Demand a civil rights investigation for Mumia on Thursday, Nov. 12, in Washington, D.C., at the U.S. Department of Justice
Introductory comment by revolutionary journalist Kiilu Nyasha: I met Linn Washington in Philadelphia in 1995 when I managed to cover – for Black August ‘95 on KPFA – the last August hearing with Mumia present in court. He is a fine journalist and has been there for Mumia from the gitgo.
During that last August hearing, Judge Sabo was demonstrating his overt racism blatantly – more so than any other white racist judge I’d ever seen, and I’d seen several by then. Gov. Tom Ridge, who became U.S. national security advisor post-9/11 – had signed a death warrant and Mumia was scheduled for execution Aug. 17. We raised hell, with MOVE in the lead, and the death penalty was rescinded.
But here we are again, almost 20 years later, with Mumia still on death row, our movement in the doldrums, and right-wing mass media crucifying him as we speak. But can we blame it all on Fox? I think not. I think we have to blame our collective selves for the present-day passivity and non-movement.
The oldest civil rights organization in the country is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Where have these Johnny come lately NAACP folks been all this time? They have chapters all across this country, yet they’ve left the organizing around Mumia’s case to left-wing white folks whose denied racism has successfully run folks of color, especially Blacks, right out of the campaigns.
Are we gonna step back and let our stand-up brother, who has dedicated his entire life – co-founded the Philly Black Panther Party chapter when he was about 16 years old, becoming its minister of information – be murdered by the state? Without a real fight?
by Linn Washington Jr.
Relax Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
Abu-Jamal is now a regular reference in the weapons of mass deception arsenal employed by Fox and its friends to demonize their enemies de jour.
A few weeks ago, the campaign mounted by two Fox ideological allies that successfully sacked Fox liberal commentator Dr. Marc Lamont Hill highlighted Hill’s backing of a fair trial for Abu-Jamal as an objectionable offense.
Far-right agitators David Horowitz and Cliff Kincaid saw sinful scandal in Fox simply employing Columbia University Professor Hill for what the scholar was: a liberal hired by Fox to question postures conservatives proclaim sacrosanct.
Kincaid, in an Oct. 19 posting on his Accuracy in Media site, scored Hill for calling Abu-Jamal a “freedom fighter and political prisoner.”
Earlier this summer Fox’s onslaught against now former White House “Green Jobs Czar” Van Jones frequently cited Jones’ support for Abu-Jamal, who is on Pennsylvania’s death row due to a controversy-mired conviction for killing a Philadelphia policeman.
For weeks, Fox’s popular Glenn Beck bashed Jones for supporting efforts to free “a communist cop killer” – irrespective of the fact that Abu-Jamal is not a communist and card carrying communists never reference Abu-Jamal as a member of their movement.
Frequent emphasis by advocates of Abu-Jamal’s execution, including Fox hosts, that courts have repeatedly held up Abu-Jamal’s conviction ignore an improbability embedded in that accurate statement about this case.
The same Philadelphia and Pennsylvania courts that have found major flaws in 86 Philadelphia death penalty convictions between Abu-Jamal’s December 1981 arrest and October 2009 declare that not a single error exists in America’s most publicly contentious murder case.
Pennsylvania courts, for example, find no foul in prosecutors improperly excluding Blacks from Abu-Jamal’s trial jury, manipulating evidence and making secret deals with alleged eyewitnesses – all fundamental fair trial violations producing favorable actions by those courts for defendants in numerous cases.
Another example is Pennsylvania state and federal courts voiding 22 death penalties because of failures by defense lawyers to present any mitigating evidence for their clients during death penalty phase hearings following guilty verdicts.
However, those same courts found no fault in the failure of Abu-Jamal’s trial counsel to present any mitigating evidence during the penalty phase hearing.
A problem more troubling than the penchant of Fox and friends to fudge facts is the fact that too much of the mainstream media uncritically embraces rhetoric oozing from the far right, rarely subjecting that rhetoric to full and fair reporting that is supposed to be the cornerstone of journalism.
This lack of full and fair reportage polluted coverage of the onslaught against Van Jones and has long corrupted coverage of the controversial Abu-Jamal conviction.
A Sept. 6, 2009, New York Times article on the resignation of Van Jones from his White House post listed Jones’ public support of Abu-Jamal as one of Jones’ alleged liabilities.
However, that Times article lacked any reference to the fact that Jones, as an Ivy League trained lawyer involved with social justice issues, could legitimately have concerns about the disturbing evidence of fair trial rights violations enmeshed in Abu-Jamal’s conviction.
“Human rights organizations have pointed to egregious procedural mistakes in Abu-Jamal’s original trial, which were obviously rooted in a background of prevalent racism,” stated a resolution approved on Oct. 28 by the City Council of Munich, Germany. Elected leaders in over 25 cities from San Francisco to Copenhagen have approved resolutions demanding a new trial for Abu-Jamal.
Yet, the New York Times and other major American newspapers deemed Amnesty International’s Abu-Jamal report not worthy of coverage despite major papers carrying nearly thirty articles referencing other AI actions during a ten-day time period surrounding release of that Abu-Jamal report.
Philadelphia’s largest newspaper, The Philadelphia Inquirer, ran a 53-word News Brief on page 2 of its B-section on that 35-page Amnesty International report.
Although the AI report was the first from a major organization to thoroughly document egregious shenanigans by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in the Abu-Jamal case, the Inquirer did not consider that report significant enough for full article coverage despite having published 67 articles mentioning Abu-Jamal in 1999 alone.
The mainstream news media’s mile-wide-but-inch-thick coverage of Abu-Jamal aids the ability of Fox, its friends and others to exploit public misunderstandings about this case.
Fair trial proceedings are a fundamental tenant of American democracy. Yet, the judge presiding during Abu-Jamal’s trial displayed unfair bias by proclaiming before jury selection that he was going to help prosecutors “fry the nigger.”
While such an overtly racist remark generally constitutes a judicial error requiring reversal of a conviction, a Philadelphia judge ruled no error existed because the jury not the judge convicted Abu-Jamal. That ruling contradicts the reality that judges control what evidence a jury hears.
That Amnesty International report noted that “the jury was left unaware of much of the crucial information regarding” the policeman’s death due in part to “the overt hostility of the trial judge.”
Surprisingly, a mainstream media usually quick to prick racially inflammatory remarks exhibits little interest in numerous instances of racism infecting the Abu-Jamal case.
Evidence of outrageous errors underlying Abu-Jamal’s conviction literally hides in plain sight. One glaring example is photos of the December 1981 crime scene taken by police investigators that do not show a critical element of the prosecution’s case against Abu-Jamal.
The eyewitness testimony of cab driver Robert Chobert was a central pillar of the prosecution’s case against Abu-Jamal, but police crime scene photos do not show Chobert’s cab behind the slain officer’s patrol car where prosecutors claimed it was parked when Abu-Jamal allegedly killed Officer Daniel Faulkner.
Four police photos capturing different angles of the crime scene contained in the trailer for a forthcoming film about Abu-Jamal’s case do not show Chobert’s cab.
There are only two possible scenarios for the missing cab in those crime scene photos: Either police tampered with the crime scene by removing the cab or the cab was never there. Either scenario is a major legal violation warranting a new trial.
Curiously, inconsistencies in crime scene evidence and irregularities in court rulings rarely elicit attention in mainstream media coverage of the Abu-Jamal case that takes a guilty-as-charged tact. Yet these inconsistencies and irregularities are what fuel the vast international movement supporting a new trial for Abu-Jamal.
On Thursday, Nov. 12, Abu-Jamal supporters have scheduled a rally at the U.S. Justice Department headquarters in Washington, D.C., urging Attorney General Eric Holder to launch a civil rights investigation into violations rampant in this contentious case.
One major civil rights violation often overlooked by Abu-Jamal supporters and ignored by his opponents occurred during a critical 1995 appeal hearing. Pennsylvania’s then Gov. Tom Ridge sabotaged that proceeding by improperly issuing a death warrant based on confidential information Ridge’s aides obtained from state prison personnel, who were illegally intercepting mail sent to Abu-Jamal by his defense lawyers.
Ridge’s warrant enabled biased trial Judge Albert Sabo to rush that appeal hearing where Sabo denied defense lawyers standard opportunities to adequately gather and present evidence.
While a federal appeals court faulted prison personnel for illegally opening Abu-Jamal’s legal mail neither federal nor state courts have found any fault in the damage to fair trial proceedings done by Ridge’s malicious action.
One problem with mainstream media coverage of the Abu-Jamal case and other instances of racial related injustices from the criminal justice system to other sectors of society like education or employment is that coverage presents racial inequities as isolated instead of endemic.
Failure to present inequities in context deprives the public of proper understanding. The 1968 Kerner Commission Report on race relations in America faulted the news media for this failure.
As noted in the Kerner Report, “If what the white American reads in the newspapers or sees on television conditions his expectation of what is ordinary and normal in the larger society, he will neither understand nor accept the Black American.”
Linn Washington Jr. is an associate professor of journalism at Temple University in Philadelphia and a columnist for the Philadelphia Tribune. He writes regularly on the Abu-Jamal case, inequities in the justice system and racism in the news media. This story originally appeared in Counterpunch.
International representatives join U.S. activists in delivering to Attorney General Eric Holder thousands of letters demanding a civil rights investigation of the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal on Nov. 12
Press conference at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, 1313 New York Ave., Washington, D.C., 11:30 a.m.; march to Justice Department and presentation of letters follows, arriving at Department of Justice 1:30 pm
Among the speakers at the press conference will be Laura Moye, director of Amnesty International’s Death Penalty Abolition Campaign; Steven Hawkins, vice president of the national NAACP; Marvin “Doc” Cheatham Sr., president, Baltimore NAACP; Pam Africa, International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal; Fignolé Saint-Cyr, president of Autonomous Unions of Haiti; Berlin Coalition to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal; El-Hajj Mauri’ Saalakhan, Washington, D.C., director of Operations, Peace and Justice Foundation; Thomas Ruffin, attorney; Joseph “Jazz” Hayden, Riverside Church Prison Ministry; Panama Alba, National Congress of Puerto Rican Rights, Campaign to End the Death Penalty and others.
Many Muslim organizations are supporting the call for a civil rights investigation of Abu-Jamal’s case. Representatives of these groups will be present both at the press conference and the subsequent rally at the Justice Department to express support for Mumia Abu-Jamal while pointing out similarities between the due process and human rights violations in his case and those that are perpetrated daily against the Muslim political prisoners and prisoners of war.
This past July the NAACP passed an emergency resolution at its 100th anniversary convention in New York, asking Mr. Holder to conduct a civil rights investigation. “We’re going to ask Attorney General Holder to look into this,” said NAACP Chairman Julian Bond, during a broadcast of Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now on July 20. “As anyone who’s followed this case for a number of years knows, similar doubts have been raised about him as were raised about Troy Davis.” Later, Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington office, told The Final Call, “We had a meeting with the attorney general, and the subject of Mumia Abu Jamal did surface. The attorney general said he was aware of the case and would look into it and get back to us.”
Pam Africa, long-time chair of International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, has announced: “We are not coming to the Department of Justice looking for justice. We are bringing justice to the Department of Justice!” Dr. Suzanne Ross of the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition adds, “At this critical moment in Mumia’s case, a civil rights investigation could mean the difference between life and death for Mumia. It could also open the door for his release.”
The call for a civil rights investigation follows the April 2009 U.S. Supreme Court acceptance of the Third Circuit’s decision that closed all doors for a new trial or the consideration of Abu-Jamal’s innocence. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is still considering an appeal by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office to immediately reinstate Abu-Jamal’s death sentence.
International legal bodies such as Amnesty International, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, the European Parliament, and city councils and national governments around the world have argued for decades that Abu-Jamal was wrongfully convicted in a widely denounced trial and appeals process for the 1981 killing of a Philadelphia police officer. They point to suppressed evidence, witness intimidation and consequent witness perjury, a very specious confession, an admittedly biased judge and a long string of twisted appellate court rulings as evidence of a continuing conspiracy by the state of Pennsylvania to execute him. Additionally, and this is a critical basis for a civil rights investigation as occurred during the overturning of the conviction of Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, there is extensive evidence of consistent withholding of evidence from the defense that could have led to Mumia’s acquittal – photographs challenging the prosecution’s version of what happened on Dec. 9, 1981, and evidence that another person other than Mumia, his brother and Faulkner were at the crime scene at the time Office Faulkner was shot.
The march to the Justice Department will follow the press conference and is being co-sponsored by International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, National Lawyers Guild New York City Chapter, WESPAC, Riverside Justice Prison Ministry, Iglesia San Romero of the United Church of Christ, Campaign to End the Death Penalty, International Action Center, Peace and Justice Foundation, Families United for Justice in America, Nat Turner Rebellion, Black August Planning Committee, National Jericho Movement and ANSWER, among others. The delivery of the petitions is expected to take place at 1:30 p.m. The campaign has been endorsed by a broad range of individuals including Angela Davis, Ruby Dee, Charles Rangel, Cynthia McKinney, Noam Chomsky, Cornel West and Tariq Ali.
In 1982 Mumia Abu-Jamal was convicted of murdering a Philadelphia police officer and sentenced to death. His case is one of the most contested in U.S. history. Prosecutors, the Fraternal Order of Police and their supporters and even the judges involved have always claimed to possess a watertight case justifying Abu-Jamal’s conviction and sentence.
Yet Abu-Jamal’s trial, conviction and death sentence have prompted jurists and human rights organizations worldwide to denounce the trial and death sentence as a travesty of justice. They cite the open bias of the original judge, who was overheard to have said outside his courtroom, “I’m going to help them fry the nigger.”
Not only is this a strong indication of racial bias, a reality minimized by the judge who took over the case, but it clearly identified the absence of the requisite “judicial neutrality” expected of a judge. The racially skewed process of jury selection, furthermore, yielded a disproportionately white jury, the disappearance of key ballistics evidence and police intimidation of witnesses leading to perjured statements.
Amnesty International, in its 2000 report called “A Life in the Balance: The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal,” stated that “numerous aspects of this case clearly failed to meet minimum international standards safeguarding the fairness of legal proceedings” and strongly recommended a new trial. Abu-Jamal’s defense team identified 29 claims of violation of his constitutional rights, but Abu-Jamal has been repeatedly denied the opportunity to have evidence of his innocence and of police and prosecutorial efforts to frame and convict him seriously considered.
Abu- Jamal has always asserted his innocence and his affidavit on this is included in the press packet. Clearly Mumia Abu-Jamal’s race and his political views, as well as his widely recognized enormous talent in communicating those views, have played a key role in his being the object of a 28-year conspiracy to forever silence his voice.
To learn more, contact the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition, P.O. Box 16, College Station, New York, NY 10030, (212) 330-8029, www.freemumia.com.