Incarceration Nation

Free Mumia Abu-Jamal

By Carole Seligman

This is a speech presented at the December 9, 2016 demonstration in Oakland, CA, in solidarity with an action in Philadelphia on the 35th anniversary of the arrest, attempted murder, and frame-up of Mumia Abu-Jamal. The speaker was representing the Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Mumia Abu-Jamal is an innocent man. Like many others, he was shot by cops on the street. He was framed and sent to death row. Now he’s on slow death row—serving a sentence of life without parole—a very American form of torture. He’s there because he was targeted and framed by the FBI and racist Philadelphia City cops, prosecutors, and courts. Somehow, through 35 years of intense prison torture, he continues, as a journalist, to be an intellectual leader of resistance to the U.S. imperialist empire. 

Young artists of Oakland have just been the victims of how this empire works at the level of the Oakland City government. A completely preventable disaster, the fire that killed 36 people is totally the product of greedy landlords and their acquisition of wealth-by-any-and-all means, AND the protection of this system of profiteering-from-housing by city government. 

The same kinds of City and State and federal governmental institutions, whether they are run by conservative Republicans or so-called progressive Democrats, from Fire Department inspectors, to housing inspectors, to prison administrators, to parole boards, administer a system—capitalism—for the profits of the less-than-one-percent. And, that profiteering system of oppression and inequality that rules this society means that working class people do not have the right to freedom from torture and prison, do not have the right to safe housing, do not have the right to clean water, do not have the right to be free of a toxic environment of lead-filled water, particulate filled air, pesticide laden soil, nuclear waste, and war. And prisoners do not have the right to treatment of curable diseases although a Pennsylvania judge has ruled that such denial of healthcare constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Despite this ruling, Pennsylvania still does not provide proven effective treatment for Hepatitis C, a disease that nearly killed Mumia last year and which he and thousands of Pennsylvania prisoners suffer from. Because older people are now being urged through TV ads by pharmaceutical companies to get tested for Hep C, and there is available medicine to cure it, you would think that logically such treatment would be automatically provided to prisoners whose healthcare is in the control of the state. No. Logic has nothing to do with such conditions. It had nothing to do with the preventable fire deaths in Oakland—unless you consider capitalist oppression—a system based on profiteering—to be logical.

In other words, the struggle for a safe, healthy, peaceful, and free human existence are all related because the enemy of all these conditions is the capitalist system.

 The Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal has worked to organize working people to join the struggle to free our innocent brother from prison. Mumia is innocent of the crime he was convicted of by a racist judge and a jury that purposely excluded Black people. 

At every level of his case, a corrupt and racist system prevailed, so that the evidence of his incontrovertible innocence, including a confession by another man, and testimony by eye-witnesses to the murder of Police Officer Faulkner, have been excluded from any hearing, trial or appeals proceedings.

There was one important victory in this 35-year-old case. Mumia was spared execution and his sentence changed from execution to slow death row—life without parole. The reason this happened was because a mass movement with big mass actions, demonstrations, even the one-day shut down of the Ports of Oakland and the whole West Coast in 1999, and a teach-in on the death penalty and Mumia’s case throughout the Oakland city schools, demanded Mumia’s freedom. It was a mass movement that could not be ignored.

Now, a new Supreme Court decision provides a very important legal opening for Mumia to walk out of prison. The decision, Williams vs. Pennsylvania, ruled that a prosecutor cannot serve as a judge on an appeal of a defendant he prosecuted. This is exactly what happened to Mumia. A District Attorney, Ronald Castille, who prosecuted Mumia (and even organized the training of the Philadelphia attorneys on how to exclude Black people from juries), later became a Pennsylvania Supreme Court Judge (with the backing of the Fraternal Order of Police) and, as such, ruled against Mumia at the state Supreme Court level on his appeals—exactly what the new U.S. Supreme Court decision excluded. Mumia’s lawyers have filed a new legal action based on this ruling. If it is successful, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rulings upholding Mumia’s conviction would be overturned. But, here’s the important thing: no justice comes in this case unless it is forced by an organized, massive movement. The purpose of this action today, on the 35th year since the Philadelphia Police tried to murder Mumia in the street, is to re-ignite the massive movement that saved him from execution, and win his freedom.

Your presence here today means you want to be part of this movement and convince others to join us. Thank you. Free Mumia!