Justice Denied! The Long Struggle of Mumia Abu-Jamal
World-renowned revolutionary journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted and sent to death row in the killing of a police officer in Philadelphia, has now gone through 27 years of fruitless appeal proceedings. Despite mounting and irrefutable evidence of Jamal’s innocence, all of these hearings have upheld his conviction in a 1982 trial, which was rightly called “a monumental miscarriage of justice from beginning to end,” by crime reporter J Patrick O’Connor.
Then, last April, the U.S. Supreme Court finished off this cowardly charade by denying Jamal a final hearing, without so much as a word of explanation. In making this flat-out rejection of Mumia’s appeal, the Supreme Court—like the Federal Third Circuit Court a year earlier—had to knowingly violate its own well-established precedent in Batson v Kentucky—the 1986 ruling which said that purging a jury on the basis of race was unconstitutional. A violation required a new trial, even retroactively. In Mumia’s case, the prosecutor used at least ten out of 15 peremptory challenges to exclude qualified blacks for reasons that were not applied to prospective white jurors. Only one such exclusion is required to trigger a conviction reversal under Batson!
Called the “Mumia Exception,” by O’Connor, whose book, The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal, is perhaps the best yet written on the case, decisions such as these demonstrate a systematic bias inherent in the courts and political system: those considered a threat to the system will be persecuted in total disregard of the law. As Mumia himself puts it in his brilliant new book, Jailhouse Lawyers, “The law is what the judge says it is.”
Racism in jury selection was only one outrage in Jamal’s trial. The judge, Albert Sabo, a former cop himself and a known “prosecutor in robes,” expelled Jamal from most of his own trial, prevented evidence that would show Mumia’s innocence from being admitted, and systematically denied defense motions. None of this behavior was “legal,” nor was it an accident: Sabo was out to get Mumia. He made this clear when he was overheard to say privately, in court during a break, “yeah, and I’m gonna help ’em fry the n——r.”
Mumia Abu-Jamal is innocent!
Jamal’s innocence was clear from the beginning, or should have been. Several witnesses said they saw one or two other men flee the scene right after the shooting. Businessman William Singletary, who witnessed the entire incident close up, told police that the passenger in the car which had been stopped by the slain officer was the real shooter. Jamal, he said, arrived on the scene unarmed, and only after the shooting!
Jamal had been driving a cab and was in the neighborhood when he heard gun shots, and saw his brother, Billy Cook, in his rear-view mirror. Cook was staggering, having been beaten by a cop. Running to the scene, Jamal was shot and almost killed by a cop, either by the mortally-wounded officer (Daniel Faulkner), or by a cop arriving on the scene. Meanwhile, police arriving on the scene, instead of collecting actual evidence, immediately began to frame the wounded Jamal for the murder of the officer. They knew who they had, because Mumia was a former Black Panther, a journalist who had exposed earlier police crimes on local radio; and he had been targeted by the Justice Department’s counter-intelligence program (COINTELPRO).
A well-prepared railroading
Police and prosecutors prepared Jamal’s frame-up well: they threatened witnesses into changing their stories, and suppressed evidence that could prove Jamal’s innocence.
The most important prosecution witnesses, Cynthia White and Robert Chobert, later admitted privately, or to investigators, that they had lied under pressure. Neither one of them actually saw the shooting they had claimed to witness! Defense witness Veronica Jones—one of those who saw two men hastily leave the scene right after the shooting—later testified in an appeal hearing that she changed her story and lied at the trial under police threats of jail (which would have meant losing her children).
Police and prosecutors also manufactured a so-called “confession,” which one cop claimed to “remember” weeks after the fact. William Singletary refused to lie for police, and promptly became the victim of a police terror campaign. The cops trashed his businesses, and drove him out of town with a warning: don’t be here when the trial started! With Singletary out of the way, the prosecutor, Joe McGill, then hid the presence on the scene of shooter Kenneth Freeman (the man identified by Singletary) from jurors, even though his presence had been acknowledged by McGill in the earlier trial of Mumia’s brother for allegedly assaulting the slain officer.
The appeals process was more of the same. Prosecutors read Mumia’s private correspondence with his lawyers, where they learned of a planned appeal by the lawyers. As a result of this illegally-obtained covert knowledge, Governor Tom Ridge issued a death warrant for Mumia in 1995, just prior to the planned appeal—a sneak attack on the ability of the defense
Meanwhile, Albert Sabo was brought out of virtual retirement to preside over the appeal, where he continued his own earlier hatchet job on Mumia’s case! Despite widespread condemnation for rampant unfair practices, including by Philadelphia’s usually conservative press, Sabo got away with denying Jamal a new trial.
Massive international support
Over the years, Mumia Abu-Jamal has gained massive international support. The European Parliament and the city of Paris, France have joined politicians such as Nelson Mandela and the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus, as well as numerous individuals, unions and Hollywood actors to denounce the blatant unfairness of the case against him. And for a time, Mumia was represented in court by famed civil rights attorney, Leonard Weinglass.
But Weinglass was reluctant to take the police frame-up head-on, and assert Mumia’s innocence. He kept under wraps the confession of Arnold Beverly, a former hit-man who said that he “and another guy” (possibly Kenneth Freeman) were hired by corrupt cops to kill Faulkner, because Faulkner “interfered” with their payoffs in Philadelphia’s red light district.
The Beverly confession—a big clue
Faulkner was found to have a long FBI file, mostly redacted, which means he was probably snitching on his brethren. Jamal later fired Weinglass, but his subsequent legal team was unable to get Beverly into court, partly because of “timeliness.” The courts refused to even take Beverly’s deposition!
The Beverly confession pointed to a much-needed explanation of what really happened in the Faulkner killing, but almost no one wanted to hear it. Celebrities, notables and most of the Mumia movement were willing to call for a new trial for Mumia, but most of them weren’t ready to face the dirty reality of police, courts and politicians framing an innocent person in order to cover up their own crimes. When Weinglass was fired, and the Beverly confession was brought into the public domain, many of these supporters took a hike.
Although a mass mobilization was instrumental in halting Jamal’s execution in 1995, most of his defense movement has looked to the courts, by focusing on a new trial. In recent years, as demonstrations dwindled, hopes for a new trial rose, but with the flat rejection from the Supreme Court in April 2009, the Mumia movement seemed discouraged and for a time, inactive.
The current campaign by the Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal and others to get Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, to open an investigation into the denial of Mumia’s civil rights, seems to us a poor substitute for a mass movement. Of course there are innumerable civil rights violations throughout this case, but the Justice Department, itself complicit in Mumia’s COINTELPRO targeting, and in the police murders of Black Panthers around the country, cannot be trusted to find and expose these violations, any more than the courts. In the unlikely event that Holder does investigate, another cover-up could be the result.
Labor’s fight—free Mumia!
Mumia is a class-war prisoner, and it will take a class struggle to free him: that was position of longshore workers in the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) when they shut down all the ports on the West Coast in 1999, and headed the march of 25,000 in San Francisco, to free Mumia. Oakland teachers, and teachers in Rio de Janeiro Brazil also took work actions to support Mumia. Only this kind of working-class action, combined with mass mobilizations, can defeat a determined frame-up by cops, courts and politicians. Mumia Abu-Jamal is now in imminent danger of a new execution order, so the need for action is urgent. For workers action to free Mumia!
What you can do now
Innocent death-row journalist and political prisoner, Mumia Abu-Jamal, has been denied justice by a corrupt and vindictive system. District, State and Federal courts, up to and including the U.S. Supreme Court, have denied Mumia the basic right to prove his innocence. A mountain of evidence has gone completely unheard! Framed for a crime he didn’t commit by cops, prosecutors, courts and politicians from both political parties, Mumia’s only crime was to stand up and speak out against the crimes of corrupt, racist police, and the imperialist state that backs them up. The crimes committed against this brave “voice of the voiceless” are crimes committed against all of us.
Innocent people have been put to death by the state. In Herrera v Collins, the U.S. Supreme Court said it was wrong to execute the innocent, but then they did it anyway, showing that innocence is no defense! Under the law, evidence of innocence may not be admissible, even after a grossly unfair trial. The victims of this lynch-law system are often—but not exclusively—black.
Kevin Cooper could not possibly have committed the murders he was accused of, but police framed him because he was a black prison escapee, and the victims were white. One judge said, “California might be about to kill and innocent man,” but that was in a dissent from a ruling against Kevin! Troy Davis was framed in Georgia on the basis of false testimony from the likely murderer. Other witnesses were pressured by police to lie. Oscar Grant was shot in the back while face down on a subway platform—executed by a cop without any trial at all! And in 2004, an innocent white man, Cameron Todd Willingham, was put to death in Texas on charges of arson-murder, when, it turns out, there was no evidence of arson at all! And these are just a few examples. We must fight back against this unjust, racist system because... You could be next!
Mumia Abu-Jamal needs your help now!
Mumia has run out of appeals against his unjust conviction. Now, even more than before, we cannot rely on the courts to free Mumia! Mumia is a class-war victim, and it will take a class war to free him. We need mass mobilizations such as that of 1995, which helped stop a death order against Mumia! We need labor actions, such as the West-Coast port shut down to free Mumia by longshore workers in 1999, or the teach-ins the same year by Oakland teachers! And we need your help to build support and initiate actions!
Get the facts! The web site of the Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, www.laboractionmumia.org, has an archive of legal briefs and other documents showing how Mumia was framed. For a complete debunking of the frame up against Mumia, see Murdered by Mumia?!
Get the real story at:
Information on Kevin Cooper can be found at:
Information on Troy Davis can be found at:
Spread the word! Mobilization begins with convincing others you work with to take action. Download, print out and distribute flyers and other information from the sites mentioned above.
Get books and buttons! Order The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal, by crime writer J Patrick O’Connor, or get Mumia’s brilliant new book, Jailhouse Lawyers. Each book is available from us for our cost, $10, plus $1 shipping. Buttons are available from the LAC for $1 each, or 50 cents each for batches of 10 or more. See address below.
Pass a resolution in your local union or organization! See below for a sample resolution.
Donate money! Send donations, and payment for books and buttons, to: the Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, PO Box 16222, Oakland CA 94610.
Organize! Organize a discussion group in your union, organization or neighborhood. Organize a protest demonstration in your town or city to get the word out.
This resolution was passed by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) 2009 convention.
2009 Convention Resolution on Racist Oppression and the Death Penalty
Whereas, the ILWU and the militant wing of the American labor movement, the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) grew out of the class struggles in the 1920’s and 1930’s mobilizing against anti-worker and racist oppression, notably the cases of San Francisco labor organizer Tom Mooney and the 9 black Scottsboro Boys of Alabama, falsely accused of rape, and
Whereas, police, courts and laws have historically been used against working people in our struggle to organize unions and fight back against racist oppression, and
Whereas, the ILWU has a long-standing principle of opposition to racism and to the death penalty, a vestige of slavery, which is the ultimate form of government oppression, and
Whereas, African Americans, Latin Americans and other people of color are disproportionately imprisoned on death row across the country facing execution, and
Whereas, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Troy Anthony Davis, Kevin Cooper, Leonard Peltier and the San Francisco 8 are some of the most prominent victims of these government frame-ups, Jamal and Davis accused of killing police and Peltier of FBI agents on an Indian reservation, and
Whereas, the U.S. Supreme Court recently denied the appeal of Jamal, while Davis and Cooper lost before federal appeals courts, and
Whereas, Martina Correia, sister of Troy Davis, spoke passionately this year at ILWU Local 10’s Black History month rally against racist repression and has now initiated a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of executing an innocent person,
Therefore Be It Resolved that the ILWU reaffirms our opposition to the death penalty, supports Martina Correia’s lawsuit and demands freedom for these victims of government repression, just as we did for Tom Mooney and the Scottsboro Boys in the wake of the Big Strike of ‘34, on this the 75th anniversary of that momentous struggle.
The Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal
PO Box 16222 - Oakland CA 94610 - 510.763-2347