Halt executions until state study of bias is ready...


May 05, 2002

Halt executions until state study of bias is ready

While The Sun's recent emphasis on the death penalty (notably "The death penalty deception," Opinion

Commentary, April 19, and Matt Davies' April 24 cartoon) is commendable, The Sun has avoided assigning responsibility for doing something to head off the very real prospect that African-American men whose cases may be tainted by racial bias might soon be put to death.

According to attorneys familiar with the appeals of Maryland's death-row inhabitants, as many as six African-Africans could be assigned execution dates over the next 18 months. The execution of the first in line, Wesley Baker, has been set for this month.

Two years ago, when Gov. Parris N. Glendening instructed the University of Maryland's Criminology Department to ascertain whether state death penalty proceedings are racially biased, he did so at the urging of Baltimore-area religious leaders who made a prima facie case for bias. Of all states, they noted, Maryland has the highest percentage of African-Americans on death row. This has been true for at least two decades.

The study's findings will be available in the fall. And by authorizing the study, Mr. Glendening acknowledged the possibility of racial bias in death penalty proceedings.

What troubles us is that he hasn't taken the logical next step. Given even the merest possibility of bias in the death penalty system, he should shut the system down until he knows for sure that it is fair. And if the study finds bias, he should stop the process until the legislature removes its stain from the statutes.

Baltimore's major clergy alliances and denominational leadership have strongly called upon the governor to recognize the morally troubling nature of this situation and place a moratorium on executions.

As pastors, we once again raise this moral cry and call upon the governor to do the right thing.

The Rev. Iris Tucker

The Rev. William A. Au Baltimore

The writers are, respectively, a member of the Inter-denominational Ministerial Alliance and the chairman of the Greater Homewood Interfaith Alliance.

Cigarettes are not the city's top trouble

While city Health Commissioner Peter L. Beilenson is rattling his saber and "protecting our children" from the evils of tobacco, I might remind him and our mayor that it is not cigarettes killing our children ("City to begin tobacco sting," May 1). It is not R.J. Reynolds causing the cries of parents and neighbors at our children's many funerals.

And it is not the smell of cigarette smoke driving 16,000 people a year from this city.

Mr. Beilenson and the mayor might remember this as the city's teen-age stingers and tobacco police walk past the young prostitutes, drug pushers, junkies, gun dealers and street thugs on their way to bust a convenience store or other small business.

Michael S. Eckenrode


City dwellers look for a break

Now we have statistics about the exodus of city residents to surrounding counties ("Decline continues in city's numbers," April 29). But the exodus is no wonder -- people are looking for a break and there's nary a one to be found here in the city.

We don't get breaks on car insurance, we're threatened with astronomical sewage fees and our property tax rate remains twice (if not more) those of nearby counties.

Shirley A. Selin


Mayor must believe in Baltimore, too

On billboards, in print and on TV, Mayor Martin O'Malley exhorts us to believe in our city. And he is proving that Baltimore can show hard-won progress on tough fronts.

But if he wants our belief, he needs to reaffirm his belief in the city. How can we respond to his plea to believe in the city as he publicly contemplates leaving us for Annapolis?

How can Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris keep battling the vicious cycle of drugs and murder if the mayor thinks two years may be enough and it's time to move up the political ladder?

Ambition is a great thing. Without it, Mr. O'Malley would not have made the leap to run for mayor in the first place. But real character is shown by one's commitment to living up to pledges and meeting responsibilities.

Mary Ann Mears


Bush men seem keen on fighting Hussein

If President Bush hates Saddam Hussein so intensely, why doesn't he challenge Mr. Hussein to a duel ("U.S. plots air, ground campaign against Iraq," April 28)? This could save thousands of innocent Iraqi and American citizens who aren't keen to participate in their squabble.

And could the true reason for this squabble be that Mr. Bush wants to right the historic blunder his father committed in the gulf war?

Robert L. Reynolds

Bel Air

Don't force Israel to deal with Arafat

The Palestinians (many of whom are actually immigrants from other Arab countries) could long ago have used their energies (and many millions in aid -- much of it from the United States and Israel) for positive growth and improving their standard of living.

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