The Struggle For Freedom Continues
Mumia Abu-Jamal’s long struggle for freedom received a major spotlight this year with the release of a new film, Mumia, Long Distance Revolutionary. A professionally produced, illustrative and inspiring treatise on Mumia’s life, complete with numerous tributes to and interviews about Mumia, the film has captured the imagination of both supporters of Mumia and many others who have seen it in some 35 cities and campuses around the U.S. and Canada since its sold-out opening in New York City on February 1, 2013. Written, directed and produced by Stephen Vittoria of Street Legal Cinema (with Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio), the film’s California opening dates in Los Angeles (March 1st), and at the New Parkway in Oakland (March 8th), were also sold out.
Now, the spotlight promises to be brightened even more by a new film titled Manufacturing Guilt, How Philadelphia’s Police and DA Actively Manufactured Mumia’s Guilt and Suppressed His Innocence. Also by Stephen Vittoria, this new effort is a short (25 minute) narrative documentary with graphics, illuminating Mumia’s case and his manifest innocence in concrete terms that Mumia—Long Distance Revolutionary didn’t go into.
Mumia—Long Distance Revolutionary broke ground
The Mumia—Long Distance Revolutionary film broke some new ground for many, by bringing the early life of Mumia into focus. Before he was almost killed and railroaded to jail at the scene of the killing of a police officer—which he had nothing to do with—Mumia was a founding member of the Philadelphia Black Panther Party, and an award-winning radio journalist. Packed with interviews with Cornell West, Chris Hedges, Tariq Ali, Ruby Dee, Alice Walker, Michael Parenti and Rubin Hurricane Carter among others, the film explores the life of Mumia and his family, as he came of age in one of the most racist cities in the U.S. Terry Bisson, also interviewed in the movie, had already gone into Mumia’s early life with his biography, On A Move, the Story of Mumia Abu-Jamal, published in 2000. By putting this story on a big screen, Mumia—Long Distance Revolutionary ramped up both attention to Mumia the revolutionary, and, by implication, Mumia the innocent victim of a vicious police frame-up.
Mumia-Long Distance Revolutionary garnered some favorable reviews from the mainstream media, which has hitherto virtually ignored Mumia, including the New York Times, among others. The Washington Post’s comment included the following: “The film provides a line from Nixon that helps explain the racist underpinnings of the Republican Party’s Southern Strategy. ‘The whole problem is really the Blacks,’ President Nixon is quoted as saying. ‘The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.’ This expression of institutionalized racism, the film asserts, enables the local harassment of black people. During his four-year term the city’s Police Commissioner, former Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo is quoted as saying, ‘I’m going to make Attila the Hun look like a [expletive]’.” (May 1, 2013)
Mumia’s journalism exposed a racist regime
As a journalist—and president of the Philadelphia Black Journalists Association—Mumia exposed the racist police regime of Mayor Frank Rizzo, and DA (and later governor) Ed Rendel, in radio reports in Philadelphia in the 1970s. As shown in the movie, Mumia’s reports included details of a vicious police raid on the residential compound of the MOVE organization, in 1978. Mumia’s earlier participation in a demonstration against the racist George Wallace’s presidential campaign, in which Mumia said he was literally “kicked into the Black Panther Party” by a cop, is also covered.
Although criticized by some for not dealing directly with Mumia’s innocence, Mumia—Long Distance Revolutionary laid a clear basis for understanding the forthright honesty, transparency, and revolutionary spirit of Mumia. Between that extensive description, the detailing of the FBI’s COINTELPRO program to disrupt the left, and the lengthy exploration of the racist, police-state atmosphere in Philadelphia at a time in which blacks were mercilessly attacked, framed and persecuted, Mumia—Long Distance Revolutionary makes it hard to conclude anything other than Mumia must have been an innocent frame-up victim in the 1981 incident in which Police Officer Daniel Faulkner was shot.
Still, the facts of the fraudulent case against Mumia Abu-Jamal were not explicitly laid out in Stephen Vittoria’s production, until now. Working with lawyer and investigator-for-Mumia Rachel Wolkenstein as legal consultant, Vittoria has, in Manufacturing Guilt, made up for this absence. Although the evidence of Mumia’s innocence, and of the police frame-up that sent him to death row in 1982 is too voluminous to be fully explored in 25 minutes, Manufacturing Guilt covers many of the main points.
Mumia’s “guilt” was manufactured from the very beginning
Unlike the prosecution’s so-called witnesses, most of whom saw only fragments of the shooting as they passed by, or, in the case of the two most important “witnesses”—Cynthia White and Robert Chobert—actually saw nothing at all; witness William Singletary (now deceased) saw the whole thing from beginning to end, from the sidewalk where the events took place. Singletary declared clearly that Mumia only arrived on the scene after the killing shots were fired, that he was unarmed, and that he had nothing whatsoever to do with the murder of Officer Faulkner. He said that the real shooter was the passenger in the car driven by Mumia’s brother, Billy Cook, whom Faulkner had stopped for a traffic violation. Singletary said that Mumia was shot by Faulkner, after he had already received soon-to-be-fatal bullets from Billy Cook’s passenger, Kenneth Freeman. (Freeman was surreptitiously executed by police in 1985, on the day of the fire-bombing of the second MOVE compound.)
William Singletary was a middle-aged businessman, a club owner and proprietor of a gas station, who had regular dealings with police as a car-towing operator. He didn’t know Mumia or Freeman, and had no reason to lie to police. Telling the truth of this incident as he saw it would turn out to be highly detrimental to his life and livelihood, yet he stuck to his story, even as the cops tore up his statements, wrecked his business, and literally drove him out of town to prevent him from testifying against their fictional version of the events.
Singletary was called to testify at the Post Conviction Relief (PCRA) state-court hearing in 1995-96 by the defense team, but his testimony was ignored. The PCRA hearing judge was the same racist prosecutor-in-robes, Albert Sabo, who presided over Mumia’s first “trial,” where he was overheard by a court stenographer to say about Mumia, “Yeah, and I’m gonna help ’em fry the nigger!”
Witness ignored: Veronica Jones
Sabo’s performance at the PCRA hearing was no better, as he strained to maintain the fraud of Mumia’s conviction, which he himself had presided over and aided. The PCRA hearing was extended to hear testimony from Veronica Jones, a defense witness at the original trial who had said, before trial, that she had seen two men “sort of jog” away from the scene of the shooting. This could not have included Mumia, who was shot and immobilized at the scene by a cop’s bullet, which very nearly killed him. On the stand in 1982, however, after intense and brutal police pressure, Jones changed her story to say that she didn’t see the two men flee the scene. This was crucial for the conviction of Mumia, since the police wanted to nail him for this killing for their own reasons, and he could hardly have fled anywhere. (Many others had said they saw one or two men fleeing the scene, but most of them were never called.)
In 1996, Veronica Jones took the stand on appeal to make up for her earlier lie, and was arrested in court on a trumped up charge for her efforts. Veronica, now deceased, told her story to her sister Valerie, and this narrative is now produced in a book, Veronica and the Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, as Told to Her Sister, Valerie Jones. The book is available at: http://www.rachelwolkenstein.net/veronica—the-case-of-mumia-abu-jamal.html.
Witness ignored: Arnold Beverly
In the mid-to-late 1990s, Arnold Beverly, in a series of interviews with Rachel Wolkenstein, who was then a member of Mumia’s legal defense team under Leonard Weinglass, came forward and admitted that he, not Mumia, had been the shooter in the killing of Police Officer Faulkner. He said that he was hired “along with another guy” [likely Kenneth Freeman] “and paid to shoot and kill Faulkner. I had heard that Faulkner was a problem for the mob and corrupt policemen because he interfered with the graft and payoffs made to allow illegal activity including prostitution, gambling, drugs with prosecution in the city center area.” (Affidavit of Arnold R. Beverly, 1999, available at laboractionmumia.org).
This confession, which has never been heard in any court, established the explanation of why Faulkner was killed: he was talking to the Feds about the rampant police corruption in the inner city area in Philadelphia, and bent cops and their mob allies wanted him dead for that reason. While this testimony was potential dynamite that could have blown the prosecution’s “case” out of the water, Mumia’s lead lawyers at the time, Leonard Weinglass and Daniel Williams, refused to bring it to court. Rachel Wolkenstein resigned from the team in protest over this betrayal. Her affidavit describing her interviews with Beverly and the details of Weinglass/Williams’ betrayal, can be found at www.laboractionmumia.org or http://www.rachelwolkenstein.net. After Daniel Williams wrote a book on Mumia’s case denouncing the Beverly confession (a blatant violation of lawyer/client confidentiality), Mumia fired Weinglass and Williams. His subsequent lawyers, Kamish, Grossman et al, made the Beverly confession public, but it was too late then to get it into court.
Justice Department colludes with local cops to frame Mumia
Many “dirty” cops, which included most of the key players in the frame-up of Mumia, later went to jail or were forced to resign following federal investigations and prosecutions into corruption and police brutality. These included Alfonse Giordano, who was in charge of the crime scene at which Mumia’s frame-up was initially orchestrated. Yet despite the forced release of many frame-up victims after these federal crack-downs, the frame-up against Mumia remained in place, in part due to the complicity of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Giordano invented the first so-called “confession” of Mumia, but he was never called to testify, due to the federal corruption charges pending against him. These pending charges were secret at the time, but the DOJ warned the local cops of these pending charges, so as to keep the local authorities from screwing up the case against Mumia by putting a compromised witness—Giordano—on the stand.
Thus the DOJ conspired in the frame-up, which act was consistent with the FBI’s COINTELPRO program of disruption against the Black Panthers and other left groups. Mumia had been targeted by local cops and the FBI since he was just 15 years old. (Another false confession was manufactured by police for Mumia weeks after, when it became clear that Giordano could not be used at trial.)
Shaq Attack: film cancellation at Newark theater
“Was it simply a ‘cold business decision,’ or a callous act of censorship?” asked journalism professor Linn Washington in “NBA Star Censors Film on Famous Radical Inmate.” (www.thiscantbehappeninghere.net/node/1698).
The issue was the cancellation of the film, Mumia—Long Distance Revolutionary, which was set to play at the only major theater in Newark, NJ, the CityPlex 12, on April 26th. It was cancelled at the last minute, after publicity and ticket sales were about to go into high gear, due to a “cold business decision,” according to the theater management. But the truth was just a tad more complicated than that.
“We found out through a source at the theater that shortly after a meeting between theater owners Boriae Development and Shaquille O’Neal the film was cancelled,” said writer/director Stephen Vittoria, quoted by Linn Washington, above. Basketball legend Shaquille “Shaq” O’Neal is a co-owner of the CityPlex 12 in Newark. More than that, O’Neal, who is from Newark originally, is a long-time supporter of police, who he said “helped raise” him. O’Neal has even been sworn in as a “reserve police officer” in Los Angeles, Miami, and (apparently) Baton Rouge, LA, where an internal affairs report was issued after Shaq “was accused of shoving the head of a suspect in a toilet and flushing repeatedly.”
Though cleared of charges in that incident, Shaq’s connection with cops and the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP)—the outfit which still fumes over its inability to arrange the legal murder of Mumia Abu-Jamal—remains intact. So, Shaquille O’Neal has become the latest example of censorship travesty against Mumia. In 1994, National Public Radio (NPR) was set to air regular interviews with Mumia, titled, “Live From Death Row.” After an intervention on the floor of Congress by Bob Dole (you hear his speech in Long Distance Revolutionary), NPR promptly yanked the show off its schedule.
Militants protest Shaq’s attack on Mumia
In addition to Linn Washington, the information above was developed by journalist David Zirin, and published in a Nation blog, titled, “Did Shaquille O’Neal Just Box Out Mumia?” (http://www.thenation.com/blog/174044/did-shaquille-oneal-just-box-out-mumia). After attempts were made by local activists to get the CityPlex 12 management to reverse their decision, protests of this blatant censorship were held in Newark at the theater, and in the Bay Area. In Newark, a press conference and “energizing protest” commensed in front of the theater on Friday, April 26th, sponsored by members of Newark’s People’s Organization for Progress, and the New York Mumia Coalition. Renowned Newark poet Amiri Baraka, and the film’s writer/director Stephen Vittoria, spoke.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, members of the Oakland Teachers for Mumia, and the Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, supported by members of the Waterfront Solidarity Committee, mobilized at the Oakland Arena during the playoffs between the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs, for an informational protest to call attention to the censorship action by Shaquille O’Neal against Mumia—Long Distance Revolutionary at his Newark theater. We distributed copies of the Dave Zirin Nation blog, and informed fans of the issue. We explained that we were not picketing the Warriors or the Arena.
Death sentence averted, Mumia’s struggle goes on
The Supreme Court invalidated Mumia’s death sentence over the issue of faulty instructions to the jury by trial judge Sabo, and the local prosecutor and Pennsylvania state authorities threw in the towel when they had the opportunity to order a new sentencing hearing to attempt to reinstate death for Mumia. Prosecutors crowed about how they would keep Mumia in jail for the rest of his life. But the long struggle for Mumia’s innocence, and the evidence that backs it up, are the real reasons that they folded their tents, and Mumia is now off death row. Even though a new sentencing hearing would be about sentence only and not about innocence (Mumia’s conviction having been upheld by all the appeals courts), the prosecution’s case is so empty of substance, and the evidence of their fraud so substantial, that they couldn’t take the chance of a crack opening up in their “case.”
The prosecution side is so weak on the evidence that later, when it came to actually re-sentencing Mumia to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP), they had to do it in secret. It was only due to the diligence of one lawyer for Mumia—Rachel Wolkenstein—that the file was discovered that showed that Mumia had been given a life without parole sentence in an illegal hearing, in which the defense was not even notified, let alone allowed to present a case against any new sentence. At the last minute, Mumia was able to file a pro se (on his own behalf) appeal against this travesty, which allowed him to object to what happened and thus prepare for future litigation against it.
Mumia—Long Distance Revolutionary and Manufacturing Guilt now available
Manufacturing Guilt appears as an added feature on the Mumia—Long Distance Revolutionary DVD. The films can be ordered now, at www.prisonradio.org. Also, there was a showing of Manufacturing Guilt at the Left Forum in New York in June; and two showings in the San Francisco Bay Area organized by the Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal and Oakland Teachers For Mumia; in Oakland it was shown at the East Side Arts Alliance on Friday July 5th, and at 518 Valencia in San Francisco on Sunday July 7th. Both of these showings included two speakers, Rachel Wolkenstein, lawyer/investigator for Mumia, and Keith Cook, Mumia’s oldest brother. Both events were listed in the LaborFest calendar of events.
The Labor Action Committee has a Solidarity Statement for Mumia which is available for all to sign. Not a petition to the DOJ or Obama, this is a general statement of solidarity with Mumia’s innocence, and freeing Mumia now. The text of this statement appeared in Socialist Viewpoint for May/June 2013, Vol. 13, No. 3, and can be found at www.laboractionmumia.org. Send your statement of support to the LAC at P.O. Box 16222, Oakland, CA 94610.
Chris Kinder is the coordinator of the Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal