The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal:
By Chris Kinder
The following letter is a most unusual nomination. The nomination is for a news event that has been most censored by the U.S. media. Every year Project Censored, a journalism project directed by Professor Peter Phillips of Sonoma State University in California, composes a list of the major news stories from around the world that have failed to appear in the American media. This nomination goes to Arnold Beverlys confession to a murder for which journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal was convicted and for which he has been locked up in a Pennsylvania prison for the last twenty years, on death row up until a few months ago.
Jamal is a leading journalist and essayist from inside his tiny jail cell where he continues to fight against not only his wrongful conviction but all the injustices of the capitalist system. Beverlys confession should have cracked open this case. It has been followed in succession by affidavits documenting the crumbling of the prosecutions case, including the discrediting of the eye-witnesses who testified against Mumia during his original trial in 1982. This letter exposes the role of the media in helping the prosecutors and the courts to deny justice to Jamal.
February 24, 2002
Project Censored Nominations
Dear Professor Phillips and Project Censored Members,
I am writing to nominate a story for the 200203 edition of Project Censoreds most censored stories: the confession of Arnold Beverly, and the related suppressed evidence of the innocence of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Mumia Abu-Jamals case has been given short shrift in the media over its twenty-year existence, and Mumia the journalist has himself been censoredmost notably when his audio commentaries from death row were yanked off National Public Radios schedule at the last minute at the behest of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). But in refusing to print or air the confession of the man who really did the killing for which Mumia was falsely convictedincluding for a time refusing to even mention the existence of the confessionthe national media have outdone themselves in suppression of essential public information.
In refusing to print or air this information, the national media is marching in lock-step with the courts, which have refused to hear the confession; and with the FOP, which continues to label Mumia a cop-killer. The media has been showing its subservience to the criminal justice system in much the same way that it kow-tows to Bushs war on terrorism and the patriotic fervor and disinformation which that entails. But the depth of the cover-up thats going on here is the real story: its not just about one mans fight to prove his innocence. The confession of Arnold Beverly and other suppressed evidence in the case (much of which has only been brought out recently), points inescapably to a massive police/organized crime conspiracy in Philadelphia, involving payoffs to allow illegal activity, frame-ups of innocent people, and the elimination of potential witnesses. This corruption goes hand-in-hand with a history of racism and brutality going back decades. The corruption in the Philadelphia police has been the subject of federal investigations and prosecutions, exposing numerous high-level police officers, as well as investigation by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. This extensive record of corruption was seen as essential background to the case by Amnesty International in its February 2000 report, Life in the BalanceThe Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Beverlys confession thereforein which he states he was hired (along with an accomplice) to kill Faulkner because the latter interfered with the graft and payoffs made to allow illegal activitydid not come from out of the blue. Far from it. It is in fact an infinitely more sensible and likely scenario than the pack of lies, distortions and fabrications that emerged from the kangaroo court of the racist prosecutor in robes, Albert Sabo, in 1982. In addition to the prior corroboration provided by the federal prosecutions, investigations, etc., the corruption Beverly alleges was further affirmed by the affidavit of a former FBI informant, Donald Hersing, which was filed in court along with Beverlys confession. Hersing documents police involvement in protection rackets and payoffs of exactly the same sort as mentioned by Beverly. Covering up the conspiracy to murder Daniel Faulknerand deflecting attention away from the racism, brutality and corruption in the Philadelphia police generallyis the main driving force behind the drumbeat for the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal; and the exposing of such outrages is clearly necessary to protect the rights and needs of the people.
As if all this wasnt enough to propel the confession of Arnold Beverly into the headlines, there is also the connection to COINTELPROFBI surveillance and provocations aimed against the Black Panther Party and other so-called subversives. Mumia, a former Panther, journalist, and defender of victims of police brutality, was well known to the cops at the time of the Faulkner killing. He was the subject of surveillance since the age of 15, and the cops were already itching to frame him up on something when the opportunity to do so dropped into their laps. Furthermore, the FBI undoubtedly knows a great deal more than its telling about this case. For instance, was Faulkner an FBI informant as Arnold Beverly implies, thereby making him a natural target for corrupt cops? The FBI is already under considerable public pressure over a myriad of other issues. If the free press was really doing its alleged job, the frame-up of Mumia would be the subject of an expose similar to a recent 60 Minutes piece by Mike Wallace (February 26, 2002) which revealed the personal complicity of J Edgar Hoover himself in knowingly keeping an innocent man (Joseph Salvati) in prison for 32 years, to protect criminal FBI informants. Wallace interviewed Representative Dan Burton (R-Ill) about this telling revelation; Burton vowed to press ahead with a congressional investigation of FBI wrong-doing, despite being denied access to subpoenaed documents by executive order of George Bush.
On May 4th 2001, Mumias new legal teamincluding Marlene Kamish, Eliot Grossman and British Barrister Nicholas Brownreported the bombshell of Beverlys confession at a press conference in Philadelphia. They had just filed the confession in the federal court which was already considering Mumias habeas corpus appeal. In July, more documents were filed, including a massive new post-conviction relief appeal (PCRA), which, together with numerous affidavits, clearly establishes the overwhelming mountain of evidence of Mumias innocence. But from this time through December, when Judge Yohn overturned Mumias death sentence, there was virtually no national news coverage! The very existence of a confession in Jamals case wasnt even mentioned, let alone reported on, in what few news items there were. The deathly silence of the press must at least partially explain why Yohn felt free to refuse to even take the deposition of Beverly, and then later to throw out the habeas appeal and uphold the conviction in the same ruling that sent Mumias case back to the state courts for re-sentencing (where a death sentence could be re-imposed).
Furthermore, what local coverage there was between May and December (Philadelphia Inquirer May 5, Philadelphia Daily News May 5 and 8) tended to be biased toward the prosecution. The District Attorneys office was quoted saying the confession was ridiculous, along with other similar reactions by those seeking to protect the police and de-bunk the confession. Such comments echoed the sentiments expressed in (former Mumia attorney) Daniel Williams book, Executing Justice, (St Martins Press, May 2001), which were a well-timed pre-emptive strike against the validity of this evidence. (The publication of this book was a fundamental breach of ethical conduct, which forced Mumia to fire his long-standing legal team, and hire new lawyers.) True presentations of this story in print were left to a handful of left newspapers and periodicals (see story nominations enumerated below).
The video of Beverlys confession was sold publicly, and distributed for free to numerous news organizations, journalists and columnists, during mid/late 2001. It was for a time featured as a streaming video on the web site of KNTV (San Jose). Outside of the web, alternative radio programs such as Flashpoints (KPFA, Berkeley) and Democracy Now In Exile (New York) represented the only electronic media breaks for this story until very late in 2001. A lengthy web article, Mumias All-Or-Nothing Gamble, by David Lindorff, published in June in Salon Magazine, focused on the alleged weaknesses of the new legal team and supposed dubiousness of the new strategy more than on the case itself. Meanwhile, the detailed contents of the PCRA brief, the affidavit of Rachel Wolkenstein (a former member of the Weinglass/Williams legal team, who took Beverlys confession in 1999, and resigned from the team when they refused to bring it forward), and other items of evidence which serve to explain the change of lawyers as well as the case itself, were completely ignored. The PCRA brief, Wolkenstein affidavit and related affidavits were made available in print during this period by Mumia-friendly organizations. Whatever you think about the change in legal teams, it is incontrovertible that the real news was being overlooked.
When Yohn threw out the death sentence in December, there began to be some routine mention of Beverlys confession in the print media, albeit still devoid of even remotely sufficient detail. The struggle against censorship by the major corporate news outlets continued to be a central aspect of this critical case, as a short piece in the San Francisco-based Socialist Viewpoint explained. The author is discussing coverage in the New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle on December 19th, after the overturning of the death sentence:
Aside from the usual implicit presumption of Mumias guilt that colored reports on his case even before the original verdict was pronounced 20 years ago, both newspapers noted for the first time that he was the worlds best-known death row inmate but failed to mention that he had won broad global support. The Chronicle, in its later edition that day went so far as to publish a more in-depth report on its front page with a banner headline referring to its subject by his first name: Reprieve for Mumia. The San Francisco daily, no doubt, felt the pressure of public opinion in the Bay Area which has been heavily influenced by the consistent activities of the Bay Area coalitions in publicizing the facts in Mumias case and mobilizing mass demonstrations in the streets of San Francisco and other Bay Area cities. But the smoking gun that has lifted a corner on what has been a media conspiracy to assist in the frame-up appears in the last paragraph of both newspapers first editions on December 19. The Times piece ends with these words: Mr. Jamal acknowledges that he was at the scene but has steadfastly maintained his innocence. He says someone else, whom he does not identify, was the killer. (Emphasis added) The Chronicle article is exactly as in the Times reportwith the glaring omission of the last sentence, which has been italicized for the convenience of our readers. But neither newspaper in their December 19 editions, nor in their reports on the following day, mentions Arnold Beverlys sworn confession to the murder for which Mumia has been on death row for 20 years and now faces life imprisonment without parole. Neither is it reported that no attempt has been made by the Philadelphia and Pennsylvania police, courts, and other authorities to verify the confession or disprove it! So much for the American system of justice. Socialist Viewpoint, January 2002.
The only break in the wall of silence in the television realm after the overturning of the death sentence occurred on NBCs Today Show on December 19, in which Eliot Grossman and Pam Africa, of International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia, were interviewed, and a very brief portion of Beverlys confession tape was airededited, to avoid mention of the police corruption scandal underlying the killing. The intention of the program seemed mainly to get the reaction of the police/prosecutorial side to the overturning of the death sentence. Maureen Faulkner (widow of the slain officer, and an aggressive proponent of Mumias execution) and her lawyer, Michael Smerconish, were given the most time as well as the first and last word on the segment. The shows producers had no intention of airing Beverlys confession, and were only persuaded to air the smallest portion of it they could get away with when Grossman and Africa threatened to refuse to be interviewed at all if they did not.
In making this submission, I have only touched on the most salient aspects of the case. Much of the voluminous detail which is available to corroborate the confession of Arnold Beverly, I leave to the articles nominated, and the background material. Beginning on the following page is a list of that material, starting with the sources for the story.
Note: This letter, made available to Socialist Viewpoint after the nominations process of Project Censored, includes a lengthy list of source materials about the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. For more information about sources and available materials and to contact the Labor Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal: P.O. Box 16222, Oakland, CA 94610. Telephone: (510) 763-2347.