Workers Vanguard No. 913
25 April 2008
From Death Row, This Is Mumia Abu-Jamal
When Courts Go Wrong
We’re often surprised when courts get it wrong, but why?
It’s because we expect them to get it right—and therein lies the surprise.
For, if history is any judge, we should all be surprised when they get it right. For courts are political institutions, and politics is rarely about right or wrong; it’s about power. As in who has it; and who doesn’t.
Courts were set up to protect the wealth and property of the powerful, not the powerless; and any honest reading of legal history leads one back to that conclusion.
Here in this country courts were places for slavemasters, not slaves, and the words of a “justice” of the North Carolina Supreme Court, Thomas Ruffin, are instructive as he illustrates what underpins the law in 1829: “The power of the master must be absolute, to render the submission of the slave perfect
As a principle of moral right, every person in his retirement must repudiate it. But in the actual condition of things it must be so.”*
Most of us have heard of the infamous Dred Scott (1857) case, but how many of us know that a generation before Dred was decided, a Pennsylvania Supreme Court opinion said essentially the same things? In Hobbs v. Fogg (1837) the state’s highest court ruled that Blacks were not party to the Constitution, and therefore couldn’t vote.
And although Dred Scott became a cause for war, by war’s end, it was the courts, in cases like Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) that upheld racial segregation, discrimination and oppression against Black people—even in stark violation of the words in the Constitution.
We like to think of this as ancient history; then—not now. But these are the very foundation stones upon which America was built.
My father was born one year after Plessy was decided, and he lived almost all his life under its cruel restrictions.
The law has only moved when people organized to make it so. As that great abolitionist, freedom-fighter, and rabble-rouser, Frederick Douglass has taught, “Power concedes nothing without demand
. It never has—and never will
Social movements in the streets brought an end to Plessy, not lawsuits.
People, organized, shook the status quo, not neat words typed on crisp white paper.
When people organize, they make change.
5 April 2008
©2008 Mumia Abu-Jamal
[*Source: Aptheker, Herbert, American Negro Slave Revolts (New York: International Publ., 1943 ), p. 66]
Send urgently needed contributions for Mumia’s legal defense, made payable to “National Lawyers Guild Foundation” and earmarked for “Mumia,” to: Committee to Save Mumia Abu-Jamal, P.O. Box 2012, New York, NY 10159.
If you wish to correspond with Mumia, you can write to: Mumia Abu-Jamal, AM8335, SCI Greene, 175 Progress Drive, Waynesburg, PA 15370.