Workers Vanguard No. 894
8 June 2007
Speech at Berlin Rally
Mumia Abu-Jamal: The Frame-Up of an Innocent Man
We print below an edited presentation by Partisan Defense Committee counsel Rachel Wolkenstein, a member of Mumia Abu-Jamals legal team from 1995 to 1999, at a rally in Berlin on May 12. Held in the lead-up to Mumias May 17 federal appeals court hearing, the rally was called by the Committee for Social Defense, the PDCs fraternal defense organization in Germany, as part of an international campaign to revitalize mass, labor-centered protest on Mumias behalf. (For a report on the Berlin rally and a similar event in London on May 5, see International Rallies Demand: Free Mumia! WV No. 893, 25 May.)
In the U.S. last month, Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 308 in Chicago reaffirmed its support for Mumias freedom, and dozens of members of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and the ATU Black Caucus added their names to the PDCs call to free Mumia based on his innocence.
Its been 25 years since Mumias conviction for the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, a crime the police, prosecution and courts know Mumia did not commit. Mumia has been on death row all this time, isolated in a cell that he describes as living in a toilet. He was framed up for his political beliefs and activism, for having been a Black Panther Party (BPP) member, a MOVE supporter and a journalist who fought with passion and conviction against racial, ethnic and class bias, against cop terror, for social justice.
As Mumia said some 17 years ago in the interview in the PDC video, From Death Row, This Is Mumia Abu-Jamal, he is fighting to create revolution in America. Revolution means total change. Since then Mumia has not changed his political views. He has not been intimidated into silence.
To the capitalist rulers, Mumia represents the spectre of black revolt, of defiant opposition to their system of racist oppression. For them, Mumia is a dead man on leave. All elements of the criminal justice system supported by both parties of American capitalism, Democrats as well as Republicans, have colluded to kill this innocent man.
Why is Mumias cause one that needs to be fought for internationally? The PDC took up Mumias case in 1987, some 20 years ago, because Mumias case is the fight against the ultimate weapon of state terror, the death penalty. We are opposed to the death penalty as a matter of principle. We do not accord to the state the right to determine who shall live and who shall die. In the U.S., the death penalty is the legacy of slavery, racist legal lynching.
We also took up Mumias case as part of the fight against the state deeming perceived political opponents to be terrorists. The Black Panther Party and the MOVE organization were considered the terrorists of that time. And that meant it was legitimate for the state to blow them away in the dead of night, to frame them up on vague conspiracy charges. Mumia was targeted by the FBIs Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO), placed under daily surveillance at the age of 15 and put on the list of those to be rounded up and put in concentration camps. Mumias conviction and death sentence were the continuation of the government vendetta against the Black Panther Party that led to the murder of 38 Panthers and the frame-up convictions of hundreds, and part of the crescendo of legal frame-ups and outright terror tactics directed at the MOVE organization.
The fight for Mumia Abu-Jamal has everything to do with the fight against the post-September 11 war on terror, which has led to witchhunts against immigrants, primarily Muslims, and provided justification for the evisceration of democratic rights and a massive increase in state surveillance and repressive measures, including the open use of torture. Mumias fight is the fight for every immigrant, such as Oury Jalloh, a 21-year-old African refugee who on 7 January 2005 burned to death in his Dessau, Germany, prison cell with his hands and feet tied; for leftists such as Red Army Faction (RAF) member Wolfgang Grams, who was executed in 1993 by a shot to the head by the GSG-9 anti-terrorist cops, and for his RAF comrades imprisoned for decades in an anti-Communist witchhunt; for leftists rounded up and arrested across Germany earlier this week to preclude protest against next months G8 meeting in Heiligendamm; for workers who face increased attacks on wages, benefits, rights.
Mumias fight is against racist state terror, reflected in the video showing a Bundeswehr (German Army) instructor telling a soldier to envision machine-gunning blacks. The ultimate target of this state repression is the multiracial workers movement. The fight to free Mumia is part of the fight for black liberation, and the broader fight for socialist revolution and therefore for the liberation of us all.
Mumias Trial: A Kangaroo Court
We are here on the eve of Mumias appeal arguments in the federal court on May 17. In a matter of a few months, the court will decide what is next for Mumia—death, life in prison or possibly more legal proceedings. The U.S. federal appeals court is not required to consider all the issues that Mumia has raised—and virtually every democratic right, from freedom of speech and association to a trial based on due process, was violated in Mumias case. The appeals court is deciding whether or not to uphold Mumias death sentence. The court is not considering any evidence of Mumias innocence or the state frame-up. The state and federal courts have refused to even consider the confession of Arnold Beverly that he, not Mumia, shot and killed Faulkner.
The federal court of appeals is allowing only three of Mumias more than 20 legal issues. These are the racially biased jury selection and the D.A.s prejudicial summary argument undermining the jurys role by stating that Mumia would have appeal after appeal. Lastly, the court is hearing a challenge to the kangaroo-court, lynch mob post-conviction hearings from 1995 to 1997 before the notorious judge Albert Sabo, popularly known as the King of Death Row. Sabo outright stated at the time of the 1982 trial that Im going to help them fry the n----r.
In fact, the legal arguments before the appeals court are issues researched, developed and formulated in the lower courts by myself and Jon Piper, another lawyer associated with the PDC who was part of Mumias legal team. In the abstract, considering the questions of law and fact applied to Mumias case, there is no reason that Mumia should not win on appeal. But the reality is that the capitalist courts do not mete out impartial justice—and Mumia is a man the state wants dead.
To impact on that upcoming appeals court decision, a mass mobilization based on the international working class and its allies is necessary and urgent, now more than ever. The mobilization must be on the basis that Mumia is an innocent man, the voice of the voiceless, a man on death row because of a political, racist frame-up. Mumia should never have been arrested, convicted, sentenced to death or spent one day in jail! Our fight—and demand—is to free Mumia, now!
But instead the fight for Mumia has been and continues to be demobilized by a policy pursued by liberals and the reformist left of impotent appeals to the justice and fairness of the capitalist courts, represented by the call for a new trial, a fairer process. To understand the politics behind this demobilization—and to turn this around—lets first examine the legal and factual issues in Mumias case.
The prosecutions story is that in the early morning hours of 9 December 1981, two people were on the street corner of Locust and 13th in Philadelphia—Billy Cook, who is Mumias brother, and Daniel Faulkner. Mumia, then 27 years old, known for his mild manner and for being levelheaded, supposedly saw his brother being beaten by the cop and ran across the parking lot, shooting the cop in the back. As the cop was falling down, he supposedly shot Mumia in the chest. Then Mumia supposedly stood over the cop, then lying prone on his back, and shot directly down several times at his head, execution style. This is all lies, a fantastical frame-up by the police and prosecution.
In the post-conviction court hearings in Mumias case in 1995, 96 and 97, over ten years ago, the prosecutions evidence was exposed over and over as false—based on witnesses who were threatened or bought, nonexistent ballistics evidence and a totally fabricated confession invented by the police two months after the shooting.
As I will further explain, on a factual level, there is not a scintilla of evidence against Mumia. What is there for a jury to hear and consider?
Regarding witnesses: The prosecution produced at trial one supposed eyewitness, the prostitute Cynthia White, who, according to the police, is now dead. No witness, including Cynthia White, testified that Mumia shot Faulkner. At the 1982 trial, Cynthia White said she saw Mumia with a gun in his hand as he ran across the parking lot. But two prostitutes and one other woman who knew White have since sworn that White admitted this was false testimony under threats from the cops. Two of these women stood up to vicious cross-examination in the post-conviction hearings. Two eyewitnesses, William Singletary and Dessie Hightower, testified that White wasnt on the corner during the shooting.
The other supposed key eyewitness, a cab driver named Robert Chobert, admitted at the post-conviction hearing to receiving favors from the prosecutors. And he admitted to a defense investigator that his cab was not parked where the prosecution asserted it was and that he was not in a position to see anything. This is confirmed in photos of the scene recently brought to light by Michael Schiffmann.
Regarding Mumias supposed confession: The hospital confession supposedly made by Mumia the night of the shooting was decisively exposed in the 1995 post-conviction hearing to be a prosecution and police fabrication, invented at a D.A. roundtable meeting some two months after the shooting to prepare cops for their trial testimony. No police report from that night mentions Mumias confession, and in fact a cop who was with Mumia all night directly said that Mumia made no comments.
Regarding ballistics: The utter nonexistence of ballistics and other physical evidence is crystal clear. There is no evidence that Mumias gun was even fired that night, let alone that the bullet in Faulkners head wound matched Mumias gun. There are recently uncovered photos showing the cop at the scene walking around with his fingers all over a gun. There are discrepancies in police reports regarding the type of bullets in Mumias gun. There is a missing bullet fragment from Faulkners wound and a missing medical examiners X-ray of Faulkners body. There is no physical evidence of Faulkner being shot as described by police—straight down at his head while lying on the sidewalk. There are no divots (marks) on the sidewalk. The bullets found at the scene do not support trajectories of Mumia shooting the cop, but rather that there was more than one shooter and that one came from a totally different direction than Mumia.
Moreover, there is evidence directly in support of Mumias innocence already testified to in court hearings in 95, 96 and 97. Vietnam vet William Singletary was an eyewitness to the shooting and testified in 95 that Mumia arrived after Faulkner was shot and that the shooter, wearing a green army jacket, came from the parked VW and then ran from the scene. Singletary told this to police the night of the shooting, and he was repeatedly threatened, his gas station was vandalized, and he was driven from town during the 1982 trial. Other witnesses, including Dessie Hightower, who testified at the trial, said they saw someone run from the scene. At the post-conviction hearing in 95, Hightower told how he was singled out for a lie detector test and other coercion in an attempt to stop him from testifying at trial.
Veronica Jones testified in 1996 that she had seen someone run from the scene and that police threatened her with long jail time on robbery charges unless she testified differently at trial. In 1997, prostitute Pamela Jenkins testified that other cops were there during the shooting, including one Larry Boston. She also testified that prostitute Cynthia White was a police informant and performed sexual favors for cops. Another witness came forward who testified that he saw undercover cops on the scene at the time of the shooting.
The Beverly Confession
Even under the constraints of Sabos totally biased court, the D.A.s evidence was smashed to smithereens over ten years ago. It would be reasonable to expect that as more and more evidence of the conscious police frame-up was brought out in court proceedings, a movement defending Mumia Abu-Jamal would embrace these legal developments. The new evidence from the court proceedings could only support a mobilization in defense of Mumia—on the basis of Mumias innocence and the fact that a black political activist was framed up by a state determined to see him dead. But in effect this legal evidence was rejected! The so-called left in the U.S. that belatedly took up Mumias defense in 1995 and afterward did not take up the call to free Mumia now, which the PDC mobilized around, but rejected that demand as the basis for mass protests, centering their demands instead on the call for a new trial.
In early 1999, in preparation for a likely denial of the Pennsylvania court appeals and in preparation for federal habeas corpus proceedings, Jon Piper and I, with some other lawyers, intensely again combed over the records of the prior proceedings and the states evidence and also renewed investigation efforts. In 1999, Mumias brother admitted that the passenger in his VW, Ken Freeman, said that he was involved in the shooting of Faulkner and he ran from the scene after the shooting.
Arnold Beverly confessed that he, not Mumia, shot and killed Faulkner. Moreover, Beverly stated that he was hired, along with someone else, to do so by cops and the mob because Faulkner was a problem for corrupt cops, interfering with rackets, bribery, drug dealing, etc. Beverly states that he was wearing a green army jacket and that he himself was shot that night. The police connection for the hit, according to Beverly, was Larry Boston, who Pamela Jenkins stated in the 97 hearing had been on the scene at the time of the shooting.
At the time of Faulkners murder in 1981, there were at least three ongoing federal investigations into police corruption in Philadelphia, including police-mob connections. I recently learned that the Justice Department had evidence against some 400 Philly cops from those investigations and wanted to bring indictments. But the federal judge overseeing the investigation said to pick only the top 20 or so. Of the police involved in Mumias case, at least one-third were indicted sometime over the next few years on corruption charges.
An FBI informant who was key to those federal prosecutions confirmed that at the time of Faulkners shooting, the word was out that the Feds had a police informant. A former federal prosecutor acknowledged that they had a police informant whose brother was also a cop, like Faulkners. The commanding officer of the Central Police Division, where the murder of Faulkner took place, the chief of the homicide division and one Inspector Alfonzo Giordano were all under investigation on federal corruption charges. These cops were the chain of command in the frame-up of Mumia.
Inspector Giordano was the ranking officer on the scene—and the central witness against Mumia at the preliminary hearing after the arrest. He not only was one of the cops under investigation for corruption but had been the right-hand man for Frank Rizzo, the former Philadelphia police chief and mayor. Giordano was involved in the daily surveillance of Black Panther Party members, and he led the police Stakeout team in the 1970 attacks on the Philly Panthers. Giordano was the police supervisor of the yearlong 1977-78 siege of the MOVE Powelton Village house. He knew just who Mumia was.
It is with these facts in mind that the confession of Arnold Beverly must be considered. Remember the prosecutions lying evidence. Beverly states that there was more than one shooter and that they ran from the scene. This explains witnesses seeing a passenger in the VW and seeing the shooter running away. Beverlys confession explains the absence of ballistics evidence supporting the prosecutions scenario—how the shooting happened, the direction of the shots, the conflicts regarding the calibre of the weapon. Beverly states that Mumia was shot not by Faulkner but by another police officer on the scene. That fits with the trajectory of the shot to Mumia and the statement of a homicide cop at the scene who reported that Mumia was shot by an arriving police officer. It is also supported by a witness who said that Faulkners gun was in its holster when he was taken away from the scene. The gun that was allegedly Faulkners was likely a throwaway—it was inoperable and dirty.
Moreover, some five witnesses including two cops have said that the shooter wore a green army jacket. Both Beverly and Freeman were wearing green army jackets that night. But Mumia was wearing a red quilted ski jacket with wide vertical blue stripes on the front, and Billy Cook wore a blue Nehru-style jacket with brass buttons. This is incontrovertible evidence that there was at least one person there at the shooting who was not Billy Cook or Mumia. This fact, along with the bullet trajectories and the absence of ballistics evidence supporting either the shooting of Faulkner or the shooting of Mumia, is absolute refutation of the police and prosecution version.
Mumias arrival on the scene gave the cops a two-for-one. Mumia was well known. It had been a short span of time, less than ten years, between Mumias prominence as a Black Panther and his becoming a prominent MOVE supporter and journalist. And prosecutions of MOVE members, including trials following the Powelton Village police siege, had taken place just a couple of months before the Faulkner shooting.
At the scene after Faulkner was killed, the cops tried to kill Mumia. He was critically wounded from a gunshot in the chest, through his lungs and to his liver. He was rammed into a lamppost and thrown into a police van. Giordano himself beat Mumia in the police van and later said Mumia had confessed to shooting Faulkner and that he threw his gun on the ground. The other cop who was in the van said there was no such confession. Giordano arranged the supposed identification of Mumia by the cab driver, Robert Chobert, who was promised favors and protected by the police. Giordano was the cop who first reported that Mumias gun was found on the street (according to the police radio records, some 14 minutes after hordes of cops arrived in the area). This contradicts the official police story that Mumias gun was found within a minute. Giordanos intention was to finish Mumia off by taking him to police headquarters for further questioning. Mumias crime that night was that he survived the cops attempt to kill him, too.
To complete the picture: Despite Giordano being the senior officer at the scene who allegedly heard Mumia confess and found the murder weapon, he never testified at Mumias trial. He resigned from the police force the day after the trial was over. In 1986 he copped a plea on federal charges based on his receiving tens of thousands of dollars in illegal payoffs during 1979-80. He didnt spend any time in jail.
Reformists Demobilize the Fight for Mumia
Thus, the proof of Mumias innocence and the state frame-up is overwhelming. But Mumias former lawyers suppressed the Beverly confession and the totality of the supporting evidence. Longtime movement lawyer Len Weinglass rejected this evidence as too hot, unbelievable, and co-counsel Dan Williams said it would lead to arguing that the police knowingly framed up an innocent man! But this is not unbelievable, and to claim so denies the reality of the cops and the courts.
In fact, there is no limit to examples of the conscious frame-up of innocent people in the bourgeois courts. Before their convictions were exposed as complete government fabrications, the Guildford Four spent 15 years in prison, and the Birmingham Six were incarcerated for 16 years after being sentenced in the 1970s as part of British imperialisms war of terror against Irish nationalists. Before his release in 1997, former Black Panther leader Geronimo ji Jaga (Pratt) spent 27 years in prison for a killing the FBIs own wiretap logs showed he could not have committed, while New York Panther leader Dhoruba bin Wahad was imprisoned for 19 years on frame-up charges before his release in 1990. War on terror repression has also taken many innocent victims.
Moreover, Mumias case has been presented in court after court—each has denied the evidence of his frame-up and innocence. That includes three evidentiary hearings, plus three motions and two appeals to the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court, a federal habeas corpus petition filed in the U.S. District Court, a revised federal petition and yet another state court petition as well as three applications for hearing to the U.S. Supreme Court. A federal judges reversal of Mumias death sentence in December 2001 was immediately appealed by the prosecution, and Mumia has never been off death row since his conviction in 1982.
As a lawyer for Mumia, I had fought in the defense team to bring forward the evidence of the police frame-up and his innocence. When it was decisively clear with the rejection of the Beverly confession, Billy Cooks statement and all the other supporting evidence that Mumias lead counsel, Len Weinglass, would not allow this, Jon Piper and I resigned from the legal team in July 1999. It was a betrayal of Mumias legal defense to preclude bringing evidence of his innocence into the courts. And this betrayal is paralleled by so-called leftists who are behind the coalitions acting under the name Free Mumia but who mobilize on the basis of reliance on the justice and fairness of the courts and the call for a new, fair trial for Mumia.
To what end and for what purpose would leftists demand that this clearly innocent man be subjected to a new trial? As you can see, there is no evidence to be considered. Mumia himself submitted his own affidavit declaring his innocence when the Beverly confession and other evidence were finally submitted to court in 2001, with a new legal team. Mumia states: I did not shoot Police Officer Daniel Faulkner. I had nothing to do with the killing of Officer Faulkner. I am innocent.
The bogus argument has been raised that the Beverly evidence is divisive. But since 1995, long before the Beverly confession, the so-called left rejected the evidence of the extent of the state frame-up and the political lessons to be drawn from that. This became explicit at a January 1999 leadership meeting of some 100 groups and individuals—including the Workers World Party, Socialist Action, Solidarity, Refuse & Resist (associated with the Revolutionary Communist Party)—who debated the question. The decision pushed by the reformist left, represented as well by the International Socialist Organization, was to broaden the movement and go to the mainstream. They renounced the demands to free Mumia and to abolish the racist death penalty in favor of the slogan: New trial for Mumia.
At all stages of the case, the reformists political line is that the next court will be the just one. When the state courts ruled against Mumia, illusions were spread that the U.S. federal court would fairly rule on his petition. Now illusions are being spread in the fairness of the U.S. appeals courts since the U.S. federal court upheld Mumias conviction. And in between court proceedings, the reformists undertook no significant mobilization.
These were political decisions, pure and simple. They were not based on fact—on Mumias innocence and the enormity of the proven frame-up. Rather, the reformist left attempted to limit the political mobilization in defense of Mumia to an appeal for fairness in the courts. They appeal to bourgeois liberal forces who see Mumias case not as the political and racist frame-up of an innocent man but as an isolated miscarriage of justice, an aberration that threatens to stain the democratic process.
Even the legal papers that I filed in 1995-97, and agreed to by Mumias lead counsel at the time, Leonard Weinglass, did not focus on the call for a new trial! We called for dismissing the charges because of the magnitude of the frame-up. Because if you want to deal solely on the plane of what the law in the United States says, the suppression of evidence and the falsification of evidence are such that the whole case should be thrown out. This is part of the reason that I say that calling for people to mobilize around the demand for a new trial is not guided by legal precepts, as is often claimed, but by a political program.
The System of Capitalist Injustice
Mumias case is a real-life case of police frame-up, an object lesson in the class nature of the capitalist state, which is not neutral. The state, with its cops and supported by the courts, is a machine of organized violence on behalf of one class, the capitalist class, defending the profit system against the working people, against minorities. The job of the courts is to mete out capitalist injustice. That is the lesson of the Haymarket martyrs, anarchists executed in 1887 in Chicago for leading struggles for the eight-hour day; of the anarchist workers Sacco and Vanzetti, framed up in Massachusetts on murder charges and executed in 1927; of the Scottsboro Boys, nine black youths arrested in 1931 who spent nearly two decades in Alabama prison hellholes on bogus rape charges, eight of them sentenced to death; of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, executed in 1953 on espionage charges as part of the anti-Soviet Cold War.
In German history you have Eugen Leviné, a leader of the Spartakist uprising in Bavaria, executed in 1919 by the counterrevolutionary Social Democratic government. There is the case of Max Hoelz, a self-taught worker who organized a Red Army in the Vogtland area during the right-wing 1920 Kapp putsch and established a force of 2,500 partisans in Central Germany during the March Action in 1921, for which he was sentenced to life in prison. He was amnestied after seven years as the result of a mass movement on his behalf.
The slogan for a new trial represents a program of reliance on the racist capitalist courts that at every level have upheld Mumias frame-up conviction. In the infamous 1857 Dred Scott case that sanctified slavery in the U.S., the Supreme Court said that a black man has no rights that the white man is bound to respect. The capitalist state and its courts have made clear that Mumia has no rights the courts are bound to respect.
Thus the significance of the Beverly evidence and why it has been suppressed in the legal battles as well as on the political plane has a simple answer. The Beverly evidence exposes the fraud that the American bourgeois legal system can provide justice. It demonstrates the unity of purpose of the cops, prosecution and courts in upholding the capitalist rulers interest. It makes it clear that the injustice to Mumia was not the action of one rogue cop, prosecutor or judge but the entire functioning of the capitalist system of injustice. The role of the reformist left is to act as an obstacle to the development of that understanding. They promote the same illusions in the justice of the courts as liberal journalists David Lindorff and Michael Schiffmann, whose writings ostensibly on Mumias behalf actually undermine the fight for his freedom (see Class-Struggle Defense vs. Faith in Capitalist Justice, WV No. 892, 11 May).
Their purpose is to promote the notion of the inviolability of the bourgeois state. This means denying Mumias innocence. It means denying the extent of the state frame-up and why. This all serves to politically disarm and demobilize those who are drawn to Mumias cause. This political policy served to demobilize a mass international movement. It has meant rejecting the very reasons that millions around the globe took up Mumias cause: revulsion with the injustices inherent in capitalism—poverty, racial oppression and ethnic bias, war; identification with Mumias fight against the system and for justice for all of humanity.
To free Mumia now, to save him from execution or the slow death of a lifetime in prison, it is necessary to organize on the basis of a class-struggle defense. While that means utilizing all possible legal proceedings, class-struggle defense is based on an understanding of the nature of the capitalist state, and that there can be no reliance on its courts but all reliance on the power of the working class and its allies.
The courts do not sit in judgment and rule in isolation. There is a pressure that can be brought to bear. But it will take an international mobilization of the masses, centrally labor and its allies—youth, minorities, immigrants—to turn the tide and obtain Mumias freedom. It was an international mobilization crucially including trade unionists, from South Africa to Europe to the U.S., that stayed the executioners hand when Mumia was ten days from execution in 1995. It took that mobilization to get the stay of execution, to push the courts to abide by their legal obligation to allow Mumia to pursue his legal appeals. Now, with the possibility that the courts could reverse the overturning of Mumias death sentence, the issue is Mumias very life—whether execution or the slow death of life imprisonment.
The work undertaken by the PDC, our fraternal defense organizations and the International Communist League over the past months to revive the struggle for Mumias freedom on the basis that he is an innocent man is a step forward. Hundreds of individuals and organizations, including unions representing tens of thousands of workers, have signed our statement emphasizing Mumias innocence and demanding his freedom. But we need a mass movement based on the power of the working class, the power seen in its ability to withhold labor through strike action. Imagine, for example, what it would mean if Philadelphia and New York transit workers struck, not only to secure a decent wage, health care and job conditions but to demand Mumias freedom! What it would mean for labor to withhold its power in other capitalist centers, stopping communications, transport and industry, demanding: Free Mumia now!
Mumia is up against the vast resources of the capitalist state. But there is a road for victory for Mumia—for his freedom. That begins with the understanding that the class enemy will stop at nothing—from lies to terror—on the street and in the courts. Freedom for Mumia lies in understanding that the power to fight and win lies in the class struggle—in the mobilization of the multiracial, multiethnic proletariat. Free Mumia Now!