Why Mumia is a hero to young people
Published Apr 16, 2008 11:05 PM
The following is a commentary from three members of the youth group Fight
Imperialism, Stand Together (FIST) on the eve of the April 19 march and rally
in Philadelphia to demand the freedom of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
here is a man in the state of Pennsylvania who has a street in France
named after him. That man is Mumia Abu-Jamal, a journalist and ex-member of the
Black Panther Party—an organization classified as “terrorist”
by the U.S. government. A former Black Panther, Mumia is now in his 26th year
on Pennsylvania's death row.
Mumia is a hero to Black youth and all people seeking liberation. The
“voice of the voiceless,” he chronicles the legacies of
people’s struggles worldwide. One of the greatest threats to U.S.
imperialism is the uprising of “young Mumias” from the streets of
Philadelphia to the streets of Paris.
At the age of 15, Mumia joined the Black Panther Party in Philadelphia, one of
the most racist and repressive cities in the country. He became the lieutenant
of information for the Philadelphia chapter and later worked with the New York
and Oakland chapters. Mumia performed a variety of duties, ranging from selling
the Black Panther newspaper to armed security duty.
With his fellow Panthers, Mumia was a leader in the Black Liberation struggle
of the late 1960s and earlier 1970s, which was demanding the right of Black
people to self-determination, self-defense and, ultimately, complete
Since his time in the BPP, Mumia has dedicated his life to the education and
liberation of Black people in the U.S. and across the world. He is a journalist
and was integral in calling media attention to the attacks of the Philadelphia
Police Department on local Black Panthers and the MOVE organization, including
the 1985 bombing of the MOVE compound. In that act of state terrorism, 11 Black
people died, including four children.
Is this man not a hero? Is Mumia not a freedom fighter? Why are there no
holidays for him and other leaders of the Black Liberation struggle? Did he not
dedicate his life to the liberation of the most oppressed?
In history the word “hero” has been used to define a variety of
people. The men considered to be the “founding fathers” of the
United States are often referred to as heroes, but it is undisputed that these
men were active in racist institutions, including slavery.
George Washington owned slaves and at one point had teeth removed from the
mouths of slaves in order to have them implanted in his own jaw. Thomas
Jefferson raped Sally Hemings, a teenage slave he owned, said to be his
wife’s half sister. In 1858 Abraham Lincoln, the man credited with
emancipating Black people from slavery, stated the following: “While they
[Black people and white people] do remain together there must be a position of
superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the
superior position assigned to the white race.”
These three men, along with many other wealthy white men in U.S. history, have
been labeled heroes. Youth and students across the country are taught daily
that they are the type of people we should celebrate. Their histories of
racism, sexism, capitalism and heterosexism are covered up and the mass murder
and displacement they are responsible for is called the establishment of the
But those are the oppressor’s heroes. Who are ours? Who are the heroes of
people of color, women, lesbian/bi/gay/trans/queer folks and the working
masses? One of them is definitely Mumia Abu-Jamal.
In 1981 Mumia was framed for the murder of Daniel Faulkner and sentenced to
execution. The U.S. government, the Fraternal Order of Police and the racist
mainstream media have waged a campaign against Mumia for 27 years, portraying
him as terrorist and a murderer. But the people’s struggle has kept him
The negative portrayal of Mumia and the Black Liberation movement as a whole is
an aspect of the overall war against Black people, specifically Black youth.
Like the omission from the history books of the 1935 Wiley College debate team,
recently portrayed in the film “The Great Debaters,” the
criminalization of Mumia is a deliberate attempt to erase the contributions of
Blacks in the United States.
Combined with disproportionate military recruitment and incarceration, as well
as the blatant murders of Black youth by the state, the eradication of Black
Liberation history is a strategic tool in the oppression of Black people. Cases
like the Jena 6, the Jersey 4, the state murders of Sean Bell and Amadou
Diallo, as well as the case of John White, are all a part of the attack on
Black people and our basic human right to self-defense. One must ask: Why is it
that when people of color are forced to defend ourselves, it is considered by
the state to be an unheroic, criminal act?
The Black Panther Party of the 1960s and 1970s and Mumia Abu-Jamal are our
heroes and revolutionaries. They are the leaders of our national liberation. We
as youth, especially Black youth, see the BPP as proof of Black agency in
history, in opposition to the education we receive that portrays Black people
as a historically passive people.
Though many of us can name Mumia as our hero, there are far too many of us who
have no idea who he is and what he has contributed to human history. It is a
product of the state’s attempted eradication of all liberation movements
fighting against U.S. imperialism, specifically those led by people of
In the words of Mumia: “I’m fighting every day, not just for my
freedom, not just for my liberation, but for all of our liberation. Unabashedly
I’ll fight for revolution because I think revolution is our only
solution. I’m not shy about using that word.”
Mumia: father, grandfather, journalist, freedom fighter, visionary,
revolutionary. Mumia is not just a hero but a flame-sparker and we are the
Inheritors of the Fire.
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