Workers Vanguard No. 927

2 January 2009


D.A. Petitions Supreme Court to Reinstate Death Penalty

Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Now!

On November 14, the Philadelphia district attorney’s office filed papers with the United States Supreme Court seeking to reinstate the death sentence for Mumia Abu-Jamal. Since his youth in the Black Panther Party, Mumia, a MOVE supporter and eloquent journalist, has been targeted by the racist rulers because of his defense of the oppressed. He was framed up for the 1981 killing of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner and sentenced to death explicitly for his political views. For the next 27 years, the cops, prosecutors, bourgeois politicians and their media jackals have howled for Mumia’s blood because they see in him the spectre of black revolt.

In its petition for a writ of certiorari, the D.A.’s office is calling on the Supreme Court to consider arguments for reversing the 27 March 2008 decision by a three-judge panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. That decision upheld an earlier ruling by federal district court judge William Yohn, who in December 2001 overturned Mumia’s death sentence, citing faulty instructions to the jury during the penalty phase of the 1982 mockery of a trial. At the same time, Yohn upheld Mumia’s frame-up conviction, a ruling also affirmed by the Third Circuit. On December 19, Mumia’s attorney Robert Bryan also filed a petition asking the Court to hear arguments for overturning Mumia’s conviction, focusing on racist jury-rigging; the prosecution used eleven of its 15 peremptory challenges to get rid of black jurors.

The Supreme Court accepts very few petitions. Should the neo-segregationist, pro-death penalty court of John Roberts, Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito agree to hear the D.A.’s petition, it would be ominous, signaling that Mumia’s death sentence could be reinstated in short order. If the Court turns down both petitions, Mumia would face the possibility of a new sentencing hearing, in which the only two options would be life in prison or another death sentence (see “Third Circuit Court Turns Down Appeal,” WV No. 918, 1 August 2008).

Mumia’s case demonstrates that there is no justice in the capitalist courts. Court after court has refused to consider the mountain of evidence proving his innocence, including the confession of Arnold Beverly that he, not Mumia, shot and killed Faulkner. (See the PDC Fact Sheet pamphlet, Big Lies in the Service of Legal Lynching.) The courts, prisons and police exist to maintain, through organized violence and terror, the rule of the capitalists over working people. The same courts that have barred the evidence of Mumia’s innocence have repeatedly discarded their own precedents and rules in favor of special “Mumia rules” to keep this “voice of the voiceless” in prison hell.

The Supreme Court has refused to hear four previous petitions by Mumia’s attorneys. In 1990, the Court refused to consider a First Amendment challenge to the prosecution’s use of Mumia’s membership in the Black Panther Party as a basis for his death sentence. Shortly afterward, it overturned a death sentence of a white supremacist on the same First Amendment grounds because the prosecution told the jury of the man’s membership in the Aryan Brotherhood. The Supreme Court also refused to hear Mumia’s appeals in 1999, 2004 and this past October, when Mumia’s attorneys presented evidence that critical witnesses lied under police coercion in his original frame-up trial (see “Supreme Court Bars Evidence of Innocence: Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Now! There Is No Justice in the Capitalist Courts!” WV No. 922, 10 October 2008).

Since the Partisan Defense Committee—a class-struggle, non-sectarian legal and social defense organization associated with the Spartacist League—and the SL took up Mumia’s case in 1987, we have advocated pursuing all possible legal avenues. At the same time, we have always fought against any illusions in the courts of the capitalist class enemy. Our fight to free Mumia is based on a strategy of mass protest centered on the multiracial working class, which has the power to make the courts yield. As the PDC has always stated, “We place all our faith in the power of the masses and no faith whatever in the ‘justice’ of the courts.”

In the weeks following the March 2008 Third Circuit Court decision, the PDC and its fraternal international defense organizations held emergency protests and united-front demonstrations. These were exemplary actions that pointed to what is necessary to win Mumia’s freedom: the mass mobilization of the working class independent of and in opposition to its capitalist class enemy—whether Democrat, Republican or Green. Over 500 organizations and individuals—including trade unionists, gay rights activists, leftists, black activists, death penalty abolitionists and others—endorsed the united-front protests called under the slogans: “Mumia Abu-Jamal Is Innocent! Free Mumia Now! Abolish the Racist Death Penalty!”

Our program of class-struggle defense is diametrically opposed to that of the liberals and reformists, who push the illusion that the courts can provide justice for Mumia. For years, these illusions have been codified in the subordination of the demand for Mumia’s freedom to the call for a “new trial.” This call has been promoted by the Workers World Party (WWP), International Socialist Organization (ISO), Socialist Action, the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal led by Pam Africa and the San Francisco Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal led by Socialist Action’s Jeff Mackler—and has played a key part in the demobilization of what was once a mass movement.

After the Third Circuit’s decision, WWP raised signs at Mumia rallies reading, “No execution! No Life Sentence: Free Mumia.” But WWP has made clear that its goal, as well as that of the actions it has helped organize, is a “new trial” before the same courts of racist injustice. In building for the December 6 protests in Philadelphia and other cities, Workers World (18 October 2008) stressed, “This is now his last chance for a new guilt-phase trial.”

The reformists’ illusions in capitalist democracy can be seen in the elation of WWP and the ISO over the election of Barack Obama. Workers World (14 November 2008) declared: “The election victory of Barack Obama will go down in history as a triumphant step forward in the struggle against racism and national oppression in the U.S.” The ISO threw an election night party in Harlem to “celebrate the end of far too many years of republican [sic] rule.” Just weeks earlier, Obama gave an interview with another admirer—right-wing journalist Michael Smerconish, a prominent voice calling for Mumia’s death and co-author, along with Maureen Faulkner, of the 2006 lying tract, Murdered by Mumia. Claiming he hadn’t studied Mumia’s case, Obama nonetheless promised, “In my mind if someone killed a police officer, they deserve the death penalty or life in prison.”

The battle for Mumia’s freedom cuts to the core of racist American capitalism and its state. We fight for Mumia’s freedom as part of the struggle for black liberation based on the program of revolutionary integrationism. We fight against every manifestation of racist oppression, a struggle which can be victorious only through the full social, political and economic integration of black people into an egalitarian socialist society. The social power of labor needs to be mobilized in his defense. Mumia Abu-Jamal is innocent! Free Mumia now! Abolish the racist death penalty!

To contribute to Mumia’s legal defense, make checks payable to “National Lawyers Guild Foundation” (earmarked “Mumia” on bottom left) and mail to: Committee to Save Mumia Abu-Jamal, P.O. Box 2012, New York, NY 10159-2012.