Incarceration Nation

Greetings to the UN Delegation

By Mumia Abu-Jamal

Greetings to the UN delegation. Initially, I wish to thank the members of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, who prepared and filed an amicus brief in my case. And, of course, the delegation of jurists, lawyers, and scholars from the UN International Independent Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in Law Enforcement (EMLER)1 now visiting the United States. I specifically want to greet the delegation members Justice Yvonne Mokgoro, formerly of the South African Constitutional Court, the Lesuthu Appeals Court, and Supreme Court of Namibia; Dr. Tracie L. Keesee of the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, a project of the Department Of Justice; and human rights law professor Juan E. Mendez, also an expert on torture. Welcome.

What does justice look like? A simple answer might be found in the edifice of the U.S. Supreme Court—equal justice under law, or even simpler, the idea that all people are treated equally before the law. Do you know what Judge Albert Sabo thought of justice? In open court, in a Post-Conviction Relief Act hearing in 1996, he said, “Justice is just an emotional feeling.” It shouldn’t surprise us coming from a judge who was a life member of the Fraternal Order of Police.

The report of the group Amnesty International which reviewed this case found many instances where state courts ignored their own precedents to deny relief in my case. Indeed, one of the judges in my federal appeal wrote, “I see no reason why this court should not afford Abu-Jamal the courtesy of our precedent,” but deny me their precedents, they did. What do you call that? Everyone has the right to a fair trial, except some. Everyone has the right to an impartial jury, except some. Everyone has the right to due process, except some.

My brothers and sisters call it the Mumia exception. My case exists in a state of exception. Indeed, when the United States ignored the Constitution after Reconstruction for 100 years, for Black people, this was a mass state of exception, and after a federal judge called the death penalty unconstitutional in my case, I spent ten years on death row on an unconstitutional death sentence, or a state of exception. It’s past time to abolish all states of exception.

Prison Radio, May 15, 2023

1 See “Statement on Ruchell Magee,” by Angela Davis elsewhere in this issue.