Workers Vanguard No. 913
25 April 2008
Mumia Abu-Jamal Radio Interview
Frederick Douglass Taught Us That Power Concedes Nothing Without a Demand
The following interview with Mumia Abu-Jamal by Prisoners of Conscience Committee (POCC) Block Report Radio was aired on the Flashpoints program of Berkeley’s KPFA on April 7. It was transcribed by the Partisan Defense Committee on April 15. For the audio link, go to http://www.partisandefense.org/media/Mumia-Flashpoints.mp3.
Minister of Information JR: Today we will be talking to political prisoner of 26 years, Mumia Abu-Jamal, about his response to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals’ denial of him a trial, in his first interview about the situation since it has happened.
JR: To kick it off, Mumia, we recently suffered a setback in this Third Circuit Court of Appeals decision. What is your response and how do you look at the situation at this juncture?
Mumia Abu-Jamal: Well, I’ve learned over the years to always look at oral arguments with a degree of skepticism. This has only reinforced that opinion. Years ago, many years ago, in 1987, it may have been, when we were in front of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, several of my lawyers at that time, they came back to me after the oral arguments and they were effusive because they heard how angry the justices were at the Philadelphia D.A.'s office, and they heard the questions and they heard the answers and they were like, "Ah, ah, this is great, Mumia."
Now, this was early, but I held on to my skepticism. You learn that after many years in prison, but also many years in politics, especially black revolutionary politics. And this really was more of the same.
A reporter who looked at the case called it the “Mumia exception.” The fact of the matter is, it’s not the Mumia exception; it’s the “Mumia rule” because this has happened before, so we shouldn't be surprised.
JR: I know there's some people out here who have been calling it a victory. Can you explain how it is not a victory but a setback?
MAJ: Well, if it was a victory, it’s a tiny, small victory, but not a victory. If you look at what the court said and what they did: what they did is, they made up new rules. You see, that is not a victory. That is, again, the Mumia rule. The same thing that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court did. For people who do know and who’ve read legal cases, there is a case called Commonwealth v. Baker. It was decided in 1986. I know that the Internet is out there so it enables people to do a lot more research in ways that were difficult to do many years ago. But if you look up Commonwealth v. Baker, decided by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 1986, and you read the argument that got him off of death row, and then read that same argument made by the same prosecutor, in front of the same judge, in the same courthouse, if not the same room, and then see how the Pennsylvania Supreme Court created a new rule in Abu-Jamal, and then reinstated the old rule several years later. So it’s the “Mu rule” once again. When a court has to make up new rules and make up new laws to uphold something that was unjust before, that’s not a victory. It’s not a victory. But we struggle on.
Fred Hampton Jr: Right on, brother. Ona MOVE. Free ’em all.
JR: What's up Fred Jr?
FHJ: Same struggle, different round, again, as always it’s inspiring to hear you, brother.
MAJ: And you. I saw you actually on PBS about three or four nights ago.
FHJ: Oh yeah?
MAJ: Yeah, you were speaking with a group of young kids on a bus.
FHJ: Okay, yeah, yeah, I know exactly what program you're talking about. Right on. We’re trying to get the word out through every venue possible, you know?
MAJ: That’s exactly what you said.
FHJ: Yes indeed, yes indeed. We’re clear that we’ve got to continue to reiterate the fact that we’ve got to do our thing out here on the streets throughout the world. It’s going to take the pressure from the people to get the desired results, but what tactics do you think that we can tweak, or what should we really touch on or really stress, again upping the ante about this campaign?
MAJ: I think you really hit the nail on the head. I think many people, even people who consider themselves radicals and revolutionaries, got caught sleeping for a moment. I mean, they either heard about or they were present at or they read about the oral arguments, and they said, “Whoa! He’s got that.”
Let me tell you a story, if I may, that a friend of mine, who is a lawyer, told me several days ago. This was in Pittsburgh, and it was a conference, a discussion given by a very well-known black capital-case lawyer, who is from Alabama. His name is Bryan Stevenson, and he was speaking to a group opposed to the death penalty generally, but also students and law students and other people. And he gave his speech and it was very nicely received, and at the end people got up and asked questions. Well someone got up and said, “Well, what do you think about Mumia?” And the guy says, “Ah, don’t worry about that, he’s got a new trial.” And as fate would have it about five minutes before he said that, someone received a text message. It was around 11 o’clock in the morning on the 27th, and they received a text message telling them what the Third Circuit had done. And this is a guy who is a recognized expert, not just in capital case law but in the Law. He is a famed lawyer. So having read the cases and read the briefs, he was sure, you see, but he was wrong. Because, even lawyers who are very smart and very good, what they don’t factor in is politics in the law. What they don’t factor in is personality in the law. What they don’t factor in is the power of the law to change itself like a chameleon. And many people who are very well-informed or radical or even revolutionary, for a moment, for a moment, said this is good, because what they heard, or what they read, or what they saw at oral arguments gave them the belief that this would be different. Well we’ve learned otherwise haven’t we? So we go back to basics.
I'm not going to tell people what to do or how to organize. They know how to do that. They need to trust in their own instincts. I believe in the people. I’ve always believed in it since I was a very young teenager. And the people never let you down. I mean, they do what’s right because they know in their hearts what’s right. And I commend them for it.
I just did a piece, yesterday, about how we have a history that we forget about sometimes. A history of the courts being on the side of repression, being on the side, not of freedom, but of enslavement, literally. That’s what Dred Scott is all about. If you look at Plessy v. Ferguson, that’s what that was all about.
A lot of people still believe that Brown v. Board of Education changed everything. Well it changed some things for some people. If you're well to do and your parent is a lawyer or a doctor or a professor or something like that, then you're OK. You still have problems but you're OK. You have the resources to take care of your family and do what you have to do to live a very good life, one that your parents or grandparents couldn’t even think of. But if you’re black and poor in this society, things have not really changed for you. In fact, in many ways they’ve gotten worse. I mean we talk about Brown v. Board of Education, decided in, what, 1955, 1953, which ended segregation in law in the United States. But I went to high school in the ’60s in a segregated school. I’d been in a segregated elementary school, a segregated junior high school. The only real integration I received in my schooling was in summer school or in college. And the same schools that I went to as a kid are not very different for people who would be the age of my grandkids or teenagers today. Segregation in law is one thing; segregation in real life is another. So we have to remember what we know and act on what we know. Remember what the elder, Frederick Douglass, taught us: that power concedes nothing without a demand.
FHJ: This has been addressed on a number of occasions, by you and so many other forces. But could you state to us what the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, what it represents? And why we have every apparatus from rappers being reprimanded when they try to speak about you in their videos, to certain media outlets being reprimanded, to even the fact that the Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, on his page five of denial of clemency for Stanley Tookie Williams, he pointed out the fact that Stanley Tookie Williams identified with such forces as Field Marshal George Jackson and including Mumia Abu-Jamal. What you represent—is it a symbol? What Mumia Abu-Jamal, what it represents—could you state that for us?
MAJ: I think for many people, especially for those in the establishment, I represent, in many ways, their greatest nightmare, because for many people who don’t know, who have not lived…
VOICE: This call is from the State Correctional Institution at Greene and is subject to monitoring and recording.
MAJ: …in that period and they don’t know about the Black Panther Party and the black liberation movement. They may know tangentially about the civil rights movement. They think that everything is hunky-dory and nice now. Those people who live it, know it, they know otherwise. They know that the life of a black person in the ghetto or the life of a brown person in the barrio today, is unmitigated hell. They’re still fighting for their 40 acres and two mules because they ain’t got nothing. And on top of that they have the contempt of the black bourgeoisie which is now married with the contempt of the political class. But what they fear is black…
VOICE: You have 60 seconds remaining.
MAJ: …What they fear is the black revolution reigniting, you see, and that’s why we have the present politics we have, the politics of acquiescence where black people are apologizing for what their preachers tell them in church. And that used to be one of the few sites where people could speak about freedom, could speak truth to power. Now it has to be politically watered down so that outsiders, people who have never been in a black church, are going to dictate…
VOICE: You have 30 seconds remaining.
MAJ: …what black people listen to, it’s madness. Ona MOVE.
FHJ: Ona MOVE. Free ’em all. You hear that clamor out there in different languages from Scandinavia to Africa and all throughout the world. That loud noise is to let them know that people out there are saying, “Free Mumia Abu-Jamal! Free ’em all!”
MAJ: Give my love and tell ’em Ona MOVE!
FHJ: Ona MOVE!
MAJ: Thank you all!
FHJ: Thank you!
JR: You were just listening to the voice of political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal as he responded for the first time publicly to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals decision to not grant him a trial. We are asking our listeners to get involved in the Free Mumia campaign now because your help is needed in getting this former Black Panther out of the cross hairs of the United States government who wants to kill this freedom fighter and prolific journalist who many know as the voice of the voiceless. This is the Minister of Information JR and Chairman Fred Hampton Jr on POCC Block Report Radio signing off.