The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal
In the early morning hours of December 9, 1981, a policeman was shot and killed in the downtown red-light section of Philadelphia. What at first may have seemed like just another sordid after-hours tragedy quickly became a sensation, and then in the years since has exfoliated as the corruption behind the murder has become more and more exposed.
What was meant to appear like the gunning down of a hero cop by a small-time street hood was actually a murder conspiracy that started to unravel almost before it began. Very much like the attempted murder of Officer Frank Serpico ten years earlier, the killing of policeman Daniel Faulkner was set up by crooked cops to silence an officer who they were sure was informing to the FBI about police corruption. Other Philadelphia cops had been assaulted or killed for the same reason both before and after Daniel Faulkner’s death.
The police and organized crime had arranged for two shooters that night; while the first one attacked Faulkner the second was to be shot and killed by cops at the scene, thereby writing the next day’s headlines, covering up the murder, and closing the case.
Except that when police tried to shoot the second shooter they missed, only lightly grazing his shoulder. He went on to shoot Faulkner too and both killers fled the scene.
But then, in an incredible stroke of luck for the police, a famous journalist, Mumia Abu-Jamal, barged into the assassination, not entirely by coincidence, so the cops shot him instead, and when he didn’t conveniently die they charged him with the murder.
Though this all took place at roughly four o’clock in the morning there were actually a fair number of people about in the after-hours Center City neighborhood, what with the clubs, the cabdrivers, the prostitutes, the tow-truck drivers, people going to work. Accounts of numerous witnesses eventually testified to the picture of two killers dressed in army fatigues shooting Daniel Faulkner and running away. (“Eventually” because at first witness testimony was distorted by police intimidation.)
But what also underlines this story has been the concerted effort over the years by all levels of Philadelphia law enforcement to airbrush the real killers out of the picture (and to eliminate them physically) in order to focus the murder on Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Two assassins: Who were they?
The first was Kenneth “Poppi” Freeman, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Finance. Freeman was a longtime friend of Mumia Abu-Jamal’s family and, with Mumia’s younger brother Billy Cook, co-owner of a streetcorner newsstand in the Center City area. (Before he changed his name Mumia’s name was Wesley Cook.) Billy Cook says that in those days, after he and Freeman closed up their newsstand, they would often spend the rest of the night barhopping in the Center City.
Billy’s brother Mumia was President of the Philadelphia Black Journalists Association; he had been a reporter on FM radio where he won a national first place: news award for his coverage of Philadelphia police brutality. After he lost his radio job—some say because of police pressure—Mumia started driving a cab while reporting as a freelancer. Billy said that from time to time, when Mumia was driving his cab at night, the two brothers would arrange to meet in the Center City in the early morning hours.
The car that Daniel Faulkner stopped at 3:45 on the morning of December 9, just before he was killed, was Billy Cook’s Volkswagen. In Cook’s affidavits describing what happened he said he was driving around the Center City with Kenneth Freeman in the passenger seat when he was pulled over by the police car. As Cook tells it he got out of the Volkswagen to talk to Faulkner and a fight erupted; some people said they saw Cook throw the first punch, Cook says he didn’t, but in any case Faulkner apparently hit Cook several times with his flashlight before telling him to get back in the car and look for his registration.
While Officer Faulkner stood near the front of the Volkswagen Billy Cook rummaged in the back seat for his papers. Cook says he heard several shots and saw flashes out of the corner of his eye. He got out to see what had happened. Officer Faulkner was lying on the sidewalk and Kenneth Freeman was gone.
Other police were there almost immediately. Mumia Abu-Jamal who was parked nearby in his taxicab rushed over to see what was happening with his brother. He was shot by the police, then beaten at the scene, beaten again at the hospital, charged with the murder of Officer Faulkner and convicted and sentenced to death the following summer in a trial that was a constitutional horror story.
Billy Cook went to court the following March on assault charges for the fight with Officer Faulkner. Prosecutor Joseph McGill introduced a witness, a Center City street-walker named Cynthia White, who described the confrontation between Billy Cook and the cop. When McGill asked Cynthia White who had been present, she said four men: Billy Cook, the policeman, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and a man who got out of the passenger side of the Volkswagen. Several other witnesses reported a man in a green jacket leaving the scene.
Only weeks later in June, the same prosecutor, Joseph McGill, was trying Mumia Abu-Jamal for murder. McGill introduced the same witness, Cynthia White, and asked her how many men had been present at the scene. This time she said three: Mumia Abu-Jamal, the dead policeman, and Mumia’s brother Billy. (At an evidentiary hearing years later another Center City prostitute testified that she’d seen Cynthia White getting favors from the police in jail and that Cynthia White said in jail that she’d lied at Mumia’s trial because of police intimidation. Ms. White could not be found for the 1995 hearing and may have died.)
Prosecutor McGill made a great deal out of the proposition that only three men were present at the killing: pantomiming the shooting in front of the jury he said that since the officer was dead and Billy Cook was not a suspect, that meant Mumia had to be the murderer.
This had a telling effect in convincing the jury to decide Mumia was guilty.
In one of the stranger aspects of this already strange case, the prosecution did not reveal to defense attorneys until 1995, thirteen years after the trial, that police had found in Officer Faulkner’s possession that night a driver’s permit that did not belong to any of the men supposedly at the scene.
The permit belonged to a man named Arnold Howard, another friend of the Cook family. Howard proved he was in another part of town, far from the Center City, when the murder took place. He had loaned his permit that night to a friend.
Who was the friend?
Kenneth Freeman, Billy Cook’s business partner.
Police took Howard and Freeman into custody, though neither man was arrested. They put them both into lineups.
Cynthia White, the Center City streetwalker, twice picked Kenneth Freeman out of the lineups as the man she’d seen get out of the car at the site of the shooting. (This was shortly after the killing took place.)
A number of years later Billy Cook swore out an affidavit as to what had happened. He said he and “Poppi” Freeman were driving around the Center City that night in the Volkswagen. Freeman was wearing a green army jacket. Earlier that evening his brother Mumia had come by the newsstand. After the shooting, Cook said, Freeman had disappeared from the car. “Later Poppi talked about a plan to kill Faulkner. He told me that he was armed that night and participated in the shooting. He was connected and knew all kinds of people.”
Freeman was never arrested on suspicion of murder. He was arrested two months later on a weapons charge when police found him hiding in his house with a gun, a supply of ammunition, and a stash of explosives.
Some three years later, on May 13, 1985, Philadelphia law enforcement firebombed the headquarters of the MOVE organization, a Black collective greatly detested by the police that coincidentally, Mumia Abu-Jamal was close to. The fire destroyed the commune, killing eleven people including five children, burning out an entire West Philadelphia Black neighborhood.
In the shadow of the media extravaganza around the MOVE fire, Kenneth Freeman was found dead that night, naked and handcuffed in a vacant lot in Philadelphia. Some said he died of a drug “hotshot.” The official cause of death was listed as “Natural Causes: Heart Attack,” age 37.
Was there a second assassin?
In the mid-nineties a team of attorneys led by noted radical lawyer Leonard Weinglass started working on the case, building toward a new evidentiary hearing under Pennsylvania’s Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA). One of the attorneys, a New York lawyer named Rachel Wolkenstein, kept hearing from a Center City street criminal named Arnold Beverly that Mumia was innocent, that Daniel Faulkner’s murder had been a set-up by organized crime and crooked cops. Beverly said he knew who the killer was, but he wouldn’t tell Wolkenstein.
Months of badgering by Rachel Wolkenstein stretched into years, until finally, in the summer of 1999, Arnold Beverly swore out an affidavit stating “I was hired with another guy to shoot and kill Faulkner.… Jamal had nothing to do with the shooting.” Beverly said he had waited in a Speedline subway entrance until Faulkner’s car pulled up across the street. “I was not worried about [other] police being there since I believed that since I was hired by the mob to kill Faulkner, any police officers on the scene would be there to help me.”
When Beverly heard shots and saw the officer go down he left the station to cross the street. “I heard another shot and it must have grazed my shoulder. I grabbed at my shoul-der and got blood on my hand.”
Beverly said he stood over the prostrate officer and shot into his face. “Jamal was shot shortly after that by a uniformed police officer who arrived on the scene.
“I left the area underground through the Speedline system and by pre-arrangement met a police officer who assisted me when I exited the Speedline underground about three blocks away. A car was waiting for me and I left the Center City area.”
Maybe it was because of the bullet that nicked his shoulder, or maybe he didn’t like where the officers were going, but when the car slowed he opened the door and rolled out. His fear was not misplaced.
After Beverly confessed to attorney Wolkenstein in 1999, Wolkenstein thought she saw a chance to get the story into the media. Beverly, wisely, declined. But a radio host used the story anyway and put out Beverly’s name on the air.
Although the advice probably wasn’t necessary, Wolkenstein told Beverly to get out of town fast. He said later that as the Crown Victorias were pulling up in front of his house, he was exiting out the back. He left Philadelphia, left Pennsylvania, and only returned once, briefly, two years later, to take one of Mumia’s new lawyers on a walk-through of the crime scene. Aside from that he hasn’t been near the state of Pennsylvania in almost seven years.
Lead attorney Leonard Weinglass refused to use the Beverly confession in Mumia’s appeals, to the point that in 1999 Rachel Wolkenstein and another lawyer quit the legal team in protest.
In 2001 Mumia fired the entire team including Weinglass and replaced them with attorneys Marlene Kamish of Chicago, Eliot Grossman of California, British barrister Nick Brown, and J. Michael Farrell of Philadelphia. (He has since replaced them with Robert Bryan of San Francisco.) The new team promptly moved to have Arnold Beverly come into court to be questioned and crossexamined about his confession. That was okay with Beverly, but the D.A.’s office objected and the judge overruled the motion: even though they had a third party confession in a capital murder case, Philadelphia law enforcement was determined to suppress whatever Beverly might have to say about the killing.
Before Beverly disappeared again, in case anything happened to him down the line, the new lawyers had him repeat his confession on videotape. Then he was gone.
Since then the seven-minute video of Beverly confessing has been shown at meetings, conferences, conventions. Sometimes people who see it claim they don’t believe him, that he doesn’t look convincing. That, of course, is not the point: the way to test the truth of what Beverly says is to bring him into court, depose him, crossexamine him, and investigate what he has to say.
The point is that Philadelphia law enforcement has blocked that; the question is, what have they got to hide?
People don’t want to believe that Beverly’s telling the truth; they don’t want to believe that Mumia’s innocent because they don’t want to face what it means if he is.
While casual viewers might choose to dismiss Arnold Beverly, Philadelphia law enforcement and the Fraternal Order of Police take him very seriously.
Beverly’s Pennsylvania driver’s license expired on his birthday three summers ago. Several weeks later he went with a private investigator to a motor vehicles office in a western state, far from Pennsylvania, to apply for a new one. After looking at his computer the clerk behind the window hesitated, and then said, “I’m sorry, Sir, I’m not able to renew your driving privilege at this time.” He told Beverly it looked like he had an outstanding warrant for a hit-and-run that had taken place in Philadelphia three weeks earlier-on his birthday.
Needless to say, Arnold Beverly had not been anywhere near the state of Pennsylvania for years. But he knew the Pennsylvania warrant was no mistake nor any kind of computer glitch. He gathered up his papers and he and the man he was with quickly left the DMV office, left the city, left the state. (On the interstate net the bogus hit-and-run warrant has since been replaced with a failure-to-appear warrant—equally bogus.)
To hit this on the head: Police in the Philadelphia department could have issued an interstate murder warrant for Arnold Beverly—after all, he has confessed to assassinating a police officer. But if they did they’d be admitting that Mumia Abu Jamal is innocent. So they used their access to law enforcement computer systems so that they or someone could get their hands on Arnold Beverly without opening up the question of who really killed Daniel Faulkner and why.
In 1982 Mumia Abu-Jamal was framed and sent to Death Row for a murder he didn’t commit. A leading conservative legal commentator, attorney Stuart Taylor, Jr., legal affairs editor of The National Journal, has described his trial and sentencing as “grotesquely unfair” and “clearly unconstitutional.” Over the years, following the lead of the Fraternal Order of Police, every level of law enforcement from crooked cops in the station house to the highest levels of American politics and government have connived to grease Mumia Abu , Jamal toward execution rather than see the spectacle of cops killing other cops to protect corruption exposed to public view.
Robert Wells, a former Dispatch News Service investigative reporter, is a longtime member of the Free Mumia movement. Sources for this article include trial transcripts; the transcript of the 1995 PRCA hearing; sworn affidavits of William Cook, Arnold Beverly, Rachel Wolkenstein, and Mumia Abu-Jamal; newspaper and other published accounts of the case; and personal interviews.
—CounterPunch, October 1, 2006