Incarceration Nation

Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!

Speech by Eliot Lee Grossman1

Oakland, California, October 26, 2022—Prize-winning journalist and ex-Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal was framed up and sentenced to death for the murder of a white police officer in Philadelphia in 1981. Mumia is innocent, but he was convicted and sentenced to death in a trial presided over by a racist judge, the “Honorable” Albert Sabo, who was overheard by a court stenographer saying, “Yeah, and I’m going to help ’em fry the nigger.” Mumia’s trial was nothing more than a legalized lynching in which every one of his constitutional rights was violated. Mumia narrowly avoided execution when we convinced a federal judge to overturn his death sentence in 2001 and that decision was later affirmed on appeal. But Mumia has remained in prison ever since, sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

We are here today to show our support for Mumia when his case is, once again, at a critical moment. Today in Philadelphia a judge in Pennsylvania’s Court of Common Pleas held a hearing to decide whether or not to grant “progressive” D.A. Larry Krasner’s Motion to Dismiss Mumia’s 6th Post-Conviction Relief Act Petition in which Mumia’s lawyers argued that his conviction should be overturned because of recently discovered evidence which proves that Mumia did not receive a fair trial for two reasons: (1) The prosecutor offered a bribe to one of the two purported eyewitnesses, Robert Chobert, to testify that he saw Mumia shoot the police officer when Chobert did not even see the shooting; and (2) The prosecutor used his peremptory challenges during jury selection to remove African-American jurors from the jury because of their race.

Although the D.A.’s arguments in support of the Motion to Dismiss were illogical, dishonest, and unpersuasive, the judge announced her intention to grant the D.A.’s motion and dismiss Mumia’s most recent Post-Conviction Relief Act petition. Mumia’s attorneys have 20 days to file more legal arguments to try to convince the judge to change her mind while the D.A. has 20 days to file additional arguments to support the judge’s tentative opinion.

It is highly unlikely the judge will change her mind, given that she presented the attorneys for both sides with a 31-page tentative opinion in favor of dismissing Mumia’s petition, but this will not discourage us. We will continue and intensify the struggle to free Mumia! The judge’s decision will be appealed, and the struggle will continue!

The newly discovered evidence

What is the “recently discovered evidence” which proves that Mumia did not have a fair trial, but which the judge today refused to consider? It is two documents found in six boxes of prosecution files from Mumia’s trial which were hidden in a warehouse for used office furniture for the last 40 years but were found recently by Krasner who had to turn them over to Mumia’s attorneys in response to a formal “Request for Production of Documents” during the discovery phase of litigation over Mumia’s previous post-conviction petition, Petition #5.

Petition #5 was granted by Judge Leon Tucker, one of the few African-American judges in Pennsylvania, who ruled that Mumia could relitigate the issues previously rejected in Mumia’s four appeals to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court from denial of his four previous Post-Conviction Relief Act petitions because Justice Ronald Castille, who was Head D.A. at the time of Mumia’s direct appeal from his conviction and death sentence, exhibited an appearance of bias against Mumia. But “progressive” D.A. Larry Krasner appealed Judge Tucker’s decision and the appellate court overruled Judge Tucker on the ground that Mumia’s petition was “untimely” despite having been filed within the time period established by Pennsylvania’s Post-Conviction Relief Act. This was just one more example, like today, of the courts bending over backwards to misinterpret their own laws in order to keep Mumia’s frame-up in place.

What are the two documents that prove Mumia didn’t get a fair trial, but which the judge today refused to consider? The first is a letter from Robert Chobert to the prosecutor, dated one week after Chobert finished his perjured testimony, asking when he would be paid the money he was owed. Think about it: Chobert actually sent a collection letter to the prosecutor for the bribe he was promised. Under the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brady v. United States the prosecutor was required to turn that letter over to Mumia’s defense attorney at trial so he could use it to cross-examine Chobert and challenge his credibility.

Had this been done, as it should have been, the jury would have found Mumia “not guilty,” because the other supposed “eye witness,” sex worker Cynthia White, contradicted herself several times when she testified and, 20 years ago, another sex worker, Yvette Williams, came forward and provided a statement under oath that she was in jail with Cynthia White at the time of Mumia’s trial and White admitted to her that she did not even see the shooting, but the cops were forcing her to lie that she saw Mumia shoot the police officer or they would send her to state prison for years on her many open prostitution cases. Yvette Williams swore that when police detectives came to talk with White in jail, they gave her contraband including syringes and a mysterious white powder. I wonder what that white powder was?

Racial jury selection

The second document the judge today didn’t even want to look at is the notes the prosecutor took during jury selection in Mumia’s trial in which he noted the race of some of the jurors by writing the letter “B” after some of their names and the letter “W” after other names. This proves the prosecutor was deciding to remove certain jurors from the jury because they were Black and, in fact, the prosecutor removed 11 African-Americans from Mumia’s jury in violation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Batson v. United States.

Under the Brady and Batson cases the evidence from those two documents should have required the court to overturn Mumia’s convictions, but “progressive” District Attorney Larry Krasner, rather than letting Mumia have his day in court so the merits of his attorneys’ arguments could be considered, told the judge to throw the petition into the judicial trashcan because there are supposedly other possible “innocent” interpretations of Chobert’s letter and the prosecutor’s jury-selection notes. But even if that were true, which it is not, that would be a reason to have a hearing on the merits of the issues rather than refuse even to consider them.

Mumia’s supporters are demonstrating in Philadelphia and other cities today to support Mumia and we are here today in solidarity with them and to join in their demands: Free Mumia Abu-Jamal! We need to organize more demonstrations in Philadelphia, the State of Pennsylvania, here in the Bay Area, and throughout this country and the world to demand that Mumia’s conviction be overturned and he be freed. Protest demonstrations are just a beginning. We need to call on the unions in this country to take a stand like the International Longshore and Warehouse Union did one day in 1999 when it closed down all ports on the West Coast and made one demand: Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!

We need more unions to stage political protest strikes that can build that momentum toward a general strike to demand: Free Mumia Abu-Jamal and all political prisoners who are victims of the class war in this country by the 1 percent against the 99 percent!

While we must continue to support Mumia’s fight for freedom in the courts, we should have no faith that he will obtain justice from the judges of the ruling class unless and until they are forced to do justice by the organized power of the working class!

Workers of the world, unite! Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!

1 This speech was delivered by Los Angeles attorney Eliot Lee Grossman at a rally in support of Mumia Abu-Jamal on October 26, 2022 at the Federal Building in Oakland, California, organized by the Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal and endorsed by ANSWER Coalition, Mobilization to Free Mumia, Workers World Party, Peace and Freedom Party, Freedom Socialist Party, and the Oakland Educational Association. Mr. Grossman represented Mumia from 2001 through 2003 with Chicago attorney Marlene Kamish, British Barrister Nick Brown, Philadelphia attorney J. Michael Farrel, and Legal Assistant/Community Organizer Tracy Kostenbader. Mr. Grossman has practiced law for 44 years. He has taught at Peoples College of Law in Los Angeles, the University of California, Irvine, and the University of the Americas and the United States International University in Mexico City. He is an Academic Member of the Permanent Seminar for Chicano and Border Studies, an interdisciplinary research center of the National Institute of Anthropology and History in Mexico City.