Justice dies with Mumia Abu-Jamal

Someone shot and killed officer David Faulkner early in the morning on Dec. 9, 1981. We would like to think that the courts we rely on to enforce our laws would punish the responsible parties. Well, the courts sometimes make mistakes — a sad testimony to human error. And once convicted, years of an innocent person’s life may be spent behind bars, robbing him/her of the full freedom and happiness they deserve. We can then release them when we admit we’ve convicted an innocent person. Unless, of course, we hang, shoot, electrify or find another way to legally end their lives.
Many, if not most, people have heard of Mumia Abu-Jamal. In 1982, he was convicted of murdering Faulkner and sentenced to death. In the years since his conviction, new evidence has appeared and conflicting testimonies have been rescinded. However, his appeals have consistently been refused by the Pennsylvania state courts for a new trial. The most recent turn of events was the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s final ruling on the matter — no new trial. The death warrant can be signed at any time.
In the 1960s, Abu-Jamal was actively involved in the Black Panther Party, a political group heavily monitored by the FBI. Abu-Jamal started to write journalistic articles at age 15 and later gained notoriety for his exposure of Philadelphia’s police corruption and violence. The substance of his writing was corroborated by the United States Attorney General’s office. The attorney general filed a civil rights lawsuit in 1979 charging “widespread, arbitrary, and unreasonable physical abuse” of witnesses and suspects.
Following is a reprint of text written on death row by Abu-Jamal on Oct. 31:

Once again, Pennsylvania’s highest court has shown us the best justice that FOP money can buy. Ignoring right reason, their own precedent, and fundamental justice, they have returned to the stranglehold of death. In their echoes of the tortured logic of Judge Albert Sabo, they have reflected a striking fidelity to the DA’s office. If it is fair to have a tribunal who are in part admittedly paid by the FOP — and at least one justice who can double as DA one day and a judge the next in the same case — then fairness is just as empty a word as “justice.” To paraphrase Judge Sabo, it is just an emotional feeling.
In recent months the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has upheld death sentences in cases where an impartial reading of transcripts or pleadings would make an honest affirmation all but impossible. They have ignored all evidence of innocence, overlooked clear instances of jury taint, and cast a dead eye on defense attorneys’ ineffectiveness. What they have done in my case is par for the course. This is a political decision, paid for by the FOP on the eve of the election. It is a Mischief Night gift from a court that has a talent for the macabre.
I am sorry that this court did not rule on the right side of history. But I am not surprised. Every time our nation has come to a fork in the road with regard to race, it has chosen to take the path of compromise and betrayal. On Oct. 29, 1998, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court committed a collective crime: It damned due process, strangled the fair trial, and raped justice.
Even after this legal legerdemain [sleight of hand] I remain innocent. A court cannot make an innocent man guilty. Any ruling founded on injustice is not justice. The righteous fight for life, liberty, and for justice can only continue.

The law enforcement system had reasons to want Abu-Jamal out of the way — he’s a very dangerous man. Dangerous in that he is eloquent, intelligent and politically charged. Even from jail, he has people nationally and internationally rallying to his defense. If Abu-Jamal is executed, our justice system has failed. We will have failed because in a capital case, the courts must absolutely prove the person is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Abu-Jamal is not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Abu-Jamal case has many muddled areas — even the gun used in the shooting and the one Abu-Jamal owned didn’t match up. The irony of the Abu-Jamal verdict coming in at this moment is that next week, at Northwestern University’s law school in Chicago, there is a conference to focus on 75 cases of men and women freed from death row because they were found to be not guilty. Seventy-five people. That’s a lot of errors. It’s bad enough when someone is wrongly convicted and has to serve jail time — a period of their lives is wasted. Once error in conviction is discovered, the falsely accused can try to catch up on lost time, even though that’s not much compensation. But the death penalty is final.
One would hope our legal system was set up well enough to avoid these sometimes irreversible mistakes. But it isn’t. We’re human and we do stupid things. We convict for the wrong reasons, not on the basis of guilt for a crime committed. We allow prejudice to get in the way of truth. Our system is set up so that people who don’t have the funds for lawyers get mediocre defense at best. Overworked and underfunded lawyers simply cannot argue a case well. And in Abu-Jamal’s case, being surrounded by dozens of lawyers is not enough to bring about justice.
One of the things that likely spawned the Northwestern conference is the 1996 overturning of convictions for the “Ford Heights Four.” In 1978, a young Chicago-area couple was abducted and gruesomely murdered. With new DNA testing, it was discovered that not one of the four could have raped the woman. Since that re-evaluation, three other men admitted to the crime and are now behind bars.
Execution is simply wrong. As fallible beings, we cannot give ourselves the power of life and death. And the 75 wrongly accused cases being studied by Northwestern is only 75 out of how many? It’s true that people commit horrible, disgusting crimes. It’s also true that the news of one of these crimes is sometimes so depressing, it makes you cry. But executing someone nearly 20 years after the fact, especially when new evidence supports a wrongful conviction, seems like a futile gesture — a pathetic attempt — to avenge a murder, no matter how horrible. Nothing will bring the victim back from the dead. And killing the person who did it? This is just another murder — a state sanctioned murder.
Abu-Jamal’s time is running out. The courts just don’t know if Abu-Jamal committed the murder or not, which would make it even more wrong to execute him. He deserves a new trial with the opportunity to exonerate himself.
In our attempt to create a system that tries to convict only the guilty, Abu-Jamal’s case has too many holes in it that cast doubt on the validity of his conviction. Those holes represent reasonable doubt.
We put innocent people on death row. If we insist on giving ourselves the power to take peoples’ lives, we’d better sure as hell know for certain they’re guilty. I know if I had been on Abu-Jamal’s original jury, I would have problems sleeping at night. This Saturday, at 1 p.m. there will be a rally in protest of the new ruling in Abu-Jamal’s trial at the Cedar Cultural Center. The people there will have signs saying “Free Mumia.” What these people want is a new trial — a just trial. And although not everyone is politically motivated, everyone should see that this isn’t too much to ask, not if an innocent man’s life is at stake.
A brief history of Mumia Abu-Jamal:
ù Born: April 23, 1954 in Philadelphia, PA.
ù Father of three children, grandfather to three children.
ù Occupation: Journalist. Recipient of awards and honors for his reporting on police misconduct, abuse of authority and racial discrimination, education and housing in Philadelphia. Exposed police and prosecutorial wrongdoing in the police attack on the Move organization and the subsequent prosecution of Move members.
ù Political activities: Founding member of the Black Panther Party in Philadelphia, Pa. and Minister of Information. The FBI has maintained surveillance of him since he was 16 years old. None of the hundreds of pages of reports on his activities reflect criminal activity.
ù Conviction: Convicted of first-degree murder and given the death penalty for the alleged shooting and killing of a white police officer on Dec. 9, 1981. He had no prior criminal record.
ù Has been on death row in Pennsylvania for 17 years, awaiting execution — the only political prisoner on death row. Initially scheduled for execution on Aug. 17, 1995, the execution was stayed by a court order 10 days prior to being carried out.
Abu-Jamal has written two books: “Live From Death Row” and “Death Blossoms.” His first book, “Live From Death Row,” has been translated into seven languages and has been widely read in the United States.
A third book, “Race for Justice,” has been written about his case by Abu-Jamal’s attorneys and won an award from the American Bookseller’s Association as the best book on politics for 1996.
Abu-Jamal was awarded an honorary law degree from the New School of Law in San Francisco, California.
He was voted as an honorary vice president by the 5,000-member National Lawyer’s Guild, a progressive lawyers association in America.
He was named an honorary citizen of both the Central District of Copenhagen, Denmark (Norrebro), and Palermo, Italy.
In November 1997 Mumia was awarded the coveted Solhvervfonden Foundation Award in Copenhagen, Denmark, for his services to humanity as a voice of conscience.
International dignitaries, such as President Nelson Mandela of South Africa, the former president of West Germany, the foreign minister of Belgium and others, have called for a new trial for Abu-Jamal.
The Honorable Pierre Sane, secretary-general of Amnesty International, after meeting with Abu-Jamal, issued a statement on Nov. 25, 1997, expressing fear that Abu-Jamal’s original trial may have been contaminated by the deep-rooted racism.
Over 200 German attorneys, prosecutors and judges have signed an appeal asking for a new trial for Abu-Jamal. Forty-four Danish defense attorneys have done the same.
One hundred thousand Italians and 40,000 French men and women have signed petitions calling for a new trial for Abu-Jamal.
The above information was extracted from the Refuse & Resist! Web site. Its e-mail address is:
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Sara Hurley’s column appears every Monday. Send comments to [email protected]