Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown attacked his chief rival in the Democratic primary contest for governor Thursday night, telling a crowd in Baltimore that “the attorney general supports the death penalty.”

Brown brought up the death penalty while answering a separate question about why he supports decriminalizing marijuana possession, saying that both policies reveal “there is a racial bias in the system.”

In broaching the issue – and casting it in racial terms – Brown, who is African-American, drew a contrast with Attorney General Douglas Gansler, who is a white, former prosecutor from Montgomery County and has long favored the death penalty as a tool for prosecutors.

During a forum hosted by the Baltimore City branch of the NAACP and a chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority at the Forest Park Senior Center, Brown said he “stood with the NAACP” in arguing for the state’s ultimately successful repeal of the death penalty last year.

 “We’ve got the best criminal justice system in the world, but it’s not perfect,” Brown said. “Here are the numbers:  a majority of death row inmates in Maryland are African-Americans, yet we’re still a minority.”

As the debate was underway in Annapolis last year, Gansler in a radio interview called the death penalty “a wonderful tool to have” to negotiate plea deals in capital cases. The former state’s attorney went on to say that, “If, in fact, we have a race-biased system in Maryland, we ought to be addressing that because it’s – you know, putting somebody in a cage for their rest of their life that didn’t commit that crime is also very, very egregious,” according a transcript of that February 2013 interview on the Kojo Nnamdi show.

In a 2009 interview with The Baltimore Sun, Gansler balked at a partial death penalty repeal that put heavy restrictions on when it can be used. He said the plan  “significantly limits the death penalty so as to almost nullify it in the state of Maryland.”

When asked by a moderator at Thursday night’s forum to clarify his position on the death penalty, Gansler said,  “My position is where everybody is: we don’t have it.  We used to have it. The General Assembly overturned it, and the people of Maryland have said they don’t want it. So, that’s my position on the death penalty.”

The three top candidates vying for the Democratic nomination in the June 24 primary election spoke separately at the forum and did not interact.

Del. Heather Mizeur did not discuss the death penalty, which she voted to repeal last year. She discussed a variety of policies she’s pushed, including increasing wages to $16.70 an hour by 2022 and legalizing marijuana. She pitched a plan that would allow individual counties to increase their own sales tax and dedicate the additional cash to school construction.

Asked whether Baltimore communities would still see her outside of an election year – since they see her a lot now – Mizeur said they would, and joked “I’m pretty sure Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is going to start charging me taxes, I’m here so much.”