If the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, supporters of Mumia Abu-Jamal and those fighting against the death penalty are willingly paying the price of freedom. Under increasing police harassment, those taking to the streets in his defense are refusing to cave in to a climate of increased police oppression that is attributable to a right-wing escalation of the assault on dissent.
Former Black Panther member Mumia Abu-Jamal remains on death row after being wrongfully convicted of the December 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. Prosecutorial misconduct, racist bias in jury selection and perjury by witnesses who had been coerced to testify falsely against Abu-Jamal led to the conviction. The case has become a lightning rod for all opposed to the death penalty and for those who view the railroading of Abu-Jamal as a paradigm of racist/classist corruption in the criminal justice system.
On December 18, 2001, Federal Judge William Yohn ruled that the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office must grant a new hearing on the penalty phase of the trial. The media has twisted that ruling to give the impression that Mumia is off of death row. He is not.
He remains on death row in Pennsylvania’s Greene State Correctional Institute and is subjected to extreme sensory deprivation, locked in a tiny cell under 23-hour lockdown. Even under those oppressive circumstances, Mumia continues to write against imperialist war, such as is occurring in Afghanistan at the hands of those who hijacked the 2000 presidential election.
Although Yohn turned aside Mumia’s death sentence, it can be reinstated by any other federal court. The Pennsylvania commonwealth could also fight to reinstate the death sentence.
The hearing ordered by Yohn is not about innocence or guilt, but simply about either murdering Mumia quickly or having him die a slow, tortured death of life in prison for a crime that the evidence shows he did not commit. There must be a new trial, at least, in which all of the facts are presented and those witnesses who were coerced to commit perjury by members of the Fraternal Order of Police are allowed to bring the truth out into the open.
On April 6, thousands of protestors will demonstrate in Philadelphia at the site of Benjamin Franklin High School, Mumia’s high school, to not only free Mumia but also to protest police harassment of protestors. For instance, on December 8, 2001, six protestors of different nationalities were arrested after a police riot in which peaceful protestors were victims of police brutality.
More than 500 demonstrators had gathered at the site at 13th and Locust Streets where 20 years before Philadelphia police officers had beaten and shot Abu-Jamal. Officers dragged one young woman on her back down the street. Several were injured so severely by the police that they were hospitalized. Those so unjustly arrested will have a hearing on April 8 at the Philadelphia Criminal Justice Center. The movement to free Abu-Jamal is also vigilant in the struggle against such police harassment and brutality.
If the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, Abu-Jamal’s life is a testament to such vigilance. The struggle to free Mumia is also a testament to the lengths to which those in power in capitalist America will go to silence dissent. The people must win this battle. Free Mumia.
Barbara Jean Hope is a reader in Philadelphia. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org