THE BLOG
02/27/2013 01:16 pm ET Updated Apr 29, 2013

Seek Justice, Not Vengeance

Weeks ago, when I heard Governor Martin O'Malley announce his support for repealing the death penalty, his words brought me back to a murder that rocked my own central Baltimore neighborhood not long after my wife and I moved there 20 years ago.

O'Malley, the former Baltimore mayor, said in support of abolishing capital punishment: "The way forward is always found through greater respect for human dignity."

His words made me recall the reaction of our neighborhood to the murder of an employee of a local engineering firm two blocks from our Charles Village row-house neighborhood.

Many of us were shocked, afraid, even angry. We wanted justice, certainly. But more importantly, we wanted to take a positive approach to make our neighborhood safer, and not focus on vengeance. Business owners and residents came together to help make our community a safer and more desirable place to live, work, and play.

Our approach -- the creation in 1994 of a taxpayer-supported community-benefits district focused block by block on safety, greening, and stabilization -- has paid dividends, significantly reducing crime and attracting new residents and businesses. Twenty years later, Baltimore still has too many murders -- one is too many -- but there is less fear. Charles Villagers know they are part of a diverse, special community that cares and is mobilized.

In pursuit of dignity and human rights for all, Amnesty International has worked for decades to abolish the death penalty here in the United States and around the world (two-thirds of countries are now without capital punishment). Our three million members and supporters worldwide have found that wherever capital punishment is practiced, including here in the United States, respect for human rights and human dignity only deteriorates.

The death penalty -- the ultimate denial of human rights -- is not just dehumanizing to the prisoner being executed; it dehumanizes those who actually administer lethal injections, turning wardens, correctional officers, and medical professionals from society's protectors and healers into killers.

Capital punishment dehumanizes us all; the state carries out executions in the name of the people -- all of us -- so in a broad sense, each execution chips away at the integrity and dignity of our country as a whole.

Research shows the death penalty does not prevent crime. Rather, capital punishment perpetuates a spiral of violence in which we are all implicated, and it squanders resources that could be used to take constructive and uplifting measures that we know actually improve public safety and strengthen communities.

The death penalty repeal bill, which is coming up for final approval in Maryland, originally allocated some of the funds saved from eliminating the death penalty to provide compensation, grief counseling and other needs for victims' families. Surely that is a better way forward than maintaining a dysfunctional system that rarely provides the closure or solace that victims' families deserve. Responding to violence with calls for more violence is not the answer, on either a practical or a moral level.

It is important for lawmakers, in addition to repealing capital punishment, to also provide this funding for victims' families.

Marylanders are now on course to eliminate the debasing practice of capital punishment. We have an opportunity to support victims' families and focus on public safety solutions that are proven to work. It will be a proud day and a major step forward for human rights when Maryland joins 17 states and 140 countries around the world in putting justice and dignity ahead of vengeance.

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