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Workers Vanguard No. 861

6 January 2006

Freedom Now for Mumia Abu-Jamal!

We reprint below a speech, edited for publication, by Jonathan Piper of the Partisan Defense Committee at a united-front defense rally in Chicago on October 1. The event was one of a series of rallies initiated by the PDC under the heading “The ‘War on Terror’ Targets Blacks, Immigrants, Labor and Leftists! Fight Government Repression!” The rallies emphasized defense of renowned black journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, an innocent man who has been on death row for close to a quarter of a century, leftist attorney Lynne Stewart and black militant Assata Shakur (see “Fight Government Repression!” WV No. 859, 25 November 2005).

Last month, the federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Pennsylvania put Mumia’s case on a “fast track” for decision. This means that Mumia’s attorneys as well as the Philadelphia district attorney’s office will file their legal papers, and there will be a court decision within a very short period of time, perhaps as soon as six months. The court will be deciding whether to uphold Mumia’s death sentence or to allow him more legal proceedings, including possibly a new trial.

The federal appeals court is not required to consider all of the violations of rights evident in Mumia’s frame-up, conviction and sentencing, during which virtually every right of due process—from the right to an attorney to the right to cross-examine witnesses—was violated. However, the court has allowed three challenges: the racially biased jury selection in Mumia’s 1982 trial, the D.A.’s prejudicial summary argument to the jury falsely stating that Mumia would have “appeal after appeal,” and the grossly biased post-conviction state hearings before Judge Albert Sabo in the 1990s.

That these challenges can even be heard in court is a good development. But these proceedings also put Mumia’s life literally in the balance. This emphasizes with even more urgency the need to mobilize the social power of organized labor and its allies now to fight for Mumia’s freedom.

* * *

Mumia Abu-Jamal, America’s foremost political prisoner, is an innocent man. Yet he is locked away in Pennsylvania’s death row dungeons, even when Arnold Beverly, another man, has confessed that he was the one who shot the police officer in the killing for which Mumia was framed up.

Mumia remains imprisoned despite the mountain of evidence that proves his innocence. America’s capitalist rulers and their courts know that he’s innocent. They want to silence Mumia’s voice because he is a symbol of defiant opposition to their system of exploitation and racist oppression.

Mumia first entered the cops’ cross hairs in the late 1960s. At age 15 he helped found the Black Panther Party chapter in Philadelphia, serving as the Minister of Information for the Philadelphia chapter and as a talented writer for the Black Panther newspaper. He was targeted by the FBI’s notorious COINTELPRO operation of intimidation and assassination. His activism continued throughout the 1970s as an eloquent journalist in Philadelphia, where his championing the cause of the oppressed and exploited led him to be called “the voice of the voiceless.” The cops hated him because he publicized the cases of victims of police brutality, particularly the Philadelphia MOVE organization.

All this time they had been trying to pin something on Mumia, but he had done nothing but journalism and exercising his First Amendment rights. They saw their chance to get him in the early morning hours of 9 December 1981, when Mumia was shot and beaten on the scene where a police officer named Daniel Faulkner had been shot. The Chief Inspector on the scene had been leading the campaign against the Black Panthers back in the ’60s. He knew who Mumia was, and they immediately started to pull out every stop to pin Faulkner’s killing on him. They pulled out the third degree, threatening and coercing witnesses and people who weren’t even there to say that Mumia had shot the cop. The state’s main witness was Cynthia White, a prostitute who was arrested four times between December 9 and the trial six months later. Each time she was arrested the police got her to say something additional against Mumia and then let her go. Yet several other witnesses who knew her confirmed that she was not even there when Mumia or the police officer was shot.

Two months after the shooting, the prosecutor called together all the police officers, looking for something to make a case and got them to come up with a story about how Mumia had “confessed” to the shooting while lying in the emergency room, where he was beaten by police officers. In fact, the officer on guard wrote in his report that night that during this whole time, Mumia made no comments.

What happened at the kangaroo trial in 1982 shows why we say there is no justice in the capitalist courts. Mumia’s trial was presided over by the notorious hanging judge Albert Sabo, who sent more men to death row than any other sitting judge in recent history. A court reporter overheard Sabo during the trial saying, “I’m going to help them fry the n----r.” Mumia was saddled with an incompetent lawyer, with a jury that was rigged to keep blacks off. There was no lie or trick too low for the prosecutor, who argued that Mumia deserved the death penalty because he was a former Black Panther Party member who had quoted Mao Zedong saying, “All power to the people” and “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” This was the argument for why Mumia deserved death, and this shows what the death penalty is all about as a barbaric, racist legacy of the era of chattel slavery.

I joined Mumia’s legal team in 1990, after he lost his first appeal. Rachel Wolkenstein and I, who served as Partisan Defense Committee lawyers, operated with the understanding there is no way that Mumia could win justice out of the capitalist court system. To speak of Mumia ever receiving a “fair trial” only breeds the deadly illusion that there can be justice in the capitalist courts. While fighting to use every possible legal procedure and remedy on Mumia’s behalf, we understood that his real fate lay not in the hands of the hanging judges but in the hands of the masses of the labor movement and the oppressed rallying to his defense.

In 1999, Rachel located the witness Arnold Beverly and secured his written confession that “I was hired, along with another guy, and paid to shoot and kill Faulkner.… Jamal had nothing to do with the shooting.” Not only did Beverly pass a lie detector test, but his confession is completely consistent with all the physical evidence in the case, and with the accounts of numerous eyewitnesses who saw the shooter run away from the scene. And this account of being hired to kill Faulkner is consistent with the fact that there was an FBI investigation right at that time of police running the prostitution rings and taking graft from the late-night clubs in the downtown Philadelphia neighborhood right where this happened. Many officers involved in framing up Mumia in fact were later convicted in the corruption scandals that came out of that. Rachel and I left the defense team in 1999 because Jamal’s lead counsel, the liberal lawyer Leonard Weinglass, and Dan Williams refused to let us bring out the Beverly confession.

This confession, and other evidence of the massive police misconduct, exposed the state’s conscious frame-up of an innocent man. This is “too hot to handle” for the capitalist courts. It proves that this is not some aberration or mistake of a bad judge or a bad jury, but the crystallization of what the capitalist state is all about: committed to preserving the bosses’ property system and the racial oppression on which it rests. Beverly has never been allowed to testify in court, nor has much of the other evidence showing the frame-up been allowed into court. The pretext for denying all this evidence is a rash of laws that were passed in the 1990s to stop death row and other inmates from raising their appeals. The primary measure was the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which was signed by the Democrat Bill Clinton after the Oklahoma City bombing. This underscores how the so-called “war on terror” in fact is a war on black people and labor as well as immigrants.

Now Jamal’s case is in the federal court of appeals. A federal judge has for the time being overturned Mumia’s death sentence, but the Philly prosecutors want to put it back in place. The cops are howling for Mumia’s blood. And even if the death sentence is overturned, Mumia faces the rest of his life buried in prison. We need a renewed effort to win Mumia’s freedom. You need to get involved in this fight if you aren’t already—to raise this case in all arenas, all organizations, most importantly your trade unions. This is the force that can win Mumia’s freedom.

Free Mumia now! Free all class-war prisoners! Abolish the racist death penalty!


Workers Vanguard No. 861

WV 861

6 January 2006


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