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July/August 2004 • Vol 4, No. 7 •

NAACP Approves Resolution Supporting Abu-Jamal

By Linn Washington, Jr.

Hours after Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry addressed the NAACP’s 2004 annual convention in Philadelphia, the nation’s largest civil rights organization approved a resolution calling for a new trial for internationally known death-row journalist, Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Passage of the emergency resolution reaffirming the NAACP’s previous opposition to the death penalty prompted a statement of praise from Abu-Jamal, who grew up in a Philadelphia public housing project located about a mile from the site of the NAACP’s convention.

“I am humbled by and very grateful for the NAACP’s passage of this resolution,” Abu-Jamal said in a statement released through his lawyer. Abu-Jamal is currently on Pennsylvania’s death row located in a maximum-security prison on the opposite end of the Keystone State.

“The NAACP has taken stands through the years on behalf of so many people who have been victimized in society because of their race,” continued Abu-Jamal, who began his award-winning career in journalism as a teen in Philadelphia. “I hope this resolution will help many others in a similar situation to mine.”

Alarming facts about application of the death penalty in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania made passage of the anti-death penalty resolution appropriate for a NAACP convention held in the so-called City of Brotherly Love.

Philadelphia has the largest and highest concentration of Black defendants on death row of any major city in America.

Repeated studies have documented that Blacks in Philadelphia are more likely to face a death sentence than whites in the city where appellate courts have repeatedly condemned police for falsifying evidence and prosecutors for engaging in misconduct including excluding Blacks from capital case juries.

Further, Pennsylvania has the dubious distinction of ranking third among jurisdictions in America with the highest percentage of minorities on death row. Nearly 150 of Pennsylvania ’s 232 death row inmates are Black and the vast majority of that Black death-row population received their sentences in Philadelphia.

The resolution, reaffirming anti-death penalty stances approved during the 1975 and 2001 NAACP conventions, included the NAACP’s first-ever convention approved support “of the international movement for a new and fair trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal.”

The resolution also called on NAACP branches “throughout the United States and the world to support the international call for Mumia Abu-Jamal to be released from death row.” Abu-Jamal’s attorney, California-based death penalty expert Robert R. Bryan, said, “I think to have the support of the oldest and largest civil rights organization in the U.S. is of enormous importance to this case. Along with my client, I am very grateful to the NAACP for taking this stand.”

While Abu-Jamal and Bryan extended praise to the NAACP for passage of the resolution, interestingly, top NAACP national officials began the Philadelphia convention seemingly intent on sidestepping the Abu-Jamal injustice issue. NAACP officials had cancelled a planned anti-death penalty panel at the convention where some members and outside activists intended to raise the Abu-Jamal issue.

NAACP board chairman Julian Bond and NAACP CEO Kweisi Mfume found themselves on the receiving end of criticism for this side-stepping stance from critics’ inside and outside of their organization.

In 2003, powers-that-be within the national NAACP used parliamentary procedures during the national convention to bottle-up a resolution calling on the organization to “work with the legal defense team of” Abu-Jamal and strongly urge local NAACP branches “to participate in activities to secure [Abu-Jamal’s] release.”

This parliamentary put-down upset many NAACP members supportive of a fair trial for Abu-Jamal, including the resolution’s sponsor Sundiata Sadiq, past president of the Ossining, New York NAACP branch.

This year when the chains of convention rules appeared to roadblock introduction of the resolution for a second straight year, Sadiq fired off a June 4th letter to Mfume complaining about the resolution being “derailed on dubious grounds” urging the NAACP “finally to show what side it’s on in the city where the sick joke of justice has taken place.”

California NAACP member Mel Mason, during an interview early in the convention, said that since the Abu-Jamal case “encapsulates all the flaws in the justice system that the NAACP opposes,” failure to approve the Ossining resolution would sabotage the organization’s civil rights and human rights standing.

The adopted resolution condemned death penalty practices like “police and prosecutorial misconduct, inadequate defense representation, and fabricated testimony”—all elements in the Abu-Jamal case.

A 2001 Amnesty International report on the Abu-Jamal case, concluding that he was denied a fair trial, analyzed and condemned layers of official misconduct from arresting officers through excluding Black jurors to actions by state appellate court judges.

This year’s seeming road-blocking of the Ossining resolution sparked a critical letter to Bond from the son of W.E.B. DuBois, the legendary Black leader and NAACP founding member. University of Massachusetts Professor David Graham DuBois reminded Bond in a July 7 letter: “it is incumbent upon the organization to take this opportunity to mobilize Americans, and especially Black Americans, to speak out against this pending injustice and the possibility of [Abu-Jamal’s] execution.”

In the face of worldwide criticism, Bond and Mfume lent their personal support to a revised resolution “Reaffirming” opposition to the death penalty that included language on Abu-Jamal’s case. The convention approved the resolution with just one dissenting vote.

This revision of the Ossining resolution was brokered through a series of intense discussions spearheaded by leading Abu-Jamal activist Pam Africa, with the assistance of NAACP members like Sadiq and Mason, plus last-minute intervention by Mayor Street, who is a NAACP member.

Pam Africa and others had picketed the NAACP at the beginning of the convention, blasting cancellation of the death penalty panel. Africa and others had discussed attempting to crash the closing session holding a white flag if NAACP officials continued to sidestep action on the Abu-Jamal case. “We cannot allow them to come into Philadelphia and ignore both the death penalty and Mumia—this is unacceptable,” Pam Africa told a reporter before the convention’s opening day.

Investigative journalist Dave Lindorff recently wrote that only “Pam Africa’s tactical skill at holding NAACP leaders’ feet to the fire by threatening them with an embarrassing incident” on the day of Kerry’s visit “managed to win the day and get the resolution to the floor.”

Abu-Jamal attorney Bryan, a few days before passage of the resolution, filed legal papers with the Third Circuit federal appeals court seeking delay of that court’s review of Abu-Jamal’s case until renewed state appeals are complete. One of the state appeal issues is damning evidence that the judge presiding at Abu-Jamal’s 1982 death penalty trial—the late Albert Sabo—exhibited bias at the beginning of the trial when he was overheard saying he was going to help prosecutors “fry the nigger.”

Attorney Sam Jordan, former director of Amnesty International’s U.S. Death Penalty project, says Sabo’s statement alone is grounds for a new trial—a stance thus far rejected by Pennsylvania courts. “Sabo was in fact assuming the role of the prosecutor instead of that of an impartial judge inflicting irrevocable damage upon Mumia’s legal right to present his defense before a judge who would conduct the trial without bias,” Jordan said listing a number of convictions overturned due solely to judicial bias.

Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, five years before the founding of the NAACP in 1909, shepherded issuance of an anti-racist “Declaration of Principles” that included the demand for, “upright judges in courts and juries selected without discrimination on account of color.”

Note: This article has been slighly abridged. —Editors

• • •

The Text of the NAACPResolution

WHEREAS, the NAACP adopted a resolution in 2001 re-affirming our opposition to the death penalty due to its racially disparate application; and

WHEREAS, the NAACP has re-affirmed its 1975 resolution opposing the death penalty on the grounds that it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution; and

WHEREAS, many people, including Mumia Abu-Jamal, are incarcerated on death row and face possible execution; and

WHEREAS, more than 320 people on death row have been exonerated; and

WHEREAS, though African Americans make up only 12.4 percent of the U.S. population, we make up 38 percent of all the Americans that were sentenced to death and later freed after being found innocent; and

WHEREAS, African Americans make up 35 percent of those being found innocent after being executed; and

WHEREAS, African Americans make up over 80 percent of those awaiting execution on federal death row; and

WHEREAS, 145 people have been exonerated based upon DNA evidence; and

WHEREAS, there is no possible way of restoring the life of an innocent person killed by the death penalty; and

WHEREAS, the implementation of the death penalty raises concerns regarding bias identification, police and prosecutorial misconduct, judicial apathy in protecting the rights of the accused, faulty evidence, inadequate defense representation, coerced confessions, and fabricated testimony, and

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People reiterates its strong opposition to the death penalty; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the NAACP calls on its units throughout the United States and the world to support the international call for Mumia Abu-Jamal to be released from death row; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the NAACP reiterate its support of the international movement for a new and fair trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal; and

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED that the NAACP renew its call for new nation-wide studies on racial discrimination, the adequacy of counsel, access to modern research technology such as DNA analysis, the sentencing of children and women to the death penalty and that the NAACP reiterate its call for a national moratorium on all executions.

Signed by: Kweisi Mfume, President and CEO; Julian Bond, Chairman of the Board of Directors





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