Workers Hammer No. 196
Freedom now for Mumia Abu-Jamal!
New legal papers filed
We print below a 1 August statement issued by the Partisan Defense Committee in the US. The fight to free Mumia Abu-Jamal requires the mobilisation of millions in the US and worldwide against the racist American justice system and its barbaric death penalty. In Britain the Spartacist League and the Partisan Defence Committee — a class-struggle legal and social defence organisation associated with the SL — are bringing the campaign to trade unions, to anti-war protests and campuses, striving to make Mumias case known among class-conscious workers, leftists and all those who oppose racist US and British imperialism.
In June the National Union of Journalists, which first took up Mumias cause in 1995, issued a statement declaring that it backs the campaign to free Mumia Abu-Jamal, an award-winning journalist and honorary member of the NUJ and noting that Mumia was convicted of murder and sentenced to die despite the sworn confession of Arnold Beverly admitting the murder. The refusal of the courts to hear the Beverly evidence was noted as well in statements written by the Southwark branch of UNISON, as well as the Tower Hamlets College (Poplar) branch of the college lecturers union NATFHE. Two branches of the RMT — Finsbury Park (London Underground), and the Hull Rail branch — have thus far signed the PDCs internationally distributed statement calling for Mumias freedom. As noted in the statement below, 130 British lawyers including noted civil liberties lawyers Gareth Peirce, Ian Macdonald and Michael Mansfield wrote to the court in July calling for Mumias conviction to be overturned.
On 8 July the Spartacist League and Spartacus Youth Group held a public meeting in London which was addressed by Rachel Wolkenstein, attorney for the PDC (US) and a former member of Mumias legal team. The audience comprised, among others, youth who were attending forums in the area at the Socialist Workers Partys (SWP) Marxism 2006 event, as well as trade unionists who had attended a conference nearby of UNISONs black workers section.
Wolkensteins talk, like those she has given throughout the US and in France since last February, presented in detail the evidence of Mumias innocence and the conscious racist frame-up by cops, courts and prosecutors, designed to uphold the capitalist rulers interests. In response to a question from the floor about whether we should fight for a new trial, Wolkenstein said, We cannot operate on the basis that [Mumia] will get a legal remedy absent mass mobilisation, pressure put on the courts of the only sort that the courts will listen to, which is some sort of social and class struggle.
As our leaflet for the meeting noted: The British state may not have an official legal death penalty today, but it kills: Army/RUC collusion with Loyalist death squads in Northern Ireland, including in the murders of Catholic solicitors Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson, is not aberrant misconduct but the very essence of the capitalist states modus operandi. In mobilising for Mumias freedom, we fight to bring the understanding that his case exposes the essence of the capitalist state, which is the bourgeoisies machinery for the violent suppression of the workers and oppressed in order to maintain their own class rule. That state machinery cannot be reformed, but must be overthrown through socialist revolution. This must be understood by those who oppose the colonial occupation of Iraq, the British governments backing for the slaughter in Lebanon, and its witchhunt of Muslims in the war on terror at home. We urge all who would fight the bloody rampages of the US imperialists and their staunchest ally, Tony Blair, to unite in a battle to free Mumia, Americas foremost class-war prisoner.
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The fight to free Mumia Abu-Jamal is at a critical juncture. A prize-winning journalist, former Black Panther Party spokesman, supporter of the MOVE organisation and defiant opponent of racist state terror, Mumia was railroaded to death row in 1982 on false charges of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. On 20 July, Mumia filed his opening legal brief in the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia, which last December put his case on a fast track for decision. The forces of the capitalist state have long been determined to carry out Mumias legal lynching as a warning to those who challenge racist cop repression, to fighters against US imperialist depredations, to workers who stand up for their rights on the picket lines. The Partisan Defense Committee — a legal and social defence organisation associated with the Marxist Spartacist League — calls on all opponents of racist injustice, and in particular the labour movement, to mobilise for freedom now for Mumia!
Mumias life is in grave danger. The court is expected to rule in a matter of months whether he will live, die or have further legal proceedings. Both Mumia and the prosecution are appealing a 2001 ruling by US District Court judge William Yohn, who overturned Mumias death sentence but upheld every aspect of his frame-up conviction. The Third Circuit has refused to hear any evidence of Mumias innocence and has only allowed him to challenge three of the more than two dozen constitutional violations in his case. For more than five years, state and federal courts have refused to hear the sworn confession of Arnold Beverly that he, not Mumia, shot and killed Daniel Faulkner. In an affidavit reprinted in the PDC pamphlet The Fight to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal — Mumia Is Innocent!, Beverly says that he was hired to kill Faulkner, who was reportedly interfering with prostitution, gambling, drugs and police payoffs, and that Jamal had nothing to do with the shooting.
The courts have suppressed the Beverly evidence because it demonstrates that the injustice done to Mumia was not the work of one rogue cop, prosecutor or judge but the workings of a justice system whose purpose is to repress the working class, minorities and the poor on behalf of the capitalist ruling class. The fight to free Mumia must be waged on the basis that he is an innocent man, the victim of a political and racist frame-up. The need to mobilise around this understanding is underscored by the fact that Beverlys confession and other proof of Mumias innocence — including the suppression and coercion of eyewitnesses by police and prosecutors and their fabrication, some two months after his arrest, of a phony confession by Mumia — cannot even get a hearing in the capitalist courts.
The Beverly confession has been derided by liberals like the writer Dave Lindorff and all but ignored by reformist left organisations. Many liberals object to Mumias treatment in the courts but see it as at most an aberration in an otherwise fair and just legal system, and they regard the idea that the cops would frame up an innocent man as absurd. But to see that such frame-ups are routine procedure requires looking no further than a special prosecutors report released on 19 July, which examines nearly 150 cases in which Chicago cops used electroshock, suffocation and torture to beat bogus confessions out of black suspects. Although the Chicago report is mainly a damage-control job, it nonetheless confirms that there was widespread torture and that police brass knew about it and gave a commendation to the cops who were doing it. It was well-documented at the time of Mumias trial that the Philly police used similar methods.
Mumias frame-up was not only racist — it was politically driven as well. The police and FBI had Mumia in their sights since his Black Panther youth and continued their vendetta as he became known as the voice of the voiceless for his searing commentaries on racism, poverty and repression — a role Mumia continues to play through his writings from death row.
The three issues covered in Mumias new brief point to the racist and political bias that saturated his trial and appeals, proving that Mumia, like Dred Scott in 1857, has no rights that a court is bound to respect. One issue is the racist bias of the late hanging judge Albert Sabo, a member of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) who presided over Mumias 1982 trial and again at his post-conviction (PCRA) hearings in the 1990s. The court filings highlight a 2001 affidavit of court reporter Terri Maurer-Carter, who disclosed that at the time of the trial she overheard Sabo say, Im going to help them fry the n----r. During the 1995 PCRA hearings, Sabo routinely quashed Mumias subpoenas, sustained prosecution objections and found all of Mumias witnesses incredible. Sabo jailed PDC attorney Rachel Wolkenstein, then a member of Mumias legal team, and told another defence lawyer, Counselor, justice is just an emotional feeling.
The brief also exposes the prosecutors racist jury-rigging at the trial. Excluding black jurors was an official policy of the Philadelphia District Attorneys office, codified in a 1987 training video directing prosecutors to strike blacks from the low-income areas from juries because they have a resentment for law enforcement. Statistical studies prove that this was the practice throughout the 1980s. Mumias brief documents that for his trial a black persons odds of being struck were ten times higher than someone who is white (emphasis in original).
Mumias third challenge strikes at the prosecutions outrageous closing argument that the jury should err on the side of convicting Mumia because he would have appeal after appeal. This argument blatantly erased the reasonable doubt standard, telling the jury that in case of doubt they should convict Mumia. Mumias brief also responds to the prosecutions own appeal of Judge Yohns 2001 ruling, which seeks to reverse the overturning of Mumias death sentence. Yohn found the sentence to be unconstitutional because the sentencing form and jury instructions did not allow jurors to freely consider all the mitigating circumstances weighing against a death sentence. Yet Mumia has remained on death row this entire time.
Mumias case is what the death penalty is all about. It is a legacy of chattel slavery and the ultimate weapon in the governments arsenal of repression aimed at the working class and oppressed. The capitalist rulers want to see Mumia dead because they see in him the spectre of black revolution, a voice of defiant opposition to their system of racist oppression. Acting as their spearhead is the FOP, which has tried to intimidate Mumias supporters at every step.
On 19 July, the day before Mumia filed his court brief, more than 130 British lawyers released a letter to the court calling to overturn his conviction. Their letter emphasises that the courts blatant bias against Mumia must be seen in the light of the Katrina hurricane disaster in New Orleans, when television viewers in every country of the world witnessed an unparalleled display of racism on a massive scale, allowed (some would say enabled) by the US government. The National Lawyers Guild and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund will be filing amicus (friend of court) briefs on Mumias behalf.
The frame-up of Mumia Abu-Jamal is an object lesson in the class character of the capitalist state — centrally the cops, courts, prisons and military — which is an apparatus of violence used to preserve bourgeois rule by suppressing the working class and oppressed. An international movement of millions stayed the executioners hand in 1995 after Mumias first death warrant was issued. But that movement was systematically demobilised by reformist organisations that tailored their appeals to the liberal mainstream, to those who saw in Mumias case a miscarriage of justice that could be remedied if only he got a new, fair trial. As Rachel Wolkenstein stated earlier this year, in a talk printed in The Fight to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal:
This meant tying Mumias defense to what Democratic Party politicians would accept, like the need for a new trial to clean up the image created by Sabos indisputably racially biased trial and PCRA proceeding. This meant denying the truth about the capitalist state and its vendetta against black militants, the COINTELPRO targeting of Mumia, the murderous attacks on the MOVE organization.
Appealing to the mainstream also meant ambiguity on the question of Mumias innocence — on whether he lives or dies, is entombed for life or goes free — so long as there is a new trial. It meant rejecting the very reasons that millions around the globe had taken up Mumias cause: revulsion with the injustices inherent in capitalism — poverty, racial and ethnic bias, war. There was broad identification with Mumias fight against the system and for justice for all of humanity.
Every legal remedy must be pursued on Mumias behalf. But Mumia himself told the French Communist Partys newspaper LHumanité (25 April) that he had very little hope in a favorable decision by the Third Circuit court. Since first taking up Mumias cause in 1987, the PDC has warned against any illusions in bourgeois justice, placing all our faith in mobilising the social power of the working class and the oppressed in defence of Mumia. If successful, the fight for Mumias freedom would, as Wolkenstein stated in her talk, strike a blow against the governments anti-terror campaign and the evisceration of democratic rights. It would give labor a sense of its own power. The fight for Mumia is the fight for black liberation, for the liberation of us all, part of the struggle for socialist revolution.
We must mobilise now to make Mumias fight once again a rallying cry against racist legal lynching, against black oppression, against government repression. Free Mumia! Abolish the racist death penalty!