21 February 2020

Mumia Abu-Jamal: Still Fighting for His Freedom

(Class-Struggle Defense Notes)

This year marks the 40th year in prison—the first 30 spent on death row—for class-war prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. Mumia is a former Black Panther Party spokesman, MOVE supporter and award-winning journalist. Condemned to prison hell in a textbook frame-up that featured racist jury-rigging, evidence tampering, phony ballistics, terrorization of witnesses, lying prosecutors and a judge who boasted “I’m going to help them fry the n----r,” Mumia was convicted and sentenced to be executed for the shooting death in December 1981 of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. Both Pennsylvania and federal courts have rubber-stamped the multiple violations of Mumia’s constitutional rights and turned a blind eye to the mountains of evidence of his innocence—including the confession of Arnold Beverly that he shot Faulkner. In 2001, a U.S. District Court judge overturned the death sentence and ten years later the Philly D.A.’s office dropped its efforts to legally lynch Mumia, content to watch him suffer the slow death of life in prison with no chance of parole. 

On January 23, PDC counsel Valerie West and Jonathan Piper visited with Mumia at the state prison in Mahanoy, Pennsylvania. Among other things, West and Piper discussed with him the recently renewed legal challenges to his imprisonment. In December 2018, Judge Leon Tucker ordered that Mumia be allowed to reargue all post-conviction decisions dating back to the 1990s. Tucker ruled that it was an unconstitutional conflict of interest for Supreme Court Justice Ronald Castille, who as Philadelphia D.A. clamored for Mumia’s execution, to participate in deciding Mumia’s appeals. Subsequently, last September Mumia’s lawyers filed a new application with the Pennsylvania Superior Court to overturn his conviction.

Less than a week after Judge Tucker’s decision, the Philadelphia D.A.’s office revealed that they had “discovered” six new boxes of files. Mumia’s attorneys found upon examination that the files contained exculpatory evidence that had been previously withheld from the defense. Mumia’s legal team is now seeking a new hearing before Judge Tucker to consider this recently discovered evidence. The documents in the files confirm that the two central prosecution witnesses during the original 1982 trial had been made promises in exchange for testifying against Mumia, even though they denied that at the time. One document is a letter from prosecutorial witness Robert Chobert to lead prosecutor Joseph McGill demanding “how long will it take” to get “the money own to me?” Other documents confirm that McGill was stalking the supposed “eyewitness,” Cynthia White—a prostitute who had active charges against her—to make sure she followed through on fingering Mumia as the shooter and that she kept to her story. The files also contain McGill’s notes detailing the race of each potential juror, supporting Mumia’s claim that black jurors were unlawfully excluded.

We have long fought for Mumia’s freedom and have advocated pursuing all possible legal avenues, while warning against any illusions in the courts of the capitalist class enemy. In a presentation to the PDC Holiday Appeal in New York City on January 25, Piper emphasized that “these courts are at the core of the capitalist state which, along with the cops, army and prisons, is a machinery of violence designed to maintain the rule of the racist rulers and the black oppression that American capitalism is built on.” The current manifestation of these liberal illusions is the cheering for so-called “progressive D.A.s” like Larry Krasner in Philadelphia, who is determined to uphold Mumia’s conviction and keep him buried alive. Philadelphia’s new black woman police commissioner, Danielle Outlaw, who as Portland, Oregon’s top cop oversaw a department that shot and killed black people with impunity, is now being lauded.

As Piper noted, “A cop is a cop and a D.A. is a D.A., with the job of lawyering for the lying cops and channeling black and poor youth to the dungeons in the interest of the bosses.” Piper pointed out, “We have fought for Mumia’s struggle to be taken up by the multiracial labor movement—those who create the wealth of this society and who can shut it down. To put an end to capitalist exploitation, racial oppression and injustice, what is necessary is for the working class to sweep away the ruling class and its state apparatus and establish its own egalitarian rule.”

Over the past few years Mumia has struggled with various health problems, including hepatitis C which brought him to the brink of death, and has had to fight tooth and nail for treatment. Though his health is generally better, he still suffers from skin conditions. Last summer, Mumia finally had left eye cataract surgery, ending months in which he had had difficulty reading a newspaper. He told Piper and West that he is looking forward to having the right eye done—a procedure that prison policy would have ruled out a few years ago on the grounds that prisoners only need one good eye!

Despite the horrific prison conditions, Mumia remains irrepressible. He told us in the recent visit that he is currently pursuing a PhD. He continues to contribute commentaries to Prison Radio and last year published the second book of his three-part series, Murder Incorporated: (Empire, Genocide, and Manifest Destiny) Book Two: America’s Favorite Pastime. Mumia reminisced about visiting Oakland as a teenage member of the Black Panthers and how warmly he was treated by Geronimo ji Jaga (Pratt), who himself would spend 27 years in prison on a frame-up murder conviction. Mumia also spoke of his pride in serving as a bodyguard for Panther chairman Huey Newton when he came to Philadelphia. In recalling what reading first inspired him as a youth, he cited a Ramparts magazine article he read at the age of 14 about a new party—the Black Panther Party.

We urge our readers to donate to Mumia’s legal defense. Checks payable to the National Lawyers Guild should be sent to the Committee to Save Mumia Abu-Jamal, Johanna Fernandez, 158-18 Riverside Drive W., Apt. 6C-50, New York, NY 10032, earmarked “For Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Legal Defense.”

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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1170, 21 February 2020)

Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.