In the stories that follow, hear from several supporters and from Mumia himself about his first week – and a momentous week – off death row in nearly 30 years.
Overflow crowd: ‘Free Mumia NOW!’
by Betsey Piette
Philadelphia – After nearly three decades on Pennsylvania’s death row, former Black Panther Party member and world-renowned journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal was moved into the transitional area at SCI Greene maximum security prison on Dec. 11, following an announcement by Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams earlier in the week that he would no longer seek Abu-Jamal’s execution.
On Oct. 11, 2011, the Supreme Court decided not to review a decision by the Third Circuit Court upholding a 2001 ruling by federal Judge William Yohn that Abu-Jamal’s 1982 death sentence had been unconstitutional. The district attorney’s office had the option to pursue a new sentencing hearing, but sought to avoid the risk that a new jury might rule to release Abu-Jamal if new evidence was introduced.
The district attorney may have hoped that lifting the death sentence would also end the worldwide movement that has kept the pressure on the courts to free Abu-Jamal, but this gamble appears to have backfired.
No life in prison – free Mumia now!
Two days after the district attorney’s announcement, an overflow crowd of more than 1,000 people filled the balcony space at Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center for an indoor rally initially planned to mark the 30th anniversary of Mumia Abu-Jamal’s incarceration.
A highlight of the event was a phone call from Abu-Jamal, who thanked his supporters for helping win his victory against the death penalty. Maintaining his innocence, Abu-Jamal promised to continue his fight for freedom, while urging ongoing organizing of the mass movement.
The Fraternal Order of Police had attempted to block this call by flooding Gov. Tom Corbett’s office with phone calls and faxes earlier in the day. A group of off-duty police, on motorcycles and revving their engines at full throttle during Abu-Jamal’s call-in, was also unsuccessful in their attempt to drown him out. While blatantly violating city noise ordinances, their protest was inaudible to the gathering inside.
The mood of the crowd – the largest to attend an event in support of Abu-Jamal in years – was celebratory but determined that Abu-Jamal must not be left in prison for the rest of his life for a crime he did not commit. Under Pennsylvania law, capital juries have only two options – the death sentence or life in prison without parole.
Ramona Africa, one of the only survivors of the 1985 police bombing of a MOVE house in Philadelphia, stated that even though the state can’t legally execute Abu-Jamal, “it does not mean they won’t try to kill him. Officials killed George Jackson in prison and tried to get several different people to kill Leonard Peltier in prison.”
Johanna Fernandez, with Educators for Mumia, who co-hosted the event along with Pam Africa of International Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, echoed this concern. Fernandez said that the comment to the New York Times by Maureen Faulkner – widow of slain police officer Daniel Faulkner, killed Dec. 9, 1981 – that Abu-Jamal should be put into general population “so someone can take care of him” effectively amounted to “this pretty white lady putting a hit out on him.”
Fernandez stated that the police investigation that led to Abu-Jamal’s conviction was riddled with corruption and tampered evidence. “The recently discovered Polokoff photographs that were taken at the crime scene reveal that Officer James Forbes, who testified in court that he properly handled the guns allegedly retrieved at the crime scene, appears holding the guns with his bare hands.”
Fernandez challenged District Attorney Williams to honor a 1995 promise by former District Attorney Lynn Abraham that she would “discard any cases where evidence surfaces that even one of the officers involved in an investigation lied in court or in written reports.” Fifteen of the 35 officers involved in collecting evidence in Faulkner’s death were “charged with tampering with evidence in an FBI probe that ended within days of Mumia’s trial,” Fernandez said.
Both Fernandez and attorney Michael Coard noted that the prosecution purposely withheld evidence in Abu-Jamal’s 1982 trial. Fernandez reported that prosecutor Joseph McGill knew that a driver’s license found in Faulkner’s pocket led police to Kenneth Freeman, a passenger in the car driven by Mumia’s brother, which Faulkner had stopped just before he was shot.
Freeman was picked out as the man fleeing the scene in a line-up by prosecution witness Cynthia White, who was subsequently coerced by police to identify Abu-Jamal as the shooter. Other witnesses, never called to the stand, identified “the man fleeing the scene” as the shooter. McGill withheld this information at Abu-Jamal’s trial.
Coard challenged a police claim that they “forgot” to perform the standard gunpowder test on Abu-Jamal’s hands. “I believe they certainly ran that test and it came up negative,” Coard said.
A call for international campaign to free Mumia
Prominent civil rights attorney Lennox Hinds stated: “The Third Circuit Court ruled that the death sentence was illegal and that Abu-Jamal was wrongly held on death row for 30 years. That violates the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution against cruel and unlawful punishment.” Hinds also noted that the U.S. signed on to an international law banning the practice of prolonged solitary confinement. Held in a tiny cell, Abu-Jamal has been denied direct human contact for over 29 years.
Hinds, a permanent representative to the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, vowed to “launch an international movement,” including a petition to the United Nations, challenging Abu-Jamal’s continued imprisonment.
On a panel about the key role that the movement has played and must continue to play in the fight to free Abu-Jamal, Monica Moorehead, speaking on behalf of Workers World Party and the International Action Center, welcomed the participation of Occupy Philadelphia activists in the audience.
Moorehead said, “We are occupying the Constitution Center, liberating it for several hours, in recognition that if not for the millions of people around the world who filled courtrooms, blocked streets and risked arrest, Mumia Abu-Jamal would not be alive today.
“For 30 years, Mumia’s resistance to his individual condition stood as a symbol of resistance to all forms of capitalist repression. Occupy Philadelphia, even though it was just evicted, exposed the role of police repression, long an issue for Black and Latina/Latino communities and in Mumia’s incarceration.”
Addressing the gathering by video, Archbishop Desmond Tutu called for Abu-Jamal’s release, stating: “It is clear that Mumia should never have been on death row in the first place. Justice will not be served by relegating him to prison for the rest of his life – yet another form of death sentence. I call on District Attorney Seth Williams to rise to the challenge of reconciliation, human rights and justice … and allow Mumia Abu-Jamal to be immediately released.”
Other participants in this historic rally included the IMPACT Repertory Theatre, poet laureate Amiri Baraka, Immortal Technique, Michelle Alexander, Marc Lamont Hill, Estela Vasquez, Vijay Prashad, Suzanne Ross and the Universal African Dance and Drum Ensemble.
Rounding out the program, keynote speaker Cornel West challenged the audience to continue the fight until Abu-Jamal is released. “Mumia’s spirit has not been broken for 30 years. He is a free man on death row for telling the truth.”
Taking up West’s challenge, dozens of people attending a follow-up gathering at the Germantown Event Center on Dec. 10 participated in two working groups on Abu-Jamal’s behalf. They included members of Occupy Kentucky, Occupy Wall Street and students from Ursinus College, who heard about the event at Occupy Philly.
A taskforce was set up to re-launch a campaign to focus unrelenting public pressure on the U.S. Attorney General and Department of Justice to conduct civil rights investigations into Abu-Jamal’s case. A second working group was formed to continually challenge the district attorney’s office on the merits of Abu-Jamal’s grounds for release, drawing on international human rights standards and international support.
One proposal of this group was to establish an “Occupy for Justice” movement to connect Abu-Jamal’s struggle with the fight against police brutality and the prison-industrial complex.
© 2011 Workers World. This story was originally published Dec. 14, 2011, by Workers World, 55 W. 17th St., New York NY 10011, email@example.com, www.workers.org, at http://www.workers.org/2011/us/free_mumia_now_1222/.
A visit with Mumia
by Johanna Fernandez
I visited Mumia Thursday, Dec. 15, in the new prison that houses him, SCI Mahanoy. Even though he has been released from death row, he remains in administrative custody while he awaits transfer to general population. Because he is still in administrative custody and not yet in general population, visits still take place behind the plexiglas barrier characteristic of the no-contact visits to prisoners on death row.
Mumia boarded a vehicle to SCI Mahanoy in the early morning hours of Dec. 14 at 4 a.m. Despite the dehumanizing character of the heavily armored vehicle that transported him from SCI Greene to SCI Mahanoy, Mumia delighted in the opportunity to see cows, horses and Pennsylvania’s beautiful landscape during the seven-hour ride to Frackville, Penn.
He described the last number of days as a “crazy whirlwind.” Last Friday alone, he spent six hours packing up books, letters and other belongings in preparation for what he believed was a move into general population at SCI Greene. But the Department of Corrections had other plans in mind.
As you know, that same day, Dec. 9, his call came through at the National Constitution Center. At the prompting of Pam Africa, the last 30 seconds of that call turned into a rousing ovation to Mumia by the 1,100 people in attendance. This is what he wrote in a letter about his experience that very same night, on Dec. 9: “It’s been minutes since I’ve hung up the phone, and I’m still buzzing from the loving vibes zapping through the phone. It’s really electric!”
While in administrative custody at Mahanoy, Mumia is technically in “the hole.” This means that he has absolutely no human contact; absolutely no belongings are in his cell other than a rubber pen, eight sheets of paper and eight envelopes – four of which he has used to write letters to family and friends; he gets only one hour in the yard and one visitor a week; and at night the lights in his small cell are dimmed only slightly and otherwise remain on all day.
Mumia noted that he missed the knock of his next door neighbor on the Row at SCI Greene, Sugarbear, who called for him through a knock on the wall “at least 20 times a day.”
Mumia noted that as he was being escorted to his cell at Mahanoy, the majority of prisoners he saw in “the hole” were Black and he immediately thought of Michelle Alexander’s evocative analysis and descriptions of mass Black imprisonment nationwide.
Mumia is committed to remaining mindful of the challenges of this new period. He remains strong and hopeful about the possibilities of this next phase of struggle, both in his personal day-to-day life and in the movement. He welcomes and is prepared for the change. Below please also note a special note he dictated to OWS.
Mumia reiterated that despite his isolation and the alienating character of his transfer to Mahanoy, he feels vibrations of love around him.
We await, impatiently, Mumia’s transfer to general population and call on the DA’s office to complete the transfer immediately. Please note the DA’s number and address below.
Let us remind the DA that Mumia should have been in general population since 2001 when Judge Yohn overturned the death penalty in his case; but the DA’s office held him on death row for a decade while it filed losing appeals. By law, Mumia should be in general population, not in “the hole.” We demand his immediate transfer.
Write to Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, Three South Penn Square, Corner of Juniper and South Penn Square, Philadelphia, PA 19107-3499 or call (215) 686-8000. His website is http://www.phila.gov/districtattorney/contact.html.
Johanna Fernandez, Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of History of Baruch College, City University of New York, a member of Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal and the writer and producer of the acclaimed film, “Justice on Trial: The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal.” She can be reached at Johanna.Fernandez@baruch.cuny.edu.
Write Mumia and call the warden
by Noelle Hanrahan, Prison Radio
Mumia’s new address is Mumia Abu-Jamal, AM 8335, SCI Mahanoy, 301 Morea Road, Frackville, PA 17932.
Write Mumia and call prison Warden John Kerestes at (570) 773-2158. Tell him that Mumia must not be kept shackled during visits. He must have contact visits – after 30 years of non-contact visits. He must have access to his family and his lawyers and communication with the outside world.
On Thursday, Dec. 8, I attended the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) rally. More accurately, I went to the FOP Klan rally in Glenside, Penn. It was a shocking display of naked calls for harm to Mumia. Maureen Faulkner asked the 900 strong, 99 percent white police officer audience members to call the governor and demand that Mumia be transferred where he could be threatened or killed. The head of FOP said, “The next time I want to hear about him is in his obituary.”
Bemoaning the fact that Mumia has slipped out of their FOP noose was the usual parade – Hugh Burns, Tigre Hill, Seth Williams, Maureen Faulkner, Joseph McGill and Michael Smerconish. They sowed hate and delivered vigilante propaganda to a bloodthirsty crowd. What a dramatic contrast to the defense rally the next night at the Constitution Center with Johanna Fernandez, Cornel West, Amiri Baraka, Ramona Africa, Marc Lamont Hill and others. One was all about love, the other all about hate.
While we strive for justice and stand with life-affirming commitment to healing, we must also take action in defending all of our brothers and sisters inside prison.
Tell the prison that the world is watching, and that you care about Mumia and the conditions of all prisoners. After Desmond Tutu visited Mumia at SCI Greene, they took off the hand and waist shackles. For the last week he has been back in shackles during non-contact visits.
Please visit our new improved website, www.prisonradio.org where you can find coverage of Mumia Abu-Jamal on Democracy Now! as well as links to the historic Dec. 9 Constitution Center event. We also are making available copies of Mumia’s brand new books: “The Classroom and the Cell” and “Message to the Movement.” You can link to us on Facebook, Twitter, Blog and Podcast. And as always, you can find Mumia’s latest commentaries as well as access to the entire Prison Radio archive.
Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mumia’s message to Occupy Wall Street
Dictated Dec. 15 while in administrative custody at SCI Mahanoy in Frackville, Penn.
My friends of OWS,
My message will have to be brief. But let not this brevity take from it its strength.
You are the central movement of the hour. You’re raising questions that are in the hearts of millions. Your motto, “We are the 99 percent,” has been heard, heeded and responded to by millions. You can be certain that the 1 percent have heard you clearest of all.
Your work, however, is just beginning. You must deepen, strengthen and further your work until it truly reaches the 99 percent, almost all of us: workers, Black folk, Latinos and Latinas, LGBTs, immigrants, Asians, artists, all of us, for we are integral parts of the 99 percent. I salute you and hope fervently that you will grow beyond number.
Though I speak to you today by proxy, I’m confident that you will hear my voice soon.
Love, fun and music,
Mumia’s address to the USHRN 2011 National Human Rights Conference
by Kali Akuno
This message was delivered by Mumia Abu Jamal to the U.S. Human Rights Network 2011 National Human Rights Conference and Membership Meeting on Friday, Dec. 9. Dec. 9 marked Mumia’s 30th year on Death Row – even despite the partial victory of Dec. 8.
Kali Akuno can be reached at email@example.com.
‘Never a prisoner’: New tribute to Mumia by Rebel Diaz
Impact Repertory Theater, a youth oriented artivist organization based out of New York dazzled the audience at the rally for ex-Black Panther party member, activist and independent journalist Mumia Abu Jamal at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on Friday, Dec. 9, 2011.