by Zaire Saunders
“All knowledge of reality starts from experience and ends in it,” Albert Einstein once said. Simple enough words to follow, though tremendously difficult to accept. It is easy to believe you know what life is, to claim an experience for your own simply because you’ve read it, heard it and even discussed it. A habit no doubt broadened by reliance on social media.
In my case, I was under the impression I knew what it meant to be a Black writer. I know I crammed books by Black writers to see through the veil of ignorance; that through hours I spent averting the world peeling words off pages of “Beloved” or “Die Nigger Die” I had actually known more than my experience.
Sunday, June, 4, I attended a “Free Mumia” event for Mumia Abu-Jamal. For 42 years, Mumia Abu-Jamal has remained under the state’s worst conditions in prison. Although locked away, with the state mounting more and more pressure to keep him in such conditions, Mumia has remained in the hearts and minds of millions who fight to keep freedom and justice a right for all through his commentaries and work as an international journalist.
One highlight of the event, although painfully the most striking, was the film “Justice on Trial.” In darkness we watched white zealots with their faces inflamed with rage flash across the screen, accusing Mumia of murder and ignoring copious amounts of evidence. While, hopefully enough, there were just as many instances of people who work to keep freedom alive.
Taking accounts from eyewitnesses, legal experts and family members, the film is a bitter reminder of what the system does to those it deems the enemy. Though a second viewing for me, the film is no less effective at drawing the watcher in to hold the facts for themselves and question the system we allow to persecute a man so long and so cruelly.
Still, the impact of Mumia Abu-Jamal means more while being felt simply and fundamentally as family. “How is he still in prison when he isn’t on death row?” said Jamal Hart Jr., grandson of Mumia Abu-Jamal, as we talked around dinner after the initial gathering.
“Mumia isn’t about that life,” Jamal Jr. continued: “Mumia is dorky. Mumia is about family and love. At the time, he was reporting on corruption. He was booked on conspiracy of murder. They try to muddy the waters. All the mud in the water dissipated and Mumia was shackled when the dust settled.”
The mud in the waters is the lie of the “criminal” and the incarceration system all manufactured and supported by the United States. According to the state, it isn’t enough to hold a captive person alone. All loved ones must confront steel bars and financial drain. Witnesses and other evidence have been brought to the state, almost all of which has been ignored or denied since the early years of the case.
“That street was busy. People would go down to pick up girls. People be down there selling everything. Dan Faulkner comes out and assaults Billy, Mumia’s twin brother. The cop’s flashlight was dripping with Billy’s blood.”
As Jamal Jr. continued on about the details of the case, I was reminded of the terror the police brought to me during the 2020 uprisings. Feeling locked in a cage of America’s necessity to destroy the Black psyche, I wondered where I could go to avoid the red and blue sirens that zoomed down the highways, waiting for another victim. Through this recollection, I felt closer to the issue of Mumia. Could I save myself from the death brought by America? Or is finding something to live for beyond myself what could bring me towards liberation.
I was lucky enough to spend the next afternoon with Jamal. In the Bay View newsroom he also told stories about his grandfather, imitating him with a loud booming voice. He recalled a story between Mumia and himself where Mumia was distraught over his first issue of Action Comics, which is the first appearance of Superman within the comic medium, being thrown out.
But it was soon back to important matters. As the afternoon progressed, Jamal Hart Jr. offered what he felt was necessary for the movement, “As a movement, we have to tell the story of police aggression,” emphasizing the burden of being born into the movement “by blood.”
The definition of blood can be tricky to trace when for centuries Black blood was sufficient to terrorize communities and individuals. So long as mass incarceration remains a staple in U.S order, aren’t we all born through blood into a movement to change ourselves and society to better reflect freedom?
Reflecting on freedom fighters, such as the members of the MOVE organization in Philadelphia, Black Panther Party members, Black abolitionists and the strategies of each. Never forgetting to mention the love it requires – as well as our integrity – to continually face the oppressor despite the lies, schemes and violence they sanction.
The wrongful and obvious political case of Mumia is a piece of the mirror that reflects where we will be. Are we going to retain our integrity and our faith in the idea that we all deserve to live, be clothed, fed well, housed and given adequate healthcare? Mumia Abu-Jamal has retained his and fights to see those ideas brought to life, despite being in the bowels of the prison system. Because he is us and works for us, we all should take our destiny in our hands and defend liberty.
However, as more time goes by that Mumia and many others experience cold incarceration, our notion of justice and integrity will remain shattered. Millions are experiencing that reality, with a threat of it happening to millions more – it is up to the millions outside to help make freedom a reality.
Please send Mumia Abu-Jamal some love, as well as other prisoners – political or otherwise. To reach Mumia, use this address: Smart Communications/PADOC, Mumia Abu-Jamal, AM 8335, SCI Mahanoy, P.O. Box 33028, St. Petersburg, FL 33733
Zaire Saunders is the copy editor and reporter for the SF Bay View Community Journalism Program, which is funded by the California State Library.