- Created: Friday, 14 December 2018 12:09
- Written by Matt Glass
Mumia Abu-Jamal is a revolutionary journalist, former Black Panther and political prisoner. He is currently on ‘slow death row’, life imprisonment without parole, after being falsely convicted of the 1981 murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner. His life is a case study in the US black liberation struggle and the brutal state repression against it.
New precedent opens legal path for Mumia
In 2016 the US Supreme Court found in Williams vs Pennsylvania that a prosecutor involved in seeking the death penalty cannot subsequently judge an appeal in that case. The judge in the Williams case was Ronald Castille, who is also crucial to Mumia’s case, having been a senior Assistant District Attorney (DA) during Mumia’s 1982 trial, and a Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice throughout Mumia’s 1995-2008 post-conviction appeals. In a petition submitted on 29 October 2018, Mumia’s legal team argued that this should invalidate those appeals and enable fresh applications. According to Workers’ World, current DA Larry Krasner (a Democrat elected in 2017 on a platform to ‘end mass incarceration’ and overturn wrongful convictions) is withholding evidence vital to the current stage of Mumia’s case.
At 14 Mumia was a founding member of the Philadelphia chapter of the Black Panther Party, becoming Lieu?tenant Minister of Information. He later moved to Oakland to work on the Black Panther publication. While still a teen?ager he was put under state surveillance by the now notorious COINTELPRO (Counter Intelligence Prog?ramme). He left the Black Panthers due to factionalism, exacerbated by state agents, but he still represents the revolutionary internationalism of the Black Panthers.
After returning to Philadelphia he worked as a journalist and became a supporter of the MOVE organisation. This predominantly black, revolutionary organisation was a major target of police violence. In 1974-5, three MOVE women miscarried after being beaten by police while pregnant. In 1976 Mumia – by now a leading journalist in Philadelphia – reported on the police murder of the three-week-old child of MOVE member Janine Africa.
In a 1978 assault involving hundreds of officers, police started to bulldoze MOVE’s home, even though there were children inside. They then began a shoot-out, in which an officer was killed by a ricocheting bullet. Nine MOVE members were sentenced to 30-100 years for his killing. Mumia demanded answers from the Mayor as to why the crime scene had been destroyed, further marking him out as a state target.
In 1981, the police took its chance to punish Mumia. At this point he was still working as a radio journalist but also driving a cab to supplement his income. While out driving, Mumia saw his brother Billy Cook running from a police officer. Mumia ran towards his brother, was shot by the officer and lost consciousness. When he awoke, the officer, Daniel Faulkner, had been shot dead. Mumia was beaten by police, thrown into a police wagon, taken to hospital and beaten further.
Mumia was sentenced to death for Faulkner’s murder. The trial was riddled with bias. The judge, Albert Sabo, said he wanted to help the prosecution ‘fry the n——-’. Sabo held the record for the most death sentences in the state of Pennsylvania (New York Times). 75% of cases heard by Sabo have subsequently been overturned due to misconduct by prosecutors, incompetence by trial attorneys, or bias and misconduct by Sabo.
In 2011, after a series of legal challenges, the death sentence was re?placed with a sentence of life without parole. Mumia is now 64 years old; in recent years he has had to struggle to receive appropriate medical treatment for hepatitis C.
Reactionary Republicans and ‘progressive’ Democrats
In the 2018 US mid-term elections, incumbent Republican congressman Brian Fitzpatrick attacked Democratic challenger Scott Wallace using an advert in which Maureen Faulkner claimed Wallace had ‘funded Jamal’s legal defence through an organisation that has given my husband’s killer a public voice for the last 21 years’.
Wallace had donated to Democracy Now! which has interviewed Mumia several times, although it denies supporting his case. Speaking on Demo?cracy Now! in October 2016, Mumia said of Democrat President Obama:
‘It is a tragedy that we’re now counting down the days of the first African-American – accent on ‘Afri?can’ – president in the history of the United States, and when he leaves, you will still have the greatest incarcerator on Earth at work, and growing and continuing to divest and destroy and diminish the lives of millions of people. The fact that you could have a black presidency and not put a dent in that hellhole is startling, is tragedy, you know, on a grand stage . . .’
Despite being imprisoned since 1982, Mumia’s is a ceaseless voice for the oppressed globally. Through his radio broadcasts and books, he exposes the corrupt bourgeois democracy and endemic racism of the US, as well as standing in solidarity with the Cuban revolution and the Palestinian struggle for liberation.
Mumia has received solidarity from progressive people the world over and international campaigning has twice resulted in the commutation of his death sentence. The campaign to free him continues, with protests outside the court during the current petition process and an international letter writing campaign to DA Krasner. Templates for this are available at www.prisonradio.org.
Mumia receives FRFI and we send him all our solidarity.
Free Mumia! Free all political prisoners!
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! No 267, December 2018/January 2019