Mumia Abu-Jamal is an award-winning journalist presently on death row. In 1981 he was elected president of the Association of Black Journalists in Philadelphia; as such he consistently exposed police violence and misconduct against the black community.
In 1982 Jamal was sentenced to death for the killing of police officer Daniel Faulkner. Since then, post- conviction relief appeal hearings have made public the false evidence, police coercion of witnesses and fabricated “confession” that were used to convict Jamal in a blatantly unjust trial.
The evidence in Mumia’s case points to his innocence.
Why Did the State Target Mumia?
Advocates for Mumia Abu-Jamal’s freedom have claimed that he was convicted because of his political beliefs. We think it would be useful to provide some concrete evidence for this assertion:
Since Jamal joined the Black Panther Party, at the age of 15, the FBI and the Philadelphia police amassed hundreds of pages of surveillance files on Jamal for his opposition to racism and police brutality.
When he became a journalist, he was a consistent critic of the system and was the only member of the press in Philly to consistently bring the truth to the public about police atrocities committed against MOVE.
According to Ramona Africa, a surviving member of the bombing of a MOVE house in 1985, the news that a MOVE member’s infant son had been killed by the police, made Jamal take a closer look at the reprehensible treatment of the organization by the police.
“Mumia’s first contact with MOVE came in 1976, and to this day, Mumia says he always feels bad about the situation. My sister’s (Janine Africa) three week old son was killed by the cops, deliberately knocked from her arms and trampled to death on March 28, 1976…Mumia heard about it, and he had talked to officials, and the officials were saying that it wasn’t true, that there wasn’t a baby [because there was no official record of birth]. But we had birthed babies naturally at home…
“Mumia was very skeptical about it, but he did come out and talk to MOVE people; and what ended up happening is to really prove to people that the cops did kill our baby. There was a dinner one night at MOVE headquarters and some reporters were invited, some politicians, a couple of city council people, and a few members of the clergy were invited. After dinner, they were shown the baby’s body, and they were messed up. And when Mumia found out about it and realized that there was in fact a baby that had been killed by the cops, he was hurt and upset that he had been skeptical of MOVE and had leaned toward believing the system.
“He started coming around MOVE more and more and covering MOVE trials, MOVE demonstrations, and confrontations that MOVE had with the police. He was the only reporter that told the true about MOVE,” said Ramona Africa.
Such activity did not make Jamal the flavor of the month with “Phillies finest.”
In an 1992 interview from death row in Huntington Prison, Pennsylvania, Jamal said, “…when the confrontation started heating up in Philadelphia in 1977 and 1978-and it was really a very naked level of repression that the Philadelphia police heaped on MOVE-I could not help but draw attention to that, as a reporter. The acting mayor of Philadelphia at the time, Frank Rizzo, and his police started a siege against a MOVE house in Powelton Village in 1977. The siege lasted over one year. By the end, police cut off all water and electricity to the house, but people from the neighborhood and supporters from the city supplied MOVE with the basic necessities. Finally, on August 8, 1978, more than 700 policemen stormed the house. During their action, one policeman was hit in the crossfire of his colleagues. Nine MOVE members who were arrested in the house were later charged and convicted of having jointly killed this one cop. They were all sentenced to 30-100 years in prison, despite the fact that the judge admitted that he didn’t know who had shot the cop.”
Mumia Abu-Jamal was targeted by the state because he was consistent and effective in exposing the lies the police were propagating in order to justify the unjustifiable brutality meted out to MOVE. Mumia Abu-Jamal was monitoring the cops and exposing their misconduct. Therefore, Jamal is, in part, a martyr for the movement for police accountability, which is why many that oppose police brutality are fighting for his freedom. It is imperative that we defend those who face reprisal for activity that we advocate.
Militants of the Peace and Freedom Party have organized and participated in community outreach programs so that people that have never heard of Mumia Abu-Jamal can become familiar with this case: we helped plan and organize the December 12, 1998 “Free Mumia” march and rally in Oakland, which was attended by over 1,000 participants . Recently, members of the Peace and Freedom Party were asked to speak at a number of churches in the Bay Area about Mumia’s case.
Mobilize the Power of the Working Class
In the struggle to free Mumia Abu-Jamal we are up against some powerful institutions: the courts, police organizations (like the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police), corporate owned politicians, etc. To win such an important battle we have to know our enemies, we also need to know the source of our own strength. The capitalists who rule this society are dependent on scores of millions of workers who make this system run, and who can also bring this system to a screeching halt. That is the source of our power, and we must learn how to use it.
On November 2, the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians (NABET), who had been working without a contract for over a year and a half, went on a one-day strike against the American Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), which is owned by the Walt Disney Inc. The next day they were locked out for three months by ABC-TV. During this time, Mumia Abu-Jamal refused to allow a scab ABC crew to interview him, this in turn has lead to many unions opening their doors to Jamal supporters and many unions passing resolutions in support of Jamal’s principal stand and his cause. Already, labor councils in Alameda, San Francisco, and Seattle, just to name a few, have passed resolutions calling for a new trial for Jamal. To help turn these resolutions into concrete actions a Labor Action Committee has been formed in the Bay Area, composed of class conscious and active trade unionists.
When a warrant for Jamal’s execution was signed in June 1995 by Pennsylvania governor Ridge, there was enormous opposition form worker organizations worldwide. In South Africa almost all of the main unions joined the movement to save Jamal. In Italy and France, national labor federations took up his cause. Journalist unions throughout the world weighed in for their fellow writer. Recently, February 19, 1999, I received the following information:
“The World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) fully supports the call for national and international actions on April 24, 1999 around the two central demands: (1) Stop the Execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal and (2) For a Fair Trial Now!
“The WFTU will mobilize its affiliates and associates in 130 countries in this campaign…
Fraternally, Alexander Zharikov,General Secretary, WFTU” When the Oakland’s teachers union, the Oakland Educational Association, voted to hold a Teach-In about Mumia Abu-Jamal and the Death Penalty there was considerable controversy. The event drew criticism from a member of the Oakland School Board, Noel Gallo and Oakland NAACP President, Shannon Reeves, a staunch Republican. They both argued that the Mumia Teach-In would divert students from their academics studies. Union members argued that a study of Mumia Abu-Jamal’s case in particular and the death penalty and judicial system in general would only enhance the academic skills of the students.
Then, just days before the teach-in, an Oakland police officer was shot and killed. O
akland Police Chief Samuels and City Manager Robert Bobb et al, with the help of the media, began to systematically propagate the “bright idea” that if Oakland teachers went ahead with their teach-in, it would be an act of disrespect toward the slain cop’s family. Despite this cynical attempt to derail this important event, the Oakland teachers voted to go ahead with the Teach-In and successfully carried it through. This was a victory for movement to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal.
In addition, the public debate generated by this ill-fated attempt to prevent the children of Oakland from learning about this vital issue has turned Mumia Abu-Jamal into a household phrase. For nearly two weeks articles about the Teach-In could be found in the pages of the local and national press.
Similarly the forces of reaction got egg in their faces (and considerable publicity for Jamal’s cause) when they tried, in vain(!), to stop the benefit concert for Jamal put on by Rage Against the Machine.
Why is it that the authorities in Oakland and elsewhere in America, don’t want young people, or any people for that matter, to learn about the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal?
For the past two decades the American ruling class has increased the exploitation of the working class and cut back all social programs that helped the poor. Therefore, the powers that be clearly understand that they are sitting on top of some very unhappy campers. They live in fear that a spark of social protest could start a social explosion. That is why they have vastly increased the powers of state repression, including frame-ups.
At the same time, the ruling class recognizes the need to maintain the illusions that the judicial system-the cops, courts, and prisons-are neutral and fair. They know and fear that the illusions in their judicial system are being threatened by the fact that more and more people are finding out about the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, an innocent man on deathrow. The ultimate injustice! They know that if we study and understand what happened to Mumia we will better understand how this system really works, who it works for — and who it doesn’t work for.
Mumia Abu-Jamal’s case is an indictment of the system. That’s why the powers that be don’t want the people to know about him.
Nonetheless, Mumia continues to speak out against injustice from inside prison walls, despite efforts by the Philadelphia Police and the national Fraternal Order of Police to stop him. Ironically, years after Mumia began to speak out against the Philly police, the U.S. Justice Department was compelled to investigate and prosecute elements of the department for brutality and corruption, resulting in the imprisonment of a number of cops (including the officer in charge the night Jamal was arrested) and the release of many of their frame-up victims. It is not likely that Jamal will be released in this manner. It is up to us to build a movement so powerful that the political price will be too high for the American rulers to execute this innocent man.
FREE MUMIA ABU-JAMAL!