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May 2001 • Vol 1, No. 1 •

Live From Death Row


Mumia Abu-Jamal is an award-winning Pennsylvania journalist and radio commentator who has been on death row since 1982. He was wrongfully convicted for the shooting death of a Philadelphia police officer in 1981. New evidence, including the recantation of key eyewitnesses, point to his innocence. Mumia’s execution has been put on hold while his appeal for a hearing in federal court is being pursued. Presiding Judge Yohn of the district court must decide soon whether to grant an evidentiary hearing of facts not allowed during Mumia’s trial. In a worst case scenario, Judge Yohn could uphold the findings of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which denied Mumia a new trial, thus putting him on the fast track for a new execution date with no automatic right to further appeal. Meanwhile, Mumia continues to offer his perspective on the injustices of American society. For more information on his case and protest actions in his defense, contact: The Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, 3425 Cesar Chavez St., San Francisco, CA 94110 (415) 695-7745.


Column #497 Written 2/18/2001 All Rights Reserved

In the political, media-driven scandal that marks the latest allegation of calumny against the now-departed ex-president, Bill Clinton, once again the forest is being missed, by acute examination of the trees.

While the major media plays the story as if it is some kind of "breaking news," and therefore grabs our attention (at least until after the next commercial break), the Marc Rich controversy is, in fact, hardly controversial. For, as a first-year law student will easily attest, the U.S. Constitution grants wide, absolute, and unreviewable pardon power to the President. The Constitution's Article 2, Section 2, which sets forth the powers and duties of the President, grants him or her the unlimited power to pardon or reprieve anyone charged with an offense against the United States, with one single exception: in case of impeachment.

Thus the media-made brouhaha, the TV glare, the hyperbolic inch-high headlines, are each and all, what Shakespeare once called "Much Ado about Nothing."

Neither Congress, nor the U.S. Courts, nor the Justice Department, can do anything about it. So the noise and volume mean, really, nothing at all. Nor is it somehow remarkable that Clinton gave his presidential power of pardon to a really, really rich guy (named Rich). Most of those people, who are able to retain the legal talent and political connections necessary to get it done are—surprise—rich guys.

Does it really seem weird?

A review of the Reagan, Bush, Carter, Ford and Nixon-era pardons will undoubtedly reveal the same basic profile. Rich guys. In truth, rich white guys.

So, this last minute Clinton pardon is hardly historically objectionable. That's how the game is played. What's really disturbing, is not who did get pardoned, but who didn't.

The eight years of the entire Clinton Administration will be long remembered for the explosion of the nation's prisons and jails. With upwards to 2 million men and women entombed within the confines of the prison-industrial-complex, it is the forest that is compelling, not a few, isolated trees (the relatively few people pardoned).

By concentrating on the one or two "bad" (meaning those many politicians wouldn't have agreed on) pardons, the outlines of a truly repressive system are left in place, unquestioned, and therefore accepted as somehow normal.

The Clinton rate of pardons, in number, or kind, is not remarkable. And when placed in context to the rates of mass incarceration, that's what makes it truly remarkable. What a contrast.

And this, the media-business class, never notes, for it is a norm, with which they are in agreement.

Why no pardon of the ailing, veteran warrior of the Lakota nation, Leonard Peltier? His unjust apprehension, trial, and incarceration has broken more international, (and national) laws than can be ignored.

But, ignored he was, for Clinton, in essence, a conservative, would never have used his political capital for a poor Indian. Pardons for the Rich are safer.

The Clinton Administration was the height of political irony in that way, for despite the massive support shown them by those at the economic and social lower rungs of society, it has always sought the interests of the wealthy and well-to-do, first and foremost.

Therefore, millions of people voted against their own interests, caught in the spider's web, of the lesser evil. The lesser evil is still evil, and thus, we always end up voting for our own repression.

It's as illogical, and as insane, as putting our own hands in handcuffs, or locking ourselves up when we, the people, hold the key!

We must break the bonds that tie us to two-party politics, a vast pendulum swing that sends us from one party to the next, and never at home; never in a body that protects our interests. It’s time to build the change that we want to see.

(c)MAJ 2001




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