Workers Hammer No. 215

Summer 2011


Federal Appeals Court orders new sentencing hearing

Mumia Abu-Jamal is innocent

Free him now!

On 26 April, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit turned down for a second time the Philadelphia district attorney’s appeal to reinstate the death penalty for Mumia Abu-Jamal, a supporter of Philadelphia MOVE and a former Black Panther who was railroaded to death row in 1982 for a crime he did not commit. The court ordered the state of Pennsylvania to convene a new sentencing hearing within 180 days solely to determine whether Mumia should be re-sentenced to death or remain in prison for life. The Philadelphia DA intends to appeal the ruling to the US Supreme Court. Mumia, who has been in prison over half his life, remains on death row.

The Third Circuit ruling came in response to a January 2010 order by the US Supreme Court to consider reinstating Mumia’s death sentence, which had been overturned in 2001. While the new ruling removes the threat of an immediate reimposition of the death sentence, it provides no justice for Mumia, a political prisoner who should never have spent a day in prison. His conviction for the 1981 killing of Police Officer Daniel Faulkner was based on lying testimony extorted by the cops, a “confession” manufactured by the police and prosecutors and phony ballistics “evidence”. His death sentence was secured after prosecutors cited political statements he made as a teenage leader of the Philadelphia Black Panthers. The courts have steadfastly refused to hear the overwhelming evidence of Mumia’s innocence, including Arnold Beverly’s confession that he was the one who shot and killed Faulkner (see the 2007 Partisan Defense Committee fact sheet “Murdered by Mumia: Big Lies in the Service of Legal Lynching”).

At issue in the Third Circuit ruling are the sentencing form and jury instructions at Mumia’s 1982 “trial”, which, the court ruled, did not allow jurors to freely consider mitigating circumstances weighing against a death sentence. While this ruling went against the prosecution, those fighting for Mumia’s freedom must have no illusions in the “fairness” of a legal system that has conspired against Mumia since Day One of his ordeal. The 2001 decision by federal judge William Yohn that overturned Mumia’s death sentence simultaneously upheld every aspect of his frame-up conviction. As for the Supreme Court, its 2009 decision summarily turning down Mumia’s petition to overturn his conviction essentially put an end to his legal efforts to win freedom, consigning him to execution or life in prison hell.

The Spartacist League/US and Partisan Defense Committee, which first took up Mumia’s case in 1987, have always supported the use of every possible legal avenue available to Mumia while fighting against illusions in the courts of the capitalist class enemy. Our fight has centred on the need for mass protest based on the power of the working class in the US and internationally — the one force with the social power to give pause to the capitalists’ legal lynching machine. When Mumia faced a death warrant in the summer of 1995, worldwide protests that included trade unions representing hundreds of thousands of workers played a crucial role in staying the executioner’s hand.

The cops, courts and prosecutors have never let up in their vendetta against Mumia, an award-winning journalist renowned for his searing exposés of cop brutality and racist oppression. Seeking to spike early efforts on Mumia’s behalf, two decades ago a Philly Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) leader railed that Mumia’s supporters were “a misfit terrorist group” that deserved the “electric couch”. In 1995 a mob of cops screaming for Mumia’s execution besieged Philadelphia hospital workers union Local 1199C, which had dared to rent its hall for a fundraiser for Mumia. Just last month, the FOP lashed out at the American Federation of Teachers after its California state affiliate passed a resolution denouncing Mumia’s continued imprisonment and calling for the courts to hear the evidence of his innocence.

In seeking to execute this innocent man, the capitalist rulers are sending a message to the working class and all who would fight against exploitation, oppression and imperialist war that they, too, are in the state’s gun sights. The fight to free Mumia, as with all struggles against racial oppression, can go forward only when they are based on a clear understanding of the class forces involved. Free Mumia now! Abolish the racist death penalty!

Reprinted from Workers Vanguard no 980, 13 May.