Marchers demand new trial for Mumia Abu-JamalBy Barry Sheppard
Two mass marches and rallies were held on April 24 in defence of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a revolutionary journalist and former Black Panther leader who has been on death row since 1982. It was Mumia's birthday.
One event was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where Abu-Jamal's frame-up trial was held, and the other in San Francisco, California. People from all over the US came to the actions, as well as representatives from other countries.
Estimates of the size of the actions varied from 10,000 to 30,000 in Philadelphia and 10,000 to 20,000 in San Francisco. In any case, they were the largest demonstrations to date to save Mumia's life.
They were also younger and had a greater percentage of people of colour than previous actions. The San Francisco Chronicle noted a new generation comes out for Mumia.
There was also more support from organised labour. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (wharfies) held a four-hour sympathy stoppage in ports on the west coast. A number of central labour councils in the San Francisco Bay area, as well as the California Nurses Association, United Farmworkers, Amalgamated Transit Union, Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees, a local of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Southern San Francisco Teachers Association and others have come out in support.
Local 2222 of the United Auto Workers at the New United Motors plant, a joint venture of Toyota and General Motors, invited a speaker from the Mumia defense committee to address the local, and distributed leaflets for April 24. A labour action committee has been formed in the Bay area to build trade union support for Mumia.
The demonstrations took place in the teeth of a vicious media campaign against Mumia. One major national TV network ran a hatchet job as an objective inquiry into the case.
On January 28, a fundraising rock concert held in a sports stadium in New Jersey was denounced by the state police and government. Governor Christine Todd Whitman appealed to concert ticket holders (the concert was sold out) to return their tickets as a sign of rebuke for a cop killer; not many of the 50,000 fans did so.
The Oakland Education Association (OEA) in the Bay area had also planned to hold a teach-in on Mumia's case and the death penalty in January. The plan was initially supported by the Board of Education, but was then denounced by the board and the mayor of Oakland, Jerry Brown, on the spurious grounds that there was to be a funeral for a slain policeman on the same day as the scheduled teach-in. Under this pressure, the leadership of the OEA split, with only a small majority voting to go ahead with the teach-in.
Speakers at the rallies represented a broad range of groups. Anthony Porter, who was recently found innocent after spending 23 years on death row and at one time was two days away from execution, told the Philadelphia crowd what it was like on death row, where you are kept in a hole shackled for 23 hours a day.
Mumia was arrested in late 1981 on charges of killing a policeman. He was later convicted in a rigged trail before a hanging judge and without adequate legal representation. His current lawyer, Leonard Weinglass, has battled for years for a new trial.
Weinglass spoke to the demonstration in front of Philadelphia's City Hall. He pointed out that six former prosecutors declared under oath that no defendant could get a fair trial under Mumia's former judge, Albert F. Sabo. Mumia's prosecutors removed 11 qualified African-American jurors. When Mumia asked to represent himself, the judge took that right away from him without cause.
He went to trial without an investigator. Without an expert witness on firearms. Without a pathologist. And without witnesses who would testify in his favour as a result of police manipulation and the conferring of benefits [on witnesses in exchange for their testimony], and the threatening of other witnesses.
Weinglass said that some of the people who testified against Mumia have since come forward to admit and acknowledge that they lied at the trial. Mumia was convicted on the basis of a fabricated confession.
Mumia's appeals in Pennsylvania were exhausted last October when the state Supreme Court rejected his petition for a new trial. Weinglass and his legal team are taking the case to the federal level.
We will ask these federal courts to open up the files that have been closed to us over the last 17 years. You will remember that Geronimo Ji Jaga Pratt [another Black Panther leader framed by the police] was released after 27 years in prison when the files were opened and his innocence was proven.
Weinglass pointed out that the evening before the demonstration, the Philadelphia cops held a fundraiser for their campaign for the state to kill Mumia. Eight hundred people attended, including Mayor Ed Rendell. They have the courts, they have the governor, they have the prosecutors, but Mumia has you, Weinglass told the cheering crowd.
There was important international support at the rallies, from groups in France, Germany and Canada, as well as from people in the Caribbean, Africa, Asia and Latin America. A delegation of representatives of revolutionary nationalist organisations from Puerto Rico, Mexico and Guatemala made a joint statement.
The grandson of the great black writer Richard Wright read a statement from a representative of the Democratic Republic of Congo who was denied a visa to attend the demonstration by the US State Department. Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation sent a birthday message to Mumia from Chiapas, Mexico. He also sent a letter to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and to Governor Tom Ridge asking for a new trial.
The ruling class is itching to kill Mumia. They know a new trial would almost certainly exonerate him. Governor Ridge has stated he is impatient to set a new execution date, once he can legally do so given Mumia's federal appeals.
The movement to save Mumia is growing, but needs to reach out more to counter this official bloodlust.