By Gregory Kane - June 8, 2009
Photo by fulcicozzi666

That entry stood out as I scrolled through the names provided by Maryland Citizens Against State Executions on a list of prominent clergymen and clergywomen who called for an end to capital punishment.

I was born on Dec. 29, 1951, in the community known as Sandtown-Winchester, then, as now, a predominantly black section in the western part of Baltimore, MD. I was baptized as a Catholic about a week later in a sepulcher of St. Peter Claver Roman Catholic Church. Peter Claver was canonized for his work in bringing relief to suffering black slaves in South America.

Keeler is head of Baltimore's archdiocese and clearly opposed to capital punishment, along with no fewer than eleven other Roman Catholic clergymen and clergywomen whose names appeared on the Maryland CASE list. There was one other name that caught my eye: Rev. Dr. William Calhoun, the senior pastor at Baltimore's Trinity Baptist Church, who's also president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance.

The IMA is a group of Baltimore clergymen and clergywomen (most of them black) who, since at least the 1960s, have been prominent in the civil rights movement in Maryland. Several IMA members were arrested during anti-segregation demonstrations at Baltimore County's Gwynn Oak Amusement Park in 1963.

Black ministers in Baltimore are overwhelmingly opposed to capital punishment, as is my church. Why do I, then, not only as a Roman Catholic but a black citizen of Baltimore, continue to support it? For a number of reasons, all of them related to the failure of death penalty opponents to make their case.

Take, for example, one of the favorite arguments of those who want to abolish the death penalty: that it disproportionately affects the poor. So does every other criminal sanction, from life imprisonment down to a 30-day stretch in the county or city jail. George Jackson, the late prison activist, writer, and Black Panther Party member, did an 11-year stint in California's prison system. Every inmate he met, Jackson wrote shortly before his death in August of 1971, was poor and from the working class. If we abolish capital punishment because of its disproportionate impact on the poor, then we may as well abolish penalties for all crimes.

The same argument can be made about deterrence. Opponents of capital punishment argue that because the death penalty isn't a deterrent, it should be abolished. Dudley Sharp, a Texas death-penalty advocate, has cited at least five studies that claim the death penalty is a deterrent, but let's assume the argument of those opposed to capital punishment is valid: that executing murderers doesn't stop others from murdering. Doesn't the same apply to all sanctions against crime? Sentences of 30 years for robbing banks don't deter bank robbers. Sentences of 15 to 20 years don't deter drug dealers from dealing drugs. If the fact that the existence of a particular sentence doesn't deter crime were grounds for abolishing the sentence, then we'd logically have to abolish all sanctions for every crime.

Even the racial disparity argument doesn't sway me. For years, opponents of capital punishment here in Maryland have been frantically trying to find some conclusive proof that the death penalty was administered to black felony murder defendants disproportionately. Opponents focused their efforts on Baltimore County, which has sent the greatest number of convicted murderers to Maryland's death row.