Amnesty and Freedom for All Political Prisoners
We Can't Let Them Kill Mumia Abu-Jamal
Revolutionary Worker #950, March 29, 1998
Over 15 years
on death row.
Locked in a cell 22 hours a day.
Over a decade of thick glass between you and your wife.
Your kids go from small to tall.
You see them, but no touching allowed.
Caged, you live the complete opposite of freedom.
But your revolutionary words fly through steel bars.
Political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal gives it to the people: Live From Death Row.
Mumia Abu-Jamal--Black journalist, revolutionary
activist, and political prisoner--has been on death row since
1982. He was falsely convicted of killing a cop and never got a fair trial. He was blatantly framed up by
Philadelphia authorities and police who wanted him silenced. In 1995, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge signed
a death warrant setting Mumia's execution date. But across the U.S. and around the world, people rallied hard to
Mumia's defense and forced the government to back off its plans to murder Mumia.
The power of the people stayed the hand of
the executioner in 1995. But Mumia still faces a death sentence, and
the government is still using its legal system to try and execute him.
Mumia has dedicated his life to the people--especially
those in the ghettos, barrios and prisons. He has used his
talents to expose and oppose oppression. Mumia has been shot, tortured, imprisoned, isolated, slandered, and
censored by the power structure--but he remains unbroken, his consciousness and commitment intact. His book,
Live From Death Row, has inspired thousands with its biting exposure of prison life and eloquent commentary on
the system of capitalism.
The facts in Mumia's case reveal, unmistakably,
that he has been railroaded--that a profound injustice has taken
place. This is much more than the story of just one man: The railroad of Mumia concentrates the way Black
people are routinely mistreated by the police, the courts, the prisons, the media...in fact by the whole system in
this country. The railroad of Mumia reveals how the U.S. government deals with political opponents--especially
revolutionaries whose voices connect with those at the bottom of society. And the railroad of Mumia is vivid proof
of why this government and this legal system should not have the power to execute human beings.
A climate is being manufactured in this country--demanding
more prisons, more punishment and speedier
execution. The struggle for Mumia and other political prisoners is a key battlefront for all who want to defeat this
It started with a typical Amerikkkan scene: the police beating of a Black man.
Shortly before dawn, on December 9, 1981, Mumia
Abu-Jamal was driving his cab on a downtown Philadelphia
street. He saw a cop viciously beating his brother, William Cook, with a metal flashlight. The police would later
say they had stopped Cook for a traffic violation. Mumia rushed to help his brother, and there was a
When the smoke cleared, Mumia had been shot
in the chest--and was lying on the sidewalk in a pool of his own
blood. The cop Daniel Faulkner lay on the street nearby, dying from bullet wounds. Mumia was charged for the
murder of Faulkner--and has not spent a day free since.
The First Attempts to Kill Mumia
Two months after he was arrested, Mumia wrote:
"It is nightmarish that my brother and I should be in this foul
predicament, particularly since my main accuser, the police, were my attackers as well. My true crime seems to
have been my survival of their assaults, but we were the victims that night."
The police tried to kill Mumia several times.
First, he was shot, near the corner of Locust and 13th Street. Then,
as he lay half dead from a bullet wound in his lung and diaphragm, the arriving police backup units beat him
viciously and rammed him headfirst into a pole.
Mumia woke in the hospital after surgery with
his belly ripped from top to bottom, large staples clamping the
wound shut and tubes in his nose. He felt intense pain from pressure on his bladder and kidneys. Looking up he
saw a grinning cop standing on his urine receptacle.
Later, the doctors warned that pneumonia in
his punctured lung could kill him. But the police forced Mumia to
spend night after night under freezing conditions.
Why They Hated and Feared Mumia
The U.S. government insists that they do not
persecute, imprison or execute anyone for political beliefs and
activities. Officials say that political prisoners like Mumia are only "common criminals." But the case of Mumia
Abu-Jamal reveals what nonsense this is. Mumia was railroaded into prison because of his revolutionary stands
and his broad political influence.
Some 800 pages of secret police files have
surfaced, documenting how Mumia was put under surveillance by
federal and city agents--starting when he was only 14 years old! At 15, Mumia was a founding member of the
Philadelphia chapter of the Black Panther Party. At 17, as the Philadelphia Panthers' Minister of Information,
Mumia wrote for the Black Panther newspaper. That experience, he recalls, "charged my pen with a distinctive
anti-authoritarian, and anti-establishment character that survives to this day."
Mumia was targeted for police persecution.
Phones were tapped and informants were planted. Mumia's relatives,
acquaintances and school officials were interviewed and harassed. A February 1973 FBI report recommended
keeping Mumia on their "Security Index," saying "Should the opportunity present itself, [Mumia Abu-Jamal] would
definitely be a threat to established local and national government."
Through the 1970s, Mumia continued to serve
the people. Working as a radio journalist, he exposed the
systematic brutality and racism of Philadelphia's police--especially their campaign of persecution against the
radical Black utopian MOVE organization.
In 1978, after a 10-month siege, a MOVE house
in Powelton Village was assaulted by a 500-man army of
Philadelphia police. Fifteen MOVE members were convicted for the murder of one cop. Mumia covered this trial
and supported MOVE.
Philadelphia's authorities and police hated
Mumia. And the management of the radio station he worked for forced
him off the air. But on the streets, there was a different opinion--listeners started calling Mumia "The Voice of the
Voiceless." In 1980, at 26, he was elected chair of the Philadelphia chapter of the Association of Black
Journalists. When word spread that Mumia had been shot and arrested by police, over 300 people immediately
formed a defense committee.
Political Railroad Full Steam
Mumia's trial began June 1, 1982. Mumia asked
to represent himself and requested John Africa (the spiritual
leader of MOVE) as his co-counsel. The presiding judge, Albert Sabo, refused to allow John Africa onto the
case. Instead Sabo appointed attorney Tony Jackson to serve as backup counsel.
During jury selection, Judge Sabo stopped Mumia
from questioning potential jurors. In a blatantly racist move,
Sabo claimed Mumia's appearance--a Black man with a beard and dreadlocks--was "intimidating to jurors."
When Jackson, at Mumia's request, refused to question potential jurors under such conditions, Sabo threatened
the attorney with jail.
Then Sabo took over selecting jurors himself!
Anyone who opposed capital punishment was barred from the jury.
Philadelphia has a large Black population, but the majority of Black people considered were forced out of the jury
pool. And the jury in Mumia's trial ended up with only one Black person.
Mumia continued to demand his rights. Sabo
ruled that Mumia was being disruptive and said Mumia could no
longer defend himself. Sabo had Mumia forcibly removed from the courtroom during large parts of the trial. In the
courtroom, Mumia was represented only by a reluctant attorney whose complete incompetence was obvious to
In 1985 Daniel Faulkner's widow claimed that,
when Faulkner's bloody shirt was displayed in court during the
trial, Mumia turned to her with a cruel grin on his face. This is a proven fabrication--court records show that
Mumia was not even in court that day because Sabo had kicked him out!
How the Police Manufactured "Eyewitness" Testimony
The mainstream press often claims that three
kinds of evidence "established" Mumia's guilt at trial: First,
prosecution eyewitnesses identified him as the gunman. Second, other witnesses said he confessed at the hospital.
Third, his gun was found at the scene.
The truth is: Authorities crudely manufactured
false evidence to frame Mumia. Witnesses were coerced. A false
"confession" was fabricated. And genuine evidence was suppressed.
Cynthia White was the only witness who claimed
to have seen Mumia with a gun in his hand. In fact, White was
not at the scene at all. Several witnesses say she arrived after the shooting. But White was pressured to give false
testimony. After Mumia was jailed, White was arrested repeatedly for prostitution. With each arrest her story
about the Faulkner shooting changed. An outstanding bench warrant against her was lifted and she was brought
from jail to testify. Afterward, she was allowed to work as a prostitute under police protection.
At the trial, a cab driver also identified
Mumia as the shooter. But the night of the shooting, this same witness
said the gunman was a heavy-set man--well over 200 pounds--who ran away from the scene. Mumia was a slim
man, and he was sprawled on the sidewalk with severe wounds. The jury was never told that this witness was on
probation for a felony and therefore vulnerable to police blackmail. Later this man admitted he didn't actually see
Mumia shoot or hold a gun in his hand.
Before the trial, four witnesses said they
saw a man run away from the scene. By the time the trial started, the cab
driver changed his story. Veronica Jones, another witness called by the prosecution, was arrested and intimidated
by police. A third witness never backed off his story which would have pointed the finger away from Mumia as
the shooter. He passed a lie detector test but was never called to testify because the defense was never told about
him. A fourth witness, William Singletary, first reported that Mumia was not the shooter. Later he was forced by
police to sign a statement that he did not see anything. He was harassed so badly that he left Philadelphia before
The police were never interested in finding
the man who was seen "running away from the scene." They
suppressed any evidence that he existed.
The Fictional "Confession" and Suppressed Ballistics
At the trial, a security guard testified that,
at the hospital, Mumia confessed to killing the cop. However, the
security guard never mentioned this so-called "confession" until months after the event--and after Mumia filed
charges that he had been brutalized while in the hospital. The arresting officer who stayed with Mumia at the
hospital signed a statement that "the Negro male made no comments." When the defense tried to call this cop to
testify they were told he was "on vacation." Sabo refused to hold up the trial until this witness could return.
The Police Department's medical examiner said
that Faulkner's head wound was made by a .44 caliber bullet.
Mumia's gun (which he was licensed to carry) was a .38 caliber. The police never tested Mumia's gun to see if it
had been fired.
Police claim that Mumia was shot while standing
over Faulkner. But the pathologist's report on Mumia's chest
wound says this bullet had a downward trajectory. This is consistent with Mumia's statement--that he was shot by
the cop as he approached the scene.
The prosecutors had massive resources for assembling
this frame- up, interviewing over 100 witnesses. But they
used only witnesses willing to help the frame-up--and deliberately withheld the names of other potential witnesses
from the defense. Mumia had no money for investigators who could locate the witnesses or prove his innocence.
In short, Mumia was railroaded--by a conspiracy
that rigged testimony, suppressed evidence, packed the jury,
and constantly disrupted Mumia's attempts to launch a serious defense. The result is not surprising: On July 2,
1982 Mumia was found guilty of murder.
Openly Charged Mumia
with Revolutionary Politics
At the sentencing hearing next day, the following
exchange took place when District Attorney McGill
McGill: Why don't you stand when Judge Sabo comes into the courtroom?
Mumia: Because Judge Sabo deserves no honor
from me. This courtroom is run on force, not honor. He is
an executioner, a hangman.
McGill: Did you ever say that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun?
Mumia: That's a quote from Mao Tsetung. It's
America that seized the land from the Indian race, and it
was not done through preaching Christianity and civilization. I think America has proven that quote to be
Judge Sabo sentenced Mumia to the electric
chair--based on the prosecutor's arguments about Mumia's political
views. McGill later remarked that Mumia "stands for a complete violation of any law and order. If he doesn't like
something, he doesn't try to change it from within. He just rebels against it."
At that sentencing hearing Mumia said: "The
truth is clear--for niggers, poor people, and Puerto Ricans, what
remains of the Indian race, justice is a sham, a ruse, a joke.... I'm innocent of these charges that I have been tried
for, despite the connivance of Sabo, McGill and Jackson to deny me my so-called `rights' to represent myself, to
assistance of my choice, to personally select a jury of my peers, to cross-examine witnesses, and to make both
opening and closing arguments. I am innocent despite what you 12 people think, and the truth shall set me free!...
On December 9, 1981, the police attempted to execute me in the street. This trial is a result of their failure to do
so.... This system is finished! Babylon is falling!"
The whole history of this railroad makes this clear that Mumia is an innocent man persecuted for his politics.
The Battle to Save Mumia
Since this unjust trial, Mumia has been fighting
for a new trial. And he has continued to write his vivid
commentaries from behind bars. His words have spoken to countless hearts--as he exposes forbidden and daring
truths. His words are both biting and smooth--like razors and cream. Mumia's writings have found an eager and
growing audience around the world.
Meanwhile, Mumia's enemies have not stopped
trying to stifle his voice. In 1994, National Public Radio (NPR)
announced they were going to air commentaries by Mumia. Then they shamefully retreated, under pressure from
police and politicians. When Mumia's book Live from Death Row found a publisher, the police launched an
unsuccessful campaign to stop the book from coming out.
On June 2, 1995, the system played its hand.
Knowing that Mumia's legal team was preparing a new appeal,
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge signed a death warrant for Mumia. An execution date was set for 10 p.m.,
August 17, 1995.
Soon afterward, on June 5, 1995, Mumia's lawyers
filed a Post-Conviction Relief Appeal--which demanded a
stay of execution and a new trial. Three hundred pages of documentation accompanied their appeal. Leonard
Weinglass, Mumia's lead attorney, wrote: "The legal papers, based on months of investigation, research and
review, demonstrate unequivocally that Mumia, a man who has claimed his innocence since the very beginning,
was the victim of a politically motivated, racially biased prosecution in which evidence of his innocence was
suppressed." The legal team summed up that Mumia was convicted because of "widespread police and
prosecutorial misconduct, countenanced and advanced by a hostile and biased trial court."
Mumia's legal team also filed a Motion for
Recusal--demanding that Judge Sabo not be allowed to rule on the
appeal because he was clearly prejudiced against Mumia. But Sabo refused to recuse himself. And he refused to
grant a stay of execution.
Sabo made outrageous rulings that were clearly
aimed at rushing through the hearing and sabotaging Mumia's
efforts to get a new trial. Despite this, Mumia's lawyers presented much evidence, showing very clearly that
Mumia was railroaded and should have a new trial. But three days after the PCRA hearing ended, Sabo denied
Mumia's request for a new trial. And an execution date remained in effect.
In the two months before the scheduled execution
date, a very broad and determined campaign developed to stop
the execution of Mumia. All over the world, Mumia's case became a living symbol of the injustice of the U.S.
system. Demonstrations were held in cities throughout the U.S. and in many other countries. Artists, authors and
other prominent people stepped out publicly to defend Mumia. And in the ghettos and barrios of the U.S. a
movement grew, determined to bring the power of the oppressed people into this struggle.
Meanwhile, prison authorities charged that
Mumia was illegally "conducting a business" from prison--because he
had a book published. They gave him 30 days of special punishment--placing him in even more isolated, cruel
conditions and cutting off visits by other journalists and some of his paralegals. Authorities then charged Mumia
with another "offense"--"writing to another prisoner" by submitting an article to the Prison Legal News--and he
was given another 30-day disciplinary custody.
On Monday, August 7--only 10 days before the
state planned on murdering Mumia--Sabo signed a stay of
execution for Mumia. The State of Pennsylvania had been going full steam ahead to have Mumia executed. But
the power of the people forced them to temporarily back off. This was a real victory for the people. But the battle
was far from over. As Mumia put it at the time: "I am now not under an active death warrant, although I remain
under an active death sentence, thus I still sojourn in hell."
Mumia and his legal team have continued to
fight for a new trial. And this demand for a new trial remains a key
focus of the worldwide struggle to free Mumia.
In May 1996 Mumia's lawyers announced a dramatic
new development in Mumia's case. Veronica Jones--one of
the witnesses who testified in the 1982 trial--had come forward with powerful new evidence that Mumia was
Jones was one of four eyewitnesses who initially
told police that they saw the actual shooter flee the scene. Their
accounts directly contradicted the police claim that Mumia had shot the cop. But at the trial, Jones testified that
she did not see anyone flee the scene. Her testimony was very damaging to Mumia's case. Now, in a sworn
statement, Jones has admitted that she lied on the stand under police threats. She says that two plainclothes visited
her in jail shortly before the 1982 trial and told her that she would face a long prison sentence if her testimony
helped Mumia's defense.
Mumia's lawyers submitted Jones' statement
and a motion to reopen the PCRA hearing to the Pennsylvania
Supreme Court. But the state Supreme Court sent the case back to Sabo, the very judge who had colluded with
the prosecutors to prevent Jones' real story from coming out! Sabo's decision was no surprise--he claimed that
the new evidence was not believable or important and denied Mumia a new trial.
In early 1997 the defense team came forward
with more new evidence. Pamela Jenkins, a former prostitute,
signed a sworn statement stating that during Mumia's original trial, the police had pressured her to falsely accuse of
of being the shooter. Insisting that she was nowhere near the scene, Jenkins refused to lie. Jenkins also revealed in
her sworn statement that her friend Cynthia White--the prosecution's chief witness at the trial--confided to her that
she testified after having her life threatened by the police. In a June 1997 hearing on Jenkin's testimony, Sabo
ruled that this new evidence was--once again--"not credible."
Mumia's appeal is now in the Pennsylvania Supreme
Court. One of the justices was formerly the D.A. of
Philadelphia who filed the brief against Mumia during his last appeal in 1989. Pennsylvania Governor Ridge has
made clear his intention to sign a new death warrant setting an execution date, if the state Supreme Court rules
In May 1997 Mumia's lead attorney Leonard Weinglass
wrote: "Once again, the American system of criminal
justice is being challenged by issues of race, class and politics. The life of a black political activist lies threatened
by those same forces who have historically urged a national system of intimidation and control. Nothing short of
complete vindication for Mumia Abu- Jamal, already too late after fifteen years of tortuous incarceration, will
prevent yet another injustice in a history already saturated with the blood of innocents."
This article is posted in English and Spanish
on Revolutionary Worker Online
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