Political Prisoners

The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal

Book Review By Carole Seligman

The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal

By J. Patrick O’Connor

Lawrence Hill Books

Chicago Review Press, 2008, 259 pages.

In a recent interview about this book, Patrick O’Connor offers an important insight about wrongful convictions, like that of Mumia Abu-Jamal, resulting in the death penalty:

“Several states, including Florida, have recently suspended executions due to so many lethal injections being botched. Capital punishment is a stain on the United States justice system. Second, DNA exonerations now amount to more than 200 cases, casting grave doubt on the way prosecutors do their jobs. John Grisham’s book put the subject of wrongful convictions before a broad portion of the U.S. public. The public is finally getting used to the notion that justice in the United States depends a great deal on how much a person can pay for it. Most of the DNA exonerations, for example, involved indigent, often black, men represented by court-appointed attorneys.”

The best development in the struggle for freedom of Mumia Abu-Jamal came in the form of this new book, “The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal,” by O’Connor. The author is the editor and publisher of Crime Magazine, a publication that focuses attention and careful research on wrongful convictions. While O’Connor speaks quite passionately on the subject of Mumia’s innocence in video interviews, his book is a calm, methodical, factual account of the killing of Police Officer Daniel Faulkner in Philadelphia on December 9, 1981, and the subsequent frame-up of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Abu-Jamal was already, at the time this frame-up began, a well-respected, outspoken journalist, who exposed police brutality, corruption, and racism; and defended John Africa and the members of the MOVE organization against the Philadelphia power structure arrayed against them.

Millions of words have been written about this case and Mumia Abu-Jamal is probably the most well-known death row prisoner in the world. After all, he is a working journalist and author who publishes regular columns on world events (from the point of view of the exploited and oppressed) and has written several books, from his cell on Pennsylvania’s death row, continuing his role as “voice of the voiceless”(so named when he was a radio journalist in Philadelphia in the late 1970s, partly for his beautiful voice, and mostly for what he said).

But, O’Connor’s book is a new, detailed, serious account of the crime, and the frame up of Abu-Jamal. O’Connor reconstructs the crime scene, names the real shooter of Faulkner—Kenneth Freeman—and details every step in the elaborate frame up. And the book is highly readable. Actually, it’s hard to put down.

And that’s because you have the combination of a good writer and researcher who tells the truth and has the character to buck the established powers-that-be. O’Connor skewers all the powerful players in the frame-up—Judge Sabo (who maintained the atmosphere in his courtroom of a Jim Crow court), Prosecutor McGill (who had a “palpable, sneering loathing of the former Black Panther,” [Mumia]), Mayor Frank Rizzo (who built his career by being a “lightning rod for racial strife”), and others. He also has a very full explanation of the failure of Mumia’s original defense attorney, Anthony E. Jackson, to conduct an adequate defense, and criticism of Abu-Jamal’s own role in sabotaging his own defense.

The first chapter of O’Connor’s book reconstructs the crime scene. Important facts are presented here which have not been widely known before, including a statement and an interview with Philadelphia Police by Robert Harkins who was an eyewitness to the killing of Daniel Faulkner and who described the killer. The description did not fit Mumia Abu-Jamal, but it did fit Kenneth Freeman, who was on the scene and ran away. O’Connor also writes about the driver identification papers of an Arnold Howard found in Officer Faulkner’s pocket. Howard had lent those papers to Freeman. O’Connor also mentions in a later chapter, another witness, William Singletary, who identified someone other than Abu-Jamal, as the shooter. And, something new to me, O’Connor writes that there were many eyewitnesses present during most of the whole chain of events, including the shooting of Faulkner! All the more amazing then that the only witnesses who substantiated the prosecution’s case were liars. And O’Connor proves it, and fully documents it, in several chapters!

In a chapter called “The Free Mumia Movement,” O’Connor nails the importance of Abu-Jamal’s case:

“Two things account for the unprecedented national and international interest in this case. First and foremost is the man himself. Despite 25 years of the bleakest existence possible in isolation on death row, Mumia Abu-Jamal remains what he has always been: an articulate, compassionate righter of wrongs. When he eventually walks free, it will be in large part because he wrote his way out, one essay at a time. The second thing that makes his case so compelling to such a wide audience is that his trial represents such a monumental abuse of government power to frame one man that it really says no citizen is truly free until this wrong has been undone.” [The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal, page 199].

This is exactly the approach the Free Mumia movement should have: an injury to one is an injury to all. None of us working people are free as long as Mumia is not!