Political journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal is facing execution in the state of Pennsylvania in what could become the most explicitly political legal slaying since the 1953 execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for espionage.
Committees for the release of Abu-Jamal in Australia, the US, Europe, Japan, Canada and Mexico are urgently increasing their efforts following the election of Republican Tom Ridge as governor of Pennsylvania. Ridge won the January 17 poll on a pro-death penalty platform and has pledged to begin signing death warrants against the state's 170 death row prisoners.
Abu-Jamal has been on death row since 1982. He is a former Black Panther and a supporter of the black alternative lifestyle movement, MOVE. He had seriously antagonised the local police and political establishment through his courageous reporting of the persecution of radical black groups in the Philadelphia area on radio and in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Abu-Jamal refused to vilify the radical black organisation MOVE in its confrontations with city authorities and police during the late '70s and early '80s and was prepared to allow its side of the story to be told. Senior police and city officials went so far as to blame police-MOVE confrontations on "a new breed of advocacy journalism".
Abu-Jamal was working nights as a taxi driver in 1981. Late on December 9, he came upon police officer Daniel Faulkner beating up his brother and intervened. Faulkner drew his gun and shot Abu-Jamal. Other cops arrived and began beating the wounded journalist. Abu-Jamal was taken to hospital, where he was again beaten. In the melee, someone on the scene shot Daniel Faulkner dead.
Despite the fact that police ballistics experts could not match the two bullets that felled Faulkner to the gun Abu-Jamal always carried in his cab, Abu-Jamal was charged with murder.
Abu-Jamal came before "hanging judge" Albert Sabo, a retired member of the Fraternal Order of Police, who has the distinction of having sentenced more people to death than any other judge in the US. The jury had just one black member. A white juror was empanelled even though he said he already knew Abu-Jamal was guilty.
The prosecution's eyewitness had three charges pending against her at the time of the trial, and rumours circulating at the time said that her boyfriend had been released from jail in return for her testimony. Two other witnesses described the person who killed Faulkner as having an Afro and weighing over 90 kilos; Abu-Jamal wears dreadlocks and is slight in stature.
Abu-Jamal's court-appointed lawyer had never tried a capital case before and was given a budget of just $150 to prove his client's innocence. He failed to expose the contradictions of police evidence and testimony.
In July 1982, the prosecutor secured the death sentence with the argument that Abu-Jamal should be condemned to death on the basis of his association with the Black Panthers. His use the slogan "power to the people" proved he was a "cop killer"! In March 1989 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected Abu-Jamal's last state appeal, and in October 1991 the US Supreme Court refused to review his conviction and sentence.
Australian supporters of Mumia Abu-Jamal are holding a rally in Sydney to demand that his life be saved and the death penalty in the US be abolished. The rally will be on Thursday, February 9, 7pm, in the Council Room, AFMEU Building, 136-140 Chalmers St, Surry Hills. For more information phone Neil Florrimell on (02) 281 2181.