by Minister of Information JR
The last 30 years for political prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal, a writer with an incredible analysis, has been marked by handcuffs, courtrooms, prison cells, almost complete lockdown, barbed wire, jail food, and restricted visits with friends and family – all because of his political beliefs. Recently there have been decisions made in his case, which he talks about in this interview, and he also elaborates on his feeling in regards to the legal lynching of Troy Anthony Davis, the Pelican Bay-led California prisoner hunger strike and more. Check Mumia out in his own words.
M.O.I. JR: There was recently a small victory in your case. Can you tell the people who are not tuned to the news what that was?
Mumia: Well, it was a victory, and it wasn’t a victory. What it was, in legal terms, was not a decision but a non-decision. By that I mean a petition was filed, and it was denied. There was nothing written other than “petition denied.” There was no opinion. There was no ruling in law. What that means is, whatever happened before stands. So the decision of a federal court way back in 2001 still stands; that’s what it really means legally. So of course you get your victories where you can, but there are “victories” and there are “Victories.”
M.O.I. JR: I know that you have written a few commentaries about Troy Davis, but just reflecting from death-row, where you are a political prisoner, how did you see what happened to Troy Davis? And what lessons should we learn, particularly to fight for you or to fight for prisoners in general?
Mumia: Well, that you have to go the extra mile. And this is not a criticism – it’s more an observation – that most of the people who were Troy Davis supporters were relatively new to the anti-death penalty movement. They were very young. They were college students and what have you. And because they were new to the death penalty movement, they really believed that the courts were just and that the courts would not allow anything to happen, because they were thinking of the court and the legal process as, let’s say, logical and legal, as opposed to political.
You know the Death Penalty Movement really stems from 1976. That’s because in that year, the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment after a four- or five-year hiatus in a case called Greg v. Georgia. From that day to this there has been a death penalty in the United States.
What’s interesting about that is, of the judges who voted to reinstate capital punishment, three of them who have later retired from the Supreme Court – I believe it’s Justice Blackmon, Justice Powell, John Paul Stephens – after they got off the Court, they changed their minds. In interviews, they said that that was one mistake that they made early in their careers. If they could have voted again, they would have voted to outlaw and make unconstitutional the death penalty.
Now if they had done that in 1976, then a majority of the Supreme Court, with at least five justices, would have declared the death penalty unconstitutional, and it would not exist in American law. I say five, because (there are) those three I named and of course Justice Brennan and Justice Marshall, who always voted against capital punishment, in all cases. But they didn’t do that, and they waited until they retired for the most part. So that’s the system we have.
My point is that many of the people who were protesting for Troy Davis, they didn’t know about that kind of history. They just read about Troy and thought, well, this is good, this is right, and of course they went.
As I said earlier, courts are political institutions. They are appointed by politicians, and they make political decisions. This was a political decision.
M.O.I. JR: Can you talk a little bit about the resurgence of the prison movement across the country in the last few years, but most notably can you talk about the effects and impact outside of California of the Pelican Bay-led prison strike that is going on in California?
Mumia: California was in many ways the spark of many of the radical movements of the ‘60s. Indeed it was the spark of the old prison rights movement back during the time of George Jackson, if you get my drift. This new movement, I think, is occasioned by two things: the kind of mass incarceration that people did not know of back in the ‘70s, because it didn’t exist, and also the growth and the multiplication of what’s called control units, or RHUs or SHUs as they call it in California – lockdown units where thousands and thousands of people are locked down for years and years and even decades.
One of the demands from the people in Pelican Bay and other prisons was, as I’ve written about, sunlight. You know, they were starving themselves, threatening their health and perhaps starving to death because they wanted sunlight. And of course that is not the only thing, but think about that. You know, it gives you some sense of how locked down people are, not just in California but all across the country.
And just l said, a movement started from California. Well, repression started from California as well, because Pelican Bay is infamous for their treatment of people, but there is a Pelican Bay perhaps in every state of the union now, or certainly most of them. And many prisons today, especially when you compare with prisons from the ‘70s and even the ‘80s, are completely different environments where lockdown is the norm for everybody.
M.O.I. JR: Can you tell us, as we approach the 30th year of your imprisonment – and you’ve been doing journalism from behind bars for decades while you’ve been in the concentration camps – what is it that you want us to gain from the media that you produce?
Mumia: I hope that my work has opened some eyes, and you never really know. You get letters from people and they’ll tell you that, but most people don’t communicate that way. But just to give some insight into the nature of prisons to be sure, death row to be sure, but also this society and world.
Prison recording: YOU HAVE 60 SECONDS REMAINING.
Mumia: As you know, I talk about the whole world, not just the prison world, and I hope I’ve spoken truth about the situations that we’re facing.
M.O.I. JR: Thank you for your time.
Mumia: OK, Brotha. Ona Move.
M.O.I. JR: Ona Move. Free’Em All! All Power to the People!
The People’s Minister of Information JR is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe,” both available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He also hosts two weekly shows on KPFA 94.1 FM and kpfa.org: The Morning Mix every Wednesday, 8-9 a.m., and The Block Report every Friday night-Saturday morning, midnight-2 a.m. He can be reached at email@example.com.