The struggle to free Mumia continues
A meeting in London on 6 December heard the latest on the case of US political prisoner and former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal. Mumia is only 54 years old but has already spent 26 years on Death Row. Fiona Harrington reports.
The struggle has now reached a real crisis point as Mumia's situation becomes increasingly urgent. To those who have been following the case from the beginning in 1982, or who have become aware of it at any point along the way since, it might seem as if Mumia will always be there, inspiring us with his eloquence and unquenchable spirit and providing moral support and hope for others jailed for their beliefs and activities.
However he may not be with us for much longer if the next and possibly final appeal against his conviction is lost. That may indeed be the case as the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia has ruled against a new trial for Mumia. In fact they have called instead for a sentencing hearing, the result of which may be either a life sentence without possibility for parole, or chillingly, a death sentence.
Mumia has in fact been there before, because in 1995 he was actually sentenced to death. Nonetheless with just over a week to go before his execution, a huge popular mobilisation took place in the United States and globally which resulted in a stay of execution and a series of hearings and further appeals. On the west coast of the US workers called a one day strike which was massively supported, ports all along the coast were shut down as port workers struck not for higher pay, better conditions, or anything at all which might have been in their own interests, but for the life of one man. Marches and meetings were held with oustanding popular support, until the desired result was achieved and Mumia Abu Jamal lived.
All this and more was recalled at the meeting on Saturday which although disappointingly small, was passionate in defence of this remarkable man. After an address by Nick from the Anarchist Federation and Gary of the International Bolshevik Tendency – who jointly organised the meeting – discussion focussed on how once again to mobilise to save his life. Nick called for a renewal of the kind of support which once existed but has since diminished, as being the only way success can be achieved. Awareness of the situation of Mumia must be raised again in order to secure the kind of consciousness which gave rise to that kind of mass support. We must also focus on the fact of his innocence. Gary recounted the details of the case from the beginning and the various very entangled legal aspects which attend it.
A World to Win's own involvement see: Free Mumia Now! and
America's judicial murder machine
During the discussion which followed parallels were drawn with the cases of Sacco and Vanzetti and Leonard Peltier. Sacco and Vanzetti were Italian-American anarchists who were convicted and sentenced to death in 1927 for the murder in 1920, in Massachusetts, of two clerks. Despite the trial against them being highly prejudicial, the evidence irregular and their own protestations of innocence, they were executed.
Leonard Peltier, a native Amercian of the Lakota Nation and a leading activist in the American Indian Movement (AIM), was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences in 1977 for the murder of a couple of FBI officers on Pine Ridge Reservation in 1975. He has been in prison ever since despite a very unsafe conviction. Similarly Mumia Abu-Jamal has been the victim of racial prejudice and was convicted despite a mound of evidence suggesting that he never committed the crime with which he was charged, evidence which needless to say was not admitted in court. In all these cases the fact that the people involved not only came from ethnic minority backgrounds, but were also militants in their own groups and milieus, was a factor in their convictions.
After the initial arrest of Mumia in 1981 an appalling catalogue of extreme police brutality, suppression of actual evidence and concoction of false evidence ensued. Every possible obstacle was thrown against his lawyers, and forensic evidence suggesting that he was highly unlikely to have killed police-officer Daniel Faulkner was not admitted. Mumia was himself shot and wounded by an unknown assailant*. Mumia was picked up, literally from the gutter, by police and framed for the crime, after first being beaten unconscious by them and a "confession" invented. Those are the bald outline facts of the case, but there is so much else involved also. The point is that Mumia as well as Leonard Peltier, just to speak of those two, were and are prominent spokespeople for the oppressed. They are effective and they are strong and they refuse to be silenced.
The framing of Mumia was, I think, an attempt to strike a fatal blow against the very idea of liberation and the expression of dissent. To that end the fact that the police, once they had found him in the vicinity of a crime scene, made every effort to make sure that they "got their man" the courts further ensured that he would be put away for good and eventually silenced by execution. They have so far not succeeded in silencing him. But they still might.
During the meeting as well as deploring the actions of the police, FBI, the prosecution and the courts, another perspective was briefly dealt with. This was the idea of the innocence or otherwise of Mumia. Supposing it could be proved that he actually did commit that crime, what then should be the reaction? The idea that whether or not he was innocent he should still be supported, is a valid viewpoint and certainly worthy of general discussion and has been put forward or at least touched on by among others, Peter Gelderloos.
The defence of self-defence could be entered, also considering just how many Black Panthers were killed by police in the years leading up to the case in question and the efforts of the FBI and COINTELPRO against the BPP a conclusion of the essential justice of Faulkner's killing could be drawn, if not any kind of legal justification for it. However the meeting concluded that it would not be at all helpful to open out discussion in that kind of rhetorical way and that the legality of the case should be adhered to, for the facts demonstrate that the man is indeed innocent. That has been the perspective of those who have been defending Mumia all along in any case and it is correct that it should be so.
Also raised was the victory of Barack Obama in the American presidential election and whether this might signal hope for Abu-Jamal. But just because Obama is black and despite the significance of his victory from a racial perspective, Barack Obama it was remarked, is more in the mould of a Clinton Democrat and not likely to upset the establishment by assisting in any way the release of such a controversial figure as Mumia Abu-Jamal. (Considering how Obama reacted to distance himself when "accused" by McCain of having served on a committee with Bill Ayers once a member of the Weathermen, helping to gain the release of an ex-Black Panther would not be at all to his advantage!) So nothing can be expected from a President Obama. Mumia himself has said as much and has spoken of him in less than glowing terms. For instance speaking on Prison Radio he has declared that the soon to be President "Has studiously avoided the very real and long-standing grievances of black America" and that "Obama would be more at home in the Republican Party of his black precedessor Edward Brook." In other words continuity, not change.
Mumia Abu-Jamal was a journalist in his previous life, he still writes prodigiously, gives interviews and speaks when he has access to the facilities, on prison radio. He is opinionated, he is still militant and he has had to rely on obviously great inward resources of patience and resilience and he remains optimistic. Even if the very worst happens he will have left a priceless legacy of hope and inspiration to others in his position and to all of those who struggle against injustice, of whatever ethnic background. However we must not allow the worst to happen and so do our utmost to ensure not just the preservation of his life, but his ultimate and unconditional release. To that end the kind of mobilisation that took place in the nineties, particulary in 1995 must again be encouraged.
Many support him, including Bishop Tutu and Nelson Mandela, actors such as Danny Glover, writers Alice Walker and Adrienne Rich black activist Angela Davis and organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. However this cause requires vast popular activity as well. That is why meetings such as this need to be set up and widely publicised so as to bring in many more than are currently involved. This concerns all of us, none of us can rest assured that our rights will not be eroded right before our eyes, it is happening already. It is heartening therefore that people from differing political perspectives, in this case anarchists and Trotskyists, can collaborate so closely on a cause such as this. We need to support them and advance the awareness of the plight of Mumia Abu-Jamal before it is too late. We can do this through talking to family and friends, through our workplaces and trade unions if we are members and through whatever groups and organisations we may be members of, whether overtly political or not. Mumia is only 54 years old, he is still effectively in the prime of life and has such a lot still to offer and to live for, he has already spent 26 years on Death Row, it is unthinkable that he should spend the rest of his life in jail, or worse be given a lethal injection in some death chamber of Penitentionary America.
*Correction: The original version of this article stated that Daniel Faulkner shot Mumia; however that is incorrect. It is not known who specifically shot Mumia but the evidence seems to indicate that reinforcements had been called in and it was one of the other police officers who wounded him, Faulkner by this time having been killed.