Behind Bars

Mobilizing the Movement for Justice

The Fourth Annual Stanley Tookie Williams Legacy Summit, “Mobilizing the Movement for Justice,” was held at Merritt College in Oakland on Dec. 13, 2009. Over 400 people attended.

The event focused on the cases of “Three Innocent Men on Death Row, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Kevin Cooper, and Troy Anthony Davis.” Featured speakers on these three men’s cases included messages from Kevin Cooper and Mumia Abu-Jamal themselves; Martina Correia, Troy Davis’ sister; Angela Davis, and Clarence Thomas of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

Barbara Becnel, co-author and friend of Stanley Tookie Williams (and witness to his torture and execution) was the main organizer of the event, which had participation of mostly Black students from Merritt College. The college president, Dr. Robert Adams, Dr. Siri Brown, of the African American Studies Department, and Bonita Carter, the President of the Black Student Union, and Mistress of Ceremony, Debra Jacks, warmly welcomed the participants and spoke for abolishing the death penalty.

Oscar Grant’s mother, Wanda Johnson, his uncle Cephus Johnson, and Jack Bryson, the father of two sons who were with Oscar Grant when he was murdered by the BART police last New Year’s Day, also spoke movingly to the crowd about their role in bringing about justice in this case.

We are reprinting the messages from Kevin Cooper and Mumia Abu-Jamal as well as the presentations by Crystal Bybee and Carole Seligman. Crystal Bybee is a National Board member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, a leader in the Kevin Cooper Defense Committee, and a friend of Kevin’s.

Carole Seligman is a member of the Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal and a friend of Kevin Cooper’s, active in both his and Mumia’s defense.

Liars and Hypocrites

By Kevin Cooper

There are certain people, some who work for the United States government, some who support the United States government, who claim that no part of the United States government uses or participates in
terrorism or torture.

They say the United States government does not condone such things, and is fighting wars to defeat such barbaric practices.

I beg to disagree.

Across this country, in death houses and death chambers, men and women have been terrorized and tortured and murdered by the state.

Here in this state of California, between the dates of December 17, 2003 when the state set an execution date for me, and February 9, 2004, when I came within three hours and forty-two minutes of being executed and received a stay of execution—I was terrorized.

There can be no doubt in anyone’s mind despite what the state of California claimed. We have eyewitness accounts and we have proof that Stanley Tookie Williams was in fact horribly tortured, then murdered by the Department of Corrections of the State of California on December 13, 2005.

These things that happened to me, and what happened to Big Tookie, did not happen to us in any country that this government calls a terrorist state or part of the axis of evil. It did not happen in Iran or Iraq, in Pakistan or Palestine, not in Afghanistan or Lebanon or North Korea.

What happened to us, and to every other person who has been terrorized, then tortured and executed within the walls of these prisons, was not done by Hamas, or the Taliban, Hezbollah or al-Qaeda. It was this United States government’s own state officials doing this to their own United States citizens.

These volunteer executioners were, in my case, white men with a couple of black men assistants, all proudly wearing uniforms of the state Department of Corrections. Some had American flag pins on their shirt collars showing just how patriotic they are.

When it comes to killing poor people, after first dehumanizing them and torturing them, these Red White & Blue Americans have a sick kind of Christianity in their hearts, and a perverted kind of American justice in their minds.

Throughout history these two most powerful ingredients have come together to the detriment of those who fall in the path of people misusing and abusing both religion and the law.

We poor people and people of color are always the ones who are tortured and murdered by a government who claims not to do these things. We know the truth, and we know that they are liars and hypocrites, no matter what they say!

Free Kevin Cooper!

By Crystal Bybee

On November 30th, the Supreme Court turned down Kevin Cooper’s final appeal. They were upholding the decision to deny Kevin by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is the highest federal court before you get to the Supreme Court.

He came within a few votes of winning at the Ninth circuit.

One judge who wanted to grant Kevin’s appeal wrote over 100 pages about Kevin’s case and why he is innocent and how the state has framed him. That judge wrote, “the State of California may be about to execute an innocent man.” We know that we can’t let that happen!

I want to tell you more about Kevin Cooper. The case is very complex and I encourage you to research it. Everything is on our website at You can read the 100-page document by the judge. Even though it’s written by a judge, most of it is very easy to read and understand.

Who is Kevin Cooper?

Kevin Cooper was wrongfully convicted of the 1983 murders of the Ryen family and young houseguest, Christopher Hughes, in Chino Hills in Southern California.

This was a gruesome crime—four people were killed, and a fifth person, a young boy, was attacked, but survived. Multiple weapons were used. It was done quickly. Clearly, this was done by more than one person.

The boy who survived, Josh Ryen, was badly injured, but he was able to communicate with police and told them that three white men killed his family.

In the beginning, the police thought they were looking for three white men. Where does Kevin Cooper, an African American man, come in to the picture?

Two answers: he was in the wrong place at the wrong time; and he is Black.

The police found out that Kevin had escaped—walked away—from a minimum-security prison where he was doing time for burglary, and he happened to have stayed in a house near the Ryen’s. He wasn’t a violent person; he was in prison for robbery.

Once they found that out—they had their man. Kevin was poor, Black, had just escaped prison, and was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

They went after him even though it didn’t make sense. They said he acted alone, despite the report from the survivor that there were three white men. They didn’t have a motive. Kevin was on the run and needed money. There was cash and credit cards left in plain sight at the crime scene, but they weren’t stolen. The Ryen’s car was in the driveway with the keys in the ignition—if Kevin were there, why wouldn’t he have taken the car?

But they had their suspect, so they ignored lots of evidence pointing to the real killers. They destroyed evidence; they falsified tests of evidence; they did everything they had to do to get a conviction.

Here is just one example of what they did:

A woman told the police that her boyfriend, a white supremacist gang member and convicted murderer, came to her house covered in blood on the night of the murders. She turned a pair of his blood-spattered coveralls over to the sheriff as evidence.

Reports from different witnesses at a bar nearby identified multiple white men in bloody clothes that night. Witnesses reported multiple white people driving a car nearby matching the Ryen’s car. A prisoner confessed to his cellmate that he had committed the crime.

But the police weren’t interested in any of it because their plan was to convict Kevin Cooper.

They used false evidence. Again here is just one example—they found a shoeprint and they said it could only come from a prison-issue shoe and since Kevin had been in prison it must have been him. Except they knew at the time that wasn’t true—the warden told them that those shoes could be bought other places.

In addition, the manager of the crime lab where the shoeprint evidence was discovered was caught stealing heroin from the evidence locker at the crime lab soon after Kevin’s trial! He stole the heroin for his personal use and to sell to drug dealers.

Since they weren’t interested in the truth, and only interested in convicting Kevin, they let racism do part of the work for them. There were essentially racist lynch mobs outside of the trial; racists wearing gorilla costumes with nooses around the neck; people holding signs saying he should be hanged and using racial slurs.

The state has continually said that there was overwhelming evidence of his guilt—but in fact there was not. Jurors stated that had there been one less piece of evidence they would not have convicted him. So if they had known that the evidence was a lie, and known that other evidence was hidden from them, I fully believe that they would NOT have convicted Kevin.

So how have they kept him on death row for 25 years for something he didn’t do? They have continued to tamper with the evidence. And we have proof that they have, but the courts haven’t cared.

After he received a stay of execution, the court was ordered to do more tests—to find out if the evidence had been tampered with.

The court wouldn’t allow Kevin’s attorneys to even see the evidence, and their own tests did show tampering. So what did they do? They withdrew the results!

At every step they refused to let Kevin prove his innocence. That has led to the point where we are today.

Kevin came within hours of being executed in 2004. The movement outside the courtroom and the battle inside the courtroom stopped that execution. That’s what we need to do again. Kevin has great lawyers who will fight for him and do their best to get justice out of the courts.

We need to build the movement out here for Kevin—and for Troy Davis, and for Mumia Abu-Jamal.

They aren’t executing anyone in California right now. Executions are now on hold because death penalty abolitionists exposed how Stanley Tookie Williams and other prisoners were tortured before they were executed. The state wants to have a more “humane” approach to killing people.

The Campaign to End the Death Penalty says that there is no right way to do the wrong thing. All executions are cruel and unusual. The death penalty is racist and kills innocent people. We need to end the death penalty.

Kevin Cooper isn’t just a victim of this system. He is a fighter. He will keep fighting, not just for himself, but for everyone on death row and everyone facing injustice.

If Kevin can do that from his death house cell; if Mumia and Troy can do that; if Troy’s sister Martina can fight; if Oscar Grant’s family can fight; if Barbara Becnel can keep fighting after what they did to Stan—then we all can fight. And we need you to join this fight.

Free Troy Davis, Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, Free Kevin Cooper!

Free Mumia

By Carole Seligman

This was an introduction to the message from Mumia Abu-Jamal.

When Governor Schwarzenegger denied clemency to Stanley Tookie Williams he cited the dedication in Tookie’s book, Life in Prison. Tookie dedicated his book to Mumia Abu-Jamal, Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X, and other freedom fighters. That action signaled that the government intends to execute Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Mumia is an innocent man. He did not kill Police Officer Daniel Faulkner. In fact another man confessed to the killing. A whole book, The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal, by J. Patrick O’Connor, proves conclusively Mumia’s innocence, as well as telling who killed Officer Faulkner.

Mumia’s prosecution, trials, and conviction, including the recent U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to hear his appeal, are fraught with every injustice. Here is a short list of nine of these:

1. As a 15-year-old member of the Black Panther Party, Mumia was targeted by the FBI’s COINTELPRO program that was created to destroy Black organizations that went so far as to set up murders, including Fred Hampton. That targeting of Mumia led to his frame-up for the murder of Officer Faulkner.

2. The Philadelphia Police is the only police department in the country that the U.S. Justice Department tried to place in receivership because of its racism, brutality and corruption. At the time of the murder of Officer Faulkner in 1981, there were three federal investigations into police corruption, including connections with the mob. Some Philadelphia policemen, who worked as FBI informers, were victims of hits in the early 1980s. Officer Faulkner may have been one.

3. Three leading figures in Mumia’s prosecution—the commanding officer of the division where Faulkner’s murder took place, the chief of the homicide division, and Inspector Alfonzo Giordano—were all under investigation on federal corruption charges. These three cops were the chain of command in the frame-up of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Giordano was the ranking policeman at the scene and the central witness against Mumia at the first hearing after Mumia’s arrest. He had been Mayor Frank Rizzo’s right-hand man. He was involved in the surveillance of the Black Panthers and was the police supervisor during the siege of the MOVE house; and knew very well who Mumia was.

4. No witnesses testified seeing Mumia shoot Faulkner; and the one witness who testified that she saw a gun in Mumia’s hand has admitted that she lied. Five witnesses, including two policemen, said that the shooter wore a green army jacket. Mumia wore a red ski jacket with blue stripes. Witnesses said the shooter ran away. Mumia was shot at the scene.

5. Ballistic and blood evidence at the crime scene contradicts the prosecution’s case. There is no evidence that Mumia’s gun was fired on the night of the murder.

6. Cops tried to kill Mumia the night of the murder. They shot him. They beat him several times after he was shot. Giordano beat Mumia in the police van and claimed that Mumia confessed to him in the van. The other cop in the van said there was no confession. Despite Giodano’s claim that Mumia had confessed to him, Giordano did not testify at the trial! And, he resigned from the force the day the trial was over.

7. Crime scene photos taken by Pedro Polakoff confirm that the police manufactured evidence to convict an innocent man.

8. Arnold Beverly, in a sworn affidavit claimed that he was one of two men hired by police and the mob to kill Faulkner because of his interference with graft and payoffs to cops. He passed a lie detector test. His confession is considered credible by former attorneys in the case, scholars, and many in the movement to free Mumia.

Mumia’s brother, in his deposition, implicated the shooter as Kenneth Freeman. Possibly both Beverly and Freeman shot officer Faulkner.

9. The judge in the original 1981 trial, as well as the Post Conviction trial, Judge Sabo, was an out-and-out racist. He was overheard saying that he was going “to help fry the n-----.” (You know the word.) Sabo was a judge known for the great number of death sentences he issued and for keeping Blacks off juries.

These are only a few of the injustices in the frame-up of Mumia Abu-Jamal.

The Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal does not trust the courts. We know that the over one hundred of exonerated prisoners, many who were on death row, are testament to the lack of justice in American courts. And, we are up against the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, an unconstitutional, but fully operative, law that allows the state to execute the innocent. All three of these innocent men we are fighting for today are up against this horrendous law as they fight to prove their innocence!

We are also up against something called the “Mumia Exception,” where the courts ignore their own precedents, such the Batson decision, which disallows exclusion of jurors because of race, in order to bow to the campaign to kill Mumia waged by the Fraternal Order of Police.

For justice to be won for Mumia—meaning his freedom, not a life sentence—we must mobilize a massive movement of working people. A movement showing that massive numbers really care about what happens to Mumia; that we take his situation personally and that if such a frame-up can be accomplished, none of us are safe. Conversely, if we can win his freedom, our struggle for justice takes a giant step forward.

The short message from Mumia that you are about to hear was recorded by Prison Radio Project. We’re lucky to have it at all, because the prison never delivered the request for his statement to him.

Solidarity Greetings from Mumia Abu-Jamal

Recorded By Prison Radio Project

Long live John Africa.

Solidarity to “Mobilizing the Movement for Justice: Three Innocent Men on Death Row,” at Merritt College, Oakland, December 13, 2009.

I thank you all for gathering in
this struggle for life, for liberty, and for a change in the system of repression under which we all live, breathe, and die. 

This is a system that is, as we see overseas, imperialistic, and incredibly violent.

That system can no longer remain overseas; it comes home to all of us.

It comes home to us in less rights.  It comes home to us in more militarization of police.  It comes home to us in this dreaded era of repression.

Even when one claims that it’s a time of light and release, we must struggle against it, all of us. 

And I thank you for your part, and your assistance in this struggle. 

Ona move, long live John Africa. 

From death row, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.