Mumia Abu-Jamal: fight for justice continues

Issue 

By Barbara Meyer
Mumia Abu-Jamal, an African American journalist imprisoned on death row in Pennsylvania since 1982, was denied a retrial at the conclusion of a Post-Conviction Relief Appeal (PCRA) hearing on September 14 by Judge Albert Sabo, the same "hanging" judge who outrageously mismanaged Mumia's original trial. During the hearing, Sabo rejected 25 defence witnesses and excluded such evidence as 700 pages of FBI surveillance reports on Mumia. He fined and actually imprisoned one of Mumia's defence counsel for an hour when she cited some of the plentiful statistical evidence of racial bias in the US legal system.
Consequently there have been yet more demonstrations worldwide demanding justice for this man, whose case has become an international symbol of opposition to the evils of racism and the racist death penalty. Speakers at the Canberra "Free Mumia" rally on September 17 pointed out the sinister similarities between the "legal" death penalty in the United States and the extra-legal black deaths in custody in Australia. Both are state-committed crimes for which no-one is ever punished.
By the early '80s, Mumia was a respected radio journalist, an outspoken defender of the black urban commune MOVE and president of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists.
In December 1981 he was driving a taxi at night to earn some extra income for his wife and children. The incident that put him on death row started in a busy red-light district at about 4am on the morning of December 9, when he got out of his cab, seeing that his brother's car had been stopped by police and his brother was being beaten. Mumia crossed the street towards his brother; he was shot and critically wounded.
Police officer Daniel Faulkner was also shot, several times. Mumia survived after a two-hour operation. Faulkner died, and Mumia was promptly charged with his murder, despite the fact that four independent witnesses from different vantage points had described seeing a much heavier man who shot Faulkner run down an alley and escape.
Witnesses who initially stated that a man other than Mumia had shot Faulkner changed their stories after being interviewed by police, some having been threatened and some bribed.
For instance, on August 11 this year William Singletary testified that on December 9, 1981, he saw another man shoot Faulkner and flee the scene, that he saw Mumia walk up to Faulkner and offer to help, and that Faulkner's gun discharged seconds later, sending a bullet into Mumia's chest.
Singletary then described being detained by police for five hours of being threatened that he'd be beaten up in the elevator, until he agreed to sign a statement dictated by a Detective Green, and only after cops had repeatedly thrown away statements he wrote. His false statement was turned over to Mumia's defence for the original 1982 trial. Justice would demand a retrial with a different judge on the basis of this testimony alone, showing as it does that the prosecution suppressed evidence of Mumia's innocence.
The police officer with Mumia in hospital that night wrote in his report, "the negro male made no statement", and a doctor said Mumia's only sound was a groan when the police kicked him. Two months later (just after Mumia had filed a complaint about police brutality toward him) police released a false story saying Mumia had boasted in the hospital that night of shooting Faulkner. Judge Sabo, a member of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), did not permit a continuation of the trial until that policeman was back from vacation to testify.
Sabo has condemned 32 people to death, twice as many as any other judge in the US, all but two of them people of colour. Eleven of his death sentences have been reversed on appeal.
There are now more than 3000 US citizens on death row, and over 40% of them are people of colour (who are only 12% of the population); like Mumia they are poor and working class. Many, like Mumia, have not committed the crimes they were sentenced for, and were "railroaded" through faulty trials or framed by the police.
Nearly every union, every black group, every human rights, left and progressive group in the US has been working to free Mumia. His list of international supporters includes the European Parliament and the African National Congress. A book of Mumia's writings, Live from Death Row, was published in May by Addison-Wesley. The FOP hired a helicopter to fly around Addison-Wesley's New York office with a banner accusing them of aiding "a convicted cop-killer".

In early June 1995, lawyers for Mumia Abu-Jamal filed a 400-page PCRA application, citing 19 constitutional violations in the 1982 trial, presenting supporting evidence, citing evidence of a police frame-up and asking for a new trial. Shortly before, Pennsylvania Governor Thomas Ridge signed a death warrant for Mumia to be executed on August 17. In a surprise move on August 7, Sabo granted Mumia a stay of execution (observers think it may have been the first such stay Sabo has ever granted).
Mumia supporters are asking people to take to the streets, fax, phone or write to Janet Reno (the attorney general and head of the United States Justice Department), and Chief Justice Robert Nix of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, demanding a new trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal. Their addresses are:
The Honorable Janet Reno, Attorney General of the United States, Tenth & Constitution Ave NW, Room 4400, Washington, DC 20530, USA. Phone: (202) 514-2001 Fax: (202) 514-4371.
Chief Justice Robert Nix, Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Widener Building #500, One South Penn Square, Philadelphia, PA 19107, USA. Phone: (215) 560-3071 Fax: (215) 580-3070
You can send financial support via: International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, PO Box 19709, Philadelphia, PA 19143, USA.
An excellent video, From Death Row This is Mumia Abu-Jamal, which puts his story firmly in the context of the ongoing black struggle for justice in the US, is available from the Partisan Defence Committee, PO Box Q217, QVB, Sydney NSW 2000. Phone (02) 281 2181.
[Barbara Meyer is a member of Canberra Friends of Mumia, c/o Canberra Program for Peace, PO Box 1875, Acton ACT 2601.]

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