Workers Hammer No. 217
Mumia Abu-Jamal is innocent — free him now!
Drive to execute Mumia halted
The following article is reprinted from Workers Vanguard no 993, 6 January 2012.
After 29 years and 363 days, Mumia Abu-Jamal no longer lives under the executioner’s shadow. On 7 December, Philadelphia district attorney Seth Williams announced that his office was dropping efforts to execute America’s foremost class-war prisoner. While this brings to an end a legal lynching campaign that began with Mumia’s arrest and false conviction for the 1981 killing of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, Mumia remains condemned to spend the rest of his life in prison with no chance of parole, despite overwhelming evidence of his innocence.
In a recent letter to the Partisan Defense Committee, Mumia aptly characterised his new home at the Mahanoy Correctional Institution in Frackville, PA, as “‘slow’ Death Row”. A Black Panther Party leader in his youth and later an award-winning journalist, Mumia has spent over 40 years fighting for the oppressed. He must not be forgotten and left to rot in prison hell! Trade unionists, radical youth and fighters for black rights must demand: Freedom now for Mumia Abu-Jamal!
The state forces that have tried for decades to silence this powerful voice for the oppressed are certainly not going to forget him. Appearing with Williams when he made his announcement were prosecutors who helped railroad Mumia to death row, officials of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), long the spearhead of the drive to execute him, and FOP mouthpiece Maureen Faulkner, the slain policeman’s widow. Spewing the venomous racism that has motivated the persecution of Mumia, Faulkner described him as a “seething animal” and ranted, “I am heartened by the thought that he will finally be taken from the protected cloister he has been living in all these years and begin living among his own kind; the thugs and common criminals that infest our prisons”. This is the voice of the cops who stop and throw black youth against the wall for “walking while black”, who have consigned generations of young blacks and Latinos to prison hell in the “war on drugs”, who carry out street executions with impunity.
For Mumia, being “cloistered” on death row the past 30 years has meant confinement almost 24 hours a day in an eight-by-twelve-foot cell, severe limits on phone calls, separation from visitors by thick Plexiglas and, until recently, being manacled during visits. Mumia has been unable to embrace his wife Wadiya or bounce grandchildren on his knee. In 1985, Mumia learned that the Philly cops and the Feds, on orders from black Democratic mayor Wilson Goode, firebombed the Osage Avenue home of his comrades in the predominantly black MOVE back-to-nature commune, killing eleven people, including five children. A little over a decade later, Mumia saw his son Jamal Hart railroaded to prison for 15 years by the Clinton administration on bogus gun-possession charges—retaliation for Hart’s prominent activism on his father’s behalf. Until Jamal Hart’s release last year, prison regs even prohibited Mumia and his son from corresponding with one another.
As described in a 10 December 2011 Partisan Defense Committee statement, Mumia is an innocent man who was subjected to a racist and political frame-up. For three decades, police, prosecutors and government officials of both the Democratic and Republican parties have been screaming for Mumia’s head. From the right-wing tabloids to the Philadelphia Inquirer and New York Times, newsrooms across the country have treated the prosecution’s lying account of Faulkner’s killing as gospel.
Court after court has refused to even consider the massive amount of evidence proving Mumia’s innocence. In 2001, Mumia’s attorneys presented in state and federal courts the sworn confession of Arnold Beverly that “I was hired, along with another guy, and paid to shoot and kill Faulkner. I had heard that Faulkner was a problem for the mob and corrupt policemen because he interfered with the graft and payoffs made to allow illegal activity including prostitution, gambling, drugs without prosecution in the center city area.” At the time of Faulkner’s killing, the Philadelphia police were under three corruption investigations by the Feds, encompassing virtually the entire chain of command that oversaw the “investigation” of Faulkner’s death.
First taking up Mumia’s defence in 1987, the PDC and the Spartacist League made his case known to a wide range of death penalty abolitionists, student groups, black activists and the labour movement through publicity and protest. From the beginning, we have fought for the understanding that the power of labour must be brought to bear to win Mumia’s freedom. Indeed, it was an outpouring of protest internationally including trade unionists that helped win a stay of execution for Mumia in August 1995.
Mumia had become a central focus of the fight to abolish the racist death penalty. His black skin and meagre means are the demographic of most of those selected for death row. At the same time, Mumia’s radical political activism incensed the bourgeoisie. And with Faulkner’s shooting, the cops and prosecutors saw the opportunity to place Mumia in the company of executed labour militants and radicals — from the Haymarket martyrs in 1887 to Joe Hill and Sacco and Vanzetti early last century.
As Marxists, we oppose the barbaric institution of capital punishment on principle — for the guilty as well as the innocent. The death penalty is the ultimate sanction of a “justice” system that is not only stacked against workers and the poor but also, in a society founded on slavery and maintained on a bedrock of black oppression, racist to its core. The manifest unfairness of Mumia’s trial, the racist and political motivation for his conviction and sentence, the outrageously biased court proceedings — all provided a focus for death penalty abolitionists. Most compelling and magnetic, however, was the voice of the man known as the “voice of the voiceless”. Mumia’s incisive, compassionate and compelling commentaries from death row, which appeared in black press across the country, inspired thousands upon thousands to demand that such a man not be executed. Mumia’s writings spoke as well to the humanity of those he encountered behind prison walls and on death row.
While placing no faith in the rigged “justice” of the capitalist courts, we have also advocated pursuing all possible legal proceedings on Mumia’s behalf. The legal issue that removed Mumia from death row was the unconstitutional jury instructions issued at his 1982 trial, which did not allow jurors to freely consider mitigating circumstances weighing against a death sentence. This issue was first raised in a 1990 legal memo by PDC attorney Jonathan Piper to Steven Hawkins of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, then part of the legal team. This was the basis of a 2001 decision by Judge William Yohn, who overturned Mumia’s death sentence while upholding his frame-up conviction. After the Supreme Court in October let stand Yohn’s ruling, which mandated a new sentencing hearing, the DA’s office called a halt to the execution drive.
It has been many years since thousands took to the streets for Mumia. Now, as the PDC declared in its 10 December statement, “the state authorities hope with the latest decision that Mumia’s cause will be forgotten and that he will rot in prison hell until he dies. This must not be Mumia’s fate”. In 1927, James P Cannon, the first national secretary of the International Labor Defense, warned of the lessons of the cases of Tom Mooney and Warren Billings, labour leaders falsely accused of murder in 1916. In 1918, Mooney’s death sentence was commuted to life in prison, the same sentence as Billings’. Cannon wrote:
“The workers who had rallied to Mooney and Billings were soothed by the sinister argument that imprisonment for life was, in any event, better than execution. They were told that we would have to be satisfied for the while with one victory, and that the final release of the two fighters would be won later. But after ten years there remain only a few who still keep alive the memory of these buried men and who are pledged to continue the work for their freedom.”
— Labor Defender, July 1927
The frame-up of Mumia Abu-Jamal was not some aberration in American “justice” but the workings of a legal system that defends the rule and profits of the capitalist class through repression of the working class and oppressed minorities. Following the Philly DA’s decision, the New York Times (12 December 2011) ran an editorial demanding that the state of Pennsylvania now move to abolish its death penalty. The liberals at the Times have long opposed capital punishment while favouring life without parole as a “humane” — and more frugal — alternative. While the editorial was titled “The Abu-Jamal Case”, it pointedly said nothing about Mumia’s case beyond the issue of improper jury instructions. The hard truth of Mumia’s case — the frame-up of and death sentence for an innocent black man who stood out as an eloquent opponent of racist US imperialism — cuts too close to the bone of what the capitalist state is all about.
For the liberals, removing Mumia from the sanction of death vindicates their belief in the ideal of American justice. But in no way can this be seen as just. In continuing to publicise Mumia’s case and pursue the fight for his freedom, we seek to imbue the multiracial working class with the understanding that it must destroy the monstrous, racist machinery of capitalist repression root and branch and erect in its place a workers state, in which those who labour rule.