Mumia Abu-Jamal, the most well-known political prisoner in the United States, now has a new law directed against him personally.
The Pennsylvania legislature ― both Democrats and Republicans ― overwhelmingly voted to adopt the “Revictimization Relief Act” and Democratic governor Tom Corbett signed it into law. It came after Mumia delivered a pre-taped speech to Goddard College in Vermont on October 5.
Mumia had been a student at Goddard as a youth. Students and faculty members voted to ask him to make this year's commencement address.
Mumia was framed and convicted for the 1981 murder of a Pennsylvania police officer Daniel Faulkner and sentenced to death, despite serious flaws in the evidence presented against him.
The widow of the murdered officer, Maureen Faulkner, says she was driving in California when she was upset by hearing Mumia’s commencement speech over the radio.
But Mumia’s speech said nothing about the events of 1981. Faulkner was upset about the fact that Mumia was publicly speaking at all.
Over the decades, Faulkner has worked hand in glove with the Pennsylvania police, judiciary and political establishment against the world-wide defense campaign fighting the frame-up of Mumia.
Building on Faulkner's statement, the whole capitalist power structure jumped into action to pass the new law.
The new act authorises censoring public speeches by prisoners ― even former prisoners after their release ― if a judge or the state’s attorney-general says that allowing them to speak publicly would cause “mental anguish” to their alleged victims or their families.
The immediate target is Mumia’s right to speak, but the law is so vague and broad it denies free speech to all prisoners and former prisoners.
Given the huge numbers of prisoners and ex-prisoners in Pennsylvania — disproportionately young, Black and Latino — the numbers potentially silenced by this law is large.
Defending the law, Corbett said: “While law-abiding citizens are entitled to an array of rights, from free travel to free speech, convicted felons in prison are in prison because they abused and surrendered their rights.
“And nobody has a right to continually taunt the victims of their violent crimes in the public square.”
In Mumia’s case, “taunting the victim” is equated with hearing his voice over the radio.
In an October 27 Democracy Now! interview, Mumia replied to Corbett, saying: “He knows that’s ridiculous, both in law and fact. I’ve never taunted anybody.
“I’ve rarely talked about the events of December 9, 1981. I’ve talked about all kinds of other issues. I didn’t talk about that at Goddard.
“Most of the people who voted for this bill … never heard that speech. I invite them to hear it and then repeat the madness of what [Corbett] said.”
He added: “I was invited by the staff and students and the administrators to talk to my college about what it meant to get an education from Goddard. I did that.
“And if the Constitution doesn’t protect that, then it protects nothing.”
Mumia stated the obvious — that the law is blatantly unconstitutional.
The interview was repeatedly interrupted by a pre-recorded voice saying: “This call is from the State Correctional Institution at Mahanoy and is subject to monitoring and recording.”
If this law is used against Mumia or someone else, it’s constitutionality will almost certainly be challenged. It would most likely be struck down, but if it ever makes it to the current US Supreme Court, noted for right-wing and racist decisions, then who knows?
Mumia was involved in militant Black politics since he was a teenager. From age 14, he was a supporter of the Black Panther Party, writing for them in Philadelphia. After leaving the Panthers in 1970, Mumia took courses in journalism, and continued to write and speak on public radio.
He was framed for the 1981 killing as part of the FBI and police crackdown on militant Blacks.
Over the past three decades, his regular taped speeches and written columns from prison have become well-known and reproduced.
The authorities have made repeated bids to silence and smear him.
In a 1995 incident, Mumia was placed in solitary confinement under the charge that by having his writings published, including in left-wing German newspaper Junge Welt, he was engaging in illegal “entrepreneurship”.
In 1996, HBO aired a documentary called Mumia Abu-Jamal: A Case for Reasonable Doubt, which included footage of interviews with him in prison.
In response, prison authorities banned outsiders from using any recording equipment, including pencil and paper, in interviews with any prisoners in any Pennsylvania state prison. This measure remains in effect today.
In 2006, a newly-paved road in the Paris, France, suburb of Saint-Denis was named after him. In protest, US Congressperson Michael Fitzpatrick and Senator Rick Santorum, both Republicans from Pennsylvania, introduced resolutions condemning Saint-Denis.
The Fitzpatrick resolution was passed by 368 to 31, with support from both parties. The Republican Party in Philadelphia also filed criminal complaints in France against the cities of Paris and Saint-Denis.
Since 1991, Mumia has appeared on Democracy Now! many times. In his October 27 interview, he said to host Amy Goodman: “You remember me calling you and them coming up and pulling [the phone] wire out of the wall.
“I believe it was 1996, or around that time. We were having a live discussion [on the radio show], and I saw out of the corner of my eye a correctional officer walk down to where my line was plugged into the wall, and he pulled it out…
“That was shortly after the publication [of Mumia’s book] Live From Death Row, and the Department of Corrections sanctioned me [for publishing the book], gave me a write-up, and we went to court about it.
“The case is preserved as Abu-Jamal vs Price. In that ruling, the Third Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals said I have the constitutional right to write.
“If I have the constitutional right to write under the First Amendment, then don’t I have the constitutional right to read my writings?”
Despite overwhelming evidence amassed by the national and international defense campaign of the racist nature of the frame-up of Mumia, the Pennsylvania courts have consistently ruled against granting him a new trial.
There has been one victory for the campaign, however. The instructions to the original jury by the racist judge concerning sentencing were finally acknowledged to be so glaringly wrong that Mumia's death sentence was overturned in 2012.
Mumia was released from Death Row into the regular prison population.
Speaking to Democracy Now!, Mumia discussed the difference being off Death Row has made. He said: “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about the brothers and sisters — because there are women in Pennsylvania on Death Row.
“[Being in the general prison population] is so profoundly different from their 24-hour experience that it’s hard to connect the two.
“Holding them in solitary confinement … is a violation of the Constitution [against cruel and unusual punishment]… All the men and women who are on Death Row now in Pennsylvania should be in general population like everybody else.”