Jamal Hart, grandson of Mumia Abu-Jamal, reflects on the 42 years of his grandfather’s political imprisonment

Jamal-Hart-sits-in-front-of-a-Free-Mumia-poster, Jamal Hart, grandson of Mumia Abu-Jamal, reflects on the 42 years of his grandfather’s political imprisonment, Featured Local News & Views News & Views
Jamal Hart focuses on freedom for his grandfather, who “watches” him from a Free Mumia poster on the wall.

Learn about Mumia from his grandson, from Tongo Eisen-Martin and from the film “Justice on Trial: The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal” on Thursday, Feb. 21, at the Ruth Williams Bayview Opera House, 4705 3rd St., at 6:30 p.m.

by People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey, Oakland Bureau Chief

The Black Panther, political prisoner, master journalist, and literary luminary Mumia Abu-Jamal has been unjustifiably incarcerated for the murder of a police officer – which the state knows he did not commit – for over 42 years. The nation’s political police, the FBI and their Counter Intelligence Program, which today goes by many names, as well as national law enforcement organizations like the Fraternal Order of Police have been on a 40-plus-year crusade against Mumia and his politics. 

Mumia Abu-Jamal’s incarceration is meant for him to die in prison as well as to disconnect him from community, national and international struggles that he could be using his journalistic laptop and microphone to report on, connect and politically educate the community with. In many ways the state’s plan to keep Mumia silent while incarcerated has backfired, and Mumia’s writings and audio commentaries from prison have propelled his status as a revolutionary journalist internationally in a way not seen since the career of the assassinated South African revolutionary journalist legend Steven Biko in the ‘70s. Representing the Black Consciousness Movement, he is famous for saying, “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” 

I have interviewed Mumia over the course of my journalism career about a dozen times, and I went to see him at the different concentration camps that he was being held in twice; one of those times I was accompanied by my comrade the late El Hajj Malcolm Shabazz, the grandson of El Hajj Malik Shabazz, commonly known as Malcolm X. Both times, we had profound conversations about Huey P. Newton, 2Pac, the East Coast, the West Coast, marijuana, BET, his freedom campaign, and so many other subjects. And both times, he gave me a lot to think about when I left. 

I’ve read about a half dozen of the books that he authored, and I have listened to hours of his commentaries. In fact at one point, I used to audio edit them for Prison Radio. The case of Mumia Abu-Jamal has always been a reminder to me to what extent the state will go to silence dissent, especially in the Black community. 

People’s campaigns in recent years have won the freedom of many political prisoners, but there are still many who remain behind enemy lines, right alongside Mumia Abu-Jamal, like Imam Jamil Al-Amin, formerly known as H. Rap Brown, Kamau Sadiki, Ed Poindexter, Veronza Bowers, Ruchell Magee, Kevin Rashid Johnson, Leonard Peltier and so many more. We are asking our readers to get involved in some way. 

I recently caught up with Mumia Abu-Jamal’s grandson, Jamal Hart, the leader of the Love Not Phear Strategy, which is aimed at freeing Mumia and all political prisoners. We discussed his relationship with his grandfather, his views on his grandfather’s journalism and, most importantly, we discussed his grandfather’s case, among other things. Check out Jamal Hart, the grandson of Mumia and the leader of the Love Not Phear strategy in his own words. 

You can come hear Jamal Hart, the grandson of political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, speak at a San Francisco Bay View Newspaper sponsored screening of Johanna Fernandez’ documentary, “Justice on Trial: The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal,” alongside San Francisco Poet Laureate and activist Tongo Eisen-Martin, on Thursday, Feb. 21, at the San Francisco Bayview Opera House, 4705 3rd St., at 6:30 p.m.  

JR Valrey: When did you first realize that your grandfather is internationally one of the most recognizable political prisoners since Nelson Mandela? How did you deal with that?

Jamal Hart: I was 11 when 10,000 people showed up for my grandfather on his birthday in April of 1999. On the same day 15,000 people marched from Dolores Park to a rally at Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco. This is when my grandfather was on death row and the focus of his supporters was to stop the execution and to strive for freedom for Mumia. During this time, I was in sixth grade; this was three years after my father Jamal was incarcerated. I remember being in class and noticing that my art teacher was wearing a “Free Mumia” pin. Outside of movement spaces and my home I didn’t normally see people wearing Mumia pins. My teacher saw me looking at his pin and gave me one. 

The case of Mumia Abu-Jamal has always been a reminder to me to what extent the state will go to silence dissent, especially in the Black community.

I took the pin and said that Mumia was my grandfather. My teacher was shocked and did not believe me at first. The next day I was in a room with four white teachers questioning me about details on Mumias’ case at the time. They had donuts and hot chocolate, but it seemed like an interrogation. The situation seemed unethical and I remember the anger they exhibited when I told them that my grandfather was innocent and that they can refer any other inquiries to my father. Even though at that time my father was incarcerated, he still called the school for weekly updates on me, something that I hated then but have grown to understand and respect as it was his dedication to being a father.

A few years later, when I was a freshman in high school, I would walk about two miles to get to my school. I still had the “Free Mumia” pin that my sixth grade teacher gave me proudly displayed on my backpack. One day, I was two blocks away from getting to school when I was stopped by a truancy cop. He scolded me for being late to school and when he saw the pin on my bag, he ripped it off and threw it in the street. I protested, and he slammed my face into a telephone booth. Afterwards he got into his squad car and sped off. I walked the rest of the way to school and when I detailed the events to the school police they laughed and said, “You should not have been late.”

It was during those pockets of time and through the experiences fueled by racism that I realized that my grandfather was a big deal. Though it wasn’t until my wife and I went to France in June of 2022 for the inauguration of a mural of Mumia and Mandela that I fully realized his international significance. I know Mumia as a man and a grandfather; others know him for his contributions to the peoples’ struggle. In many ways I deal with him being such a symbol by remembering that my grandfather is a man that we can save today. My only focus is how we can organize together for Mumia’s freedom and the freedom of ALL political prisoners.

JR Valrey: How long have you been involved in Mumia’s freedom campaign? Besides your relationship, why are you involved? 

Jamal Hart: In my personal life, my grandfather’s freedom campaign was drowned out by a need for survival. Surviving capitalism pending revolution meant working three jobs while I watched Mumia’s freedom campaign struggle to maintain momentum after he was moved off of death row. Many people I came across didn’t know that Mumia was still alive, let alone incarcerated.

When it comes to my personal involvement, as his grandson, there has always been a huge fear in my family of police retaliation, and this is not to be taken lightly. I attended a few events and some rallies in 2018 and 2019, but it was in 2020 during the uprisings when I was approached with the opportunity for re-strategizing his freedom campaign. It was in the same year that the prisons provided the imprisoned with video chat visits. This was because they suspended in person visits in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The nexus of my direct involvement in organizing to “Free Mumia” came after a video visit where Mumia had a conversation with his great-granddaughters. This was after they showed him their artwork and toys. The video visit shut off abruptly and my youngest daughter burst into tears, and asked if we could call him back. My oldest daughter then asked why he’s still incarcerated and “why can’t he come home.” She said, “He’s so old and old people shouldn’t be in prison.” 

Jamal-with-his-grandfather, Jamal Hart, grandson of Mumia Abu-Jamal, reflects on the 42 years of his grandfather’s political imprisonment, Featured Local News & Views News & Views
Jamal with his grandfather, Mumia Abu-Jamal Photo: Courtesy of Jamal Family

Between my daughter’s tears and disappointment in my grandfather’s continued imprisonment, I understood that I myself had pushed down the emotions and heartbreak of my grandfather still being in prison. 

I came into movement spaces with intentions to help in any way I can. He’s my grandfather and the clock is ticking on his life. In Philadelphia the misinformation on Mumia and many imprisoned peoples would cause you to believe that Mumia is less than human – a savage, an animal. These are the things that propel scandal and injustices onto imprisoned peoples everywhere. 

The racism that we experience in the media is unbearable. It seemed important to me and to the struggle that I help to provide a tangible human element to Mumia’s campaign, a reminder that he’s been in prison so long, that his grandchildren have their own children now, who still do not know him.

My relationship to my grandfather is a major reason for me being hyper focused on his freedom. I’m involved because he is my blood. I understand that Mumia is many things to many people, but free isn’t one of them. Freedom should be the only mission of any campaigns that uplift his name and the only goal in mind at this point. 

JR Valrey, journalist, author, filmmaker and founder of Black New World Media, heads the SF Bay View’s Oakland Bureau and is founder of his latest project, the Ministry of Information Podcast. He can be reached at blockreportradio@gmail.com and on Instagram.