."

Incredulous, I insisted that I, too, was talking about real death, but he would not hear it. He loudly repeated what he considered to be real death--a gun pointed right at your head on a street near where you live.

For Sen. McFadden and others like him, the state's torture by lethal injection behind closed doors doesn't constitute "real death" because men on death row aren't "real people." We must not allow politicians to dehumanize the most oppressed people in our society to the point where killing them is not only not called murder, but their deaths aren't even considered real.

Our greatest allies in the fight to abolish the death penalty are the family members of death row inmates and those who are on death row themselves, more so than even the most sympathetic politician, because they are the ones who put a human face on this issue. Unlike Sen. McFadden, we will remember their names, and that their suffering and their deaths are all very, very real.
Alana Smith, Baltimore

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