Workers Vanguard No. 883

5 January 2007


Mobilize Labor's Power to Free Mumia Now!

The following speech, edited for publication, was delivered by the Partisan Defense Committee’s Erica Williamson at an October 28 Harlem rally called by the PDC and the New York Labor Black League for Social Defense under the slogans: “Free Mumia now! Mumia is an innocent man! Mumia Abu-Jamal’s life is in danger—Mobilize now! Abolish the racist death penalty!”

Being that we’re here for a rally, I’d like to start off with some chants. Free Mumia now! Abolish the racist death penalty! An injury to one is an injury to all—Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!

The PDC and the Labor Black League sponsored this rally to bring together in defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal speakers and organizations across the spectrum of political beliefs, raising their own views on this vital case and how to fight to win. And this rally is just one part of that struggle.

We rally today because Mumia Abu-Jamal’s life is in grave danger. For 25 years our courageous class brother has been rotting away in the bourgeois jails and on death row—this is criminal. Mumia’s fight for freedom has reached a critical juncture. In December of last year, the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals put Mumia’s case on what they call a “fast track” for decision and is considering three constitutional challenges relating to his frame-up trial and PCRA [Post-Conviction Relief Act] hearing. But the bottom line is: we are down to the wire. This is likely to be Mumia’s last round of legal appeals, and a new execution date could be set by the end of this year.

Mumia’s case has “frame-up” written all over it. Witnesses were bought and terrorized, Mumia’s “confession” was fabricated, and ballistics evidence was invented. The courts have refused to hear the evidence of Mumia’s innocence and the sworn confession of Arnold Beverly that he shot Police Officer Faulkner, for whose killing Mumia was intentionally framed up and convicted. To say that all of Mumia’s court hearings, appearances and trial were a sham would be an understatement—it was nothing but a legal lynching. If Mumia is to be freed, it will take the mobilization of the masses, centrally labor, to champion his cause in outrage and on the basis that this was a case of a political frame-up through and through.

Mumia is on death row for having been a leader of the Black Panther Party, a MOVE supporter, an eloquent and effective critic of racist oppression. When we first took up Mumia’s defense, we described the cops’ attempt to kill him, and the frame-up conviction, as the long arm of COINTELPRO reaching into the courtroom. Under the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover’s Counter-Intelligence Program, or COINTELPRO, 38 Panthers were killed nationwide and hundreds railroaded to jail. I want to underscore the point that Mumia’s visible leadership role within the Black Panther Party, his high-profile journalist position and his support for MOVE all took place within the very short period of ten years. Mumia was well known. The same police officers who targeted the Black Panther Party for destruction led the attacks on the MOVE organization. Mumia’s involvement in the Black Panther Party was used by the prosecution to try to prove that the killing of Officer Faulkner was premeditated and as a basis for his death penalty sentence.

Nine hundred pages of heavily redacted files that the PDC retrieved from the FBI—and this is not all they had but all they released to us—prove that they had begun watching Mumia on a daily basis from the time he was 15 years old and in high school. From the time he was a teenager he was on the Security Index, which was the secret “terrorist” list of the time. Mumia was also on the ADEX list, which was a list of people who were to be taken into detention and put into concentration camps in the event of a “national emergency.”

Mumia was in the gun sights of the FBI and the Philly cops, targeted for his ability to speak and write. Today, according to the government, some 300,000 names are on its “terrorist” list. Anyone who is perceived as an opponent of the government can be deemed an “enemy combatant” and simply disappeared, without charges, without trial. The fight to free Mumia comes within the context of increased bipartisan attacks on civil liberties and the frame-up conviction and sentencing of leftist lawyer Lynne Stewart to 28 months and her co-defendants Mohamed Yousry to 20 months and Ahmed Abdel Sattar to an outrageous 24 years. What the U.S. capitalist rulers get away with will largely depend on the level of social and class struggle in this society.

Racist Rulers Want to Silence Mumia

The execution of death penalty abolitionist and former gang leader Stanley Tookie Williams less than a year ago was a signal that the racist rulers want Mumia dead next. The recent attacks by this administration on habeas corpus—which is our right to challenge evidence against us—helps to further nail the coffin in which they want to entomb Mumia. His fate cannot be left up to the same capitalist state that has worked hard for decades to see him dead.

Millions around the world took up Mumia’s case in revulsion against the injustices inherent in capitalism—poverty, racial and ethnic bias, inequality and war. The injustices that animated Mumia and a generation of black radical activists still exist today. Many people identify with Mumia’s fight against the “system” and for justice for all humanity. And as a journalist and radio talk show host in Philadelphia, Mumia had a broad and captive audience. And he still speaks out in his essays and radio recordings, “Live from Death Row.” In Mumia, the capitalist rulers see a threat and the spectre of black revolution. They want to silence him for good, as a message and signal to us all of what’s in store when you stand up against this racist capitalist system.

A common question I hear in regard to Mumia’s case is: why would the courts exclude the evidence of his innocence, why continue the frame-up? Well, the courts do not sit in judgment and rule in isolation. The courts, like the cops, the D.A.s, military and police, are all a part of the capitalist state, whose role is to keep the working class and the oppressed in their place through its laws and brute force. Their interest lies with the capitalist class and in protecting the wealth of the ruling elite.

There are numerous lessons in how there is no justice in the capitalist courts. Mumia’s case is one grotesque example of the injustices that exist every day under the capitalist legal system. Just ask the inhabitants of the ghettos and barrios who are rounded up to fill up America’s prison hellholes under the auspices of the “war on drugs,” a bogus and racist war akin to the so-called “war on terror.” Black people are five times as likely as whites to go to jail. An estimated 12 percent of young black men were incarcerated last year. And this translates into an even more astonishing incarceration rate over the course of a lifetime, with nearly a third of all black men in America imprisoned at some point. And although black people make up 12 percent of the population, they account for 42 percent of current death row inmates.

We do not accord the state the right to determine who shall live and who shall die. The death penalty is the ultimate form of institutionalized state terror and murder, and it has been and will be used to intimidate, and in some cases eliminate, those who challenge racist American capitalism. In the U.S., the death penalty is the legacy of chattel slavery and is Jim Crow lynch law made legal. Mumia’s case demonstrates what the death penalty is all about. There is a concerted effort by all wings of the capitalist class—represented by both the Democratic and Republican parties—to see Mumia executed. We must fight to abolish the racist death penalty, not just for Mumia but on principle!

No Illusions in the Capitalist Courts!

While all legal proceedings and legal remedies should be pursued on Mumia’s behalf, we cannot have any illusions in or reliance on the capitalist courts. Mumia Abu-Jamal is innocent! He says so himself in his 2001 affidavit. There is no need for a trial to prove that Mumia is innocent—the facts speak for themselves. The evidence of Mumia’s innocence is overwhelming. The PDC has fought to get this evidence out, well before the conclusive piece of evidence that helps tie it all together—the confession of Arnold Beverly—was exposed. Mumia has been in prison or on death row for nearly 25 years. He doesn’t need another “day in court.” He needs his freedom!

Mumia’s latest court battles shouldn’t be hailed as a victory. The fight is not over just because the court has agreed to hear some of the issues in his case. The real fight is for a class-struggle defense program based on the power of labor, which can free Mumia and get rid of this whole system of wage slavery. The fact that people are not mobilizing and filling the streets now like they once did for Mumia does not go unnoticed by the courts. Mumia, in an interview with the French Communist newspaper L’Humanité earlier this year and prior to the filing of his legal papers, said he has “very little hope in a favorable decision from the Federal Court which has agreed to look at three points of the petition submitted to appeal by my lawyers.”

Many so-called socialist organizations such as Workers World Party, Socialist Action, the Revolutionary Communist Party and the International Socialist Organization have at one point or another taken up Mumia’s case. But it is a question on what basis they take it up. It boils down to a difference between reforming the capitalist state and organizing working people independent of it and to fight it. Many of these leftist groups were fighting on the basis of winning the courts over to Mumia’s side, and tying the masses to have faith in the courts, instead of fighting on the basis of winning the masses to the fight for the freedom of an innocent man. And now that Mumia stands on his last legal legs in court, with small exceptions you hardly hear a peep from most of these groups about doing anything for Mumia.

We cannot afford to sit on our hands and wait to see what the court does next. And if people are organized in support of Mumia only on the basis of the next court battle or a new trial, that is exactly what they are being organized to do—be complacent—while a decision as to whether or not this innocent man lives or dies could come down any day now.

I first became active around Mumia’s case probably when some of you did, back in the summer of 1995, when he was facing an execution warrant and there was heightened activity and publicity on his behalf. During the ’95 through ’99 period, I was won over to the PDC’s and Spartacist League’s fight to free Mumia and abolish the racist death penalty. Amid the swamp of banners and calls for a fair and new trial for Mumia, there was the PDC: No illusions in the capitalist courts! Mumia is innocent! Labor must mobilize to free him now!

It became clear to me that the calls for a new and fair trial reflected neutrality on the question of Mumia’s innocence and the possibility of a political frame-up, thereby rejecting an entire history in the U.S. of legal lynchings, redbaiting, union-busting and COINTELPRO. There also existed a contempt for the evidence of his innocence and an outright failure to push it, instead keeping Mumia’s case confined to what’s being argued in the courts and putting faith in them to be fair, good, just, right—basically anything and everything that they’re not. The courts are not fair! Even if he does get a new trial, who’s to say Mumia is not going to be framed up and convicted again? Rubin “Hurricane” Carter got a new trial, and he was framed and convicted again.

We don’t rely on the courts. As Mumia’s legal appeals reach their final stages, the PDC is fighting to revitalize mass protest centered on the labor movement, understanding that the only pressure that will have an impact on the capitalist rulers and their courts is fear of the social consequences of executing this innocent man or entombing him for life. Even when the PDC’s Rachel Wolkenstein and Jonathan Piper served on Mumia’s legal team, we still fought against illusions or reliance on the capitalist courts. Peddling the lie that Mumia could get a fair trial if only his case gets out of the hands of the state courts and Sabo and into the hands of the federal courts helped to demobilize a movement of millions around the world.

The armed thugs of the capitalist state, and their Fraternal Order of Police [F.O.P.], have never let up in their attacks on Mumia and his supporters, engaging in intimidation tactics nationally against individuals as well as performers who have come out for Mumia. Mumia’s family has borne the brunt of state harassment. Jamal Hart, Mumia’s older son, was arrested on trumped-up gun possession charges in 1996 and sentenced to 15 years in federal prison with no chance of parole for the “crime” of being a spokesman for his father. You will hear a statement later this evening that Jamal Hart wrote for this rally. Richard Costello, head of the Philly F.O.P., declared that Mumia’s supporters should all be put on an electric couch! And in the latest attempt at vile racist slander and provocation, the Philadelphia Police Department awarded its “Valor Award” to nine cops who participated in the assault on the MOVE commune in Powelton Village on 8 August 1978. Nine MOVE members went to prison after being attacked by the cops in 1978, an attack that Mumia vigorously protested and spoke out about. It is no coincidence that with the possibility of parole coming up next year for the MOVE prisoners, the cops were awarded for this racist attack some 28 years after the fact.

The PDC and Class-Struggle Defense

In fact, we first learned about Mumia’s case from MOVE member Ramona Africa. Exactly how and why we got involved requires me to talk a bit about the PDC. The Spartacist League initiated the Partisan Defense Committee in 1974. The model was the International Labor Defense, or ILD, under James P. Cannon of the early Communist Party. We are a class-struggle, non-sectarian legal and social defense organization. We also stand on the slogan of the IWW: “An injury to one is an injury to all.” We defend cases and causes—regardless of who the organization or individual is—whose successful outcome is in the interests of the whole of the working people. By definition, this means that those we defend do not have to agree with, and often do not agree with, the political views of the Spartacist League.

We defended militant leftists after the 1973 U.S.-backed bloody Pinochet coup against the Allende government in Chile. We defended Mario Muñoz, a Chilean miners leader whose life was at risk in Chile and who was threatened by the junta in Argentina shortly after that. We defended Black Panther Party members who were basically forgotten, like Geronimo ji Jaga (Pratt). We initiated anti-Klan and anti-fascist mobilizations and filed lawsuits against being slandered as “violent” and as “terrorists”—against the Moonies, for example, and against the FBI, which tried to put the Spartacist League on its domestic terrorist list, a sort of precursor to the USA Patriot Act. And we did win those lawsuits.

We gave support to the British miners in their 1984-85 strike against the mass closure of coal pits, and we defended the MOVE organization after the firebombing of their commune on May 13, 1985, in which eleven men, women and children were burned to death. This occurred under black Democratic mayor Wilson Goode in collusion with the Feds and cops, and this massacre was a bloody signature of the Reagan years. Ramona Africa served every day of a seven-year sentence for the “crime” of being the sole adult survivor.

In 1986, the PDC began a program in the tradition of the ILD of providing monthly stipends to class-war prisoners as an act of solidarity. Among the first class-war prisoners we gave stipends to were Geronimo ji Jaga (Pratt), imprisoned British miners and MOVE prisoners. In 1989, the Partisan Defense Committee launched a campaign to raise funds for the civilian victims in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, who, after Soviet troops were criminally withdrawn, were left to face the revenge of the CIA-backed Islamic fundamentalist mujahedin. Each of these campaigns is a separate story, in which the PDC applied our international class-struggle defense policies to the crucial struggles of workers and the oppressed, in accordance with the political views of the Spartacist League.

Ramona Africa and other MOVE prisoners asked us to take up Mumia’s case. The PDC campaign for Mumia, begun in 1988, was coupled with the fight to abolish the racist death penalty. From the very beginning, the PDC and the Spartacist League have fought to win broader forces to the defense of Mumia and in opposition to the racist death penalty, while educating others on the political and racist basis of the frame-up and stressing the need for a class-struggle defense program to free Mumia. And this means we place no reliance on the state or on bourgeois politicians, whether they are black or white, Democratic, Republican or Green. We know that justice in the capitalist courts means “just us,” for just the capitalists.

By 1989 the PDC had embarked on a worldwide campaign of publicity and protest to bring Mumia’s case to the attention of larger forces—civil rights organizations, anti-death penalty gatherings, other political organizations and leftist groups. But our key mobilization efforts were directed toward trade-union organizations, and this was based on the understanding that labor is strategic for class-struggle defense. It is the working class that has the social power that can bring production, transportation and communications to a halt. Labor has the real power to change society.

The same capitalist state that is responsible for the savage occupation of Iraq and the human disaster on the Gulf Coast is also attempting to kill Mumia. By taking up such struggles, workers are fighting not just for themselves as workers pitted against individual employers, but on behalf of the entirety of the working class, which has the power and interest to overturn the rule of capital. The fight for Mumia is the fight for black liberation, for the liberation of us all, part of the struggle for socialist revolution. What’s necessary is to bring to the working class the consciousness that the way out of this whole system of capitalist injustice is the struggle for socialist revolution. This requires the instrumentality of a Leninist party that fights as a tribune of the people. The fight for Mumia’s freedom, if successful, would not just be a true victory for Mumia but would galvanize and inspire the working masses and the oppressed around the globe.

We have been taking Mumia’s case to unions in every city around the world where we have fraternal defense organizations. Hundreds of trade unions and unionists have signed on to our statement demanding that Mumia be freed now, that he is innocent, and that the testimony of Arnold Beverly helps prove this [see “We Demand the Immediate Freedom of Mumia Abu-Jamal, an Innocent Man,” WV No. 880, 10 November 2006]. However, this is just a step in the right direction.

We are a tiny organization, and Mumia needs the support of the masses. Everyone here must take this case back to their unions, to their campuses, to their community groups. An international mobilization based on the power of labor, from South Africa to Europe to the U.S., helped stay the executioner’s hand when Mumia was ten days from execution in 1995. Now we need to mobilize again to exert that type of pressure which will impact this appeals court—a mass movement, based on labor and its allies demanding: Free Mumia now! Free Mumia now! Free Mumia now!