April 10 was a National Day of Action for Mumia Abu-Jamal. Protests were held around the country to support this internationally known African-American journalist and political prisoner whose life is being endangered by medical neglect and abusive treatment by Pennsylvania prison authorities. Protesters have loudly insisted, “No execution by medical neglect for Mumia Abu-Jamal!” ever since his life-threatening health crisis came to light on March 30.
Mumia has been imprisoned for more than 33 years, 30 of them in solitary confinement on Pennsylvania’s death row. He was convicted and sentenced to death for killing a police officer in 1982, and has never wavered in proclaiming his innocence.
Over the years mass mobilizations with strong international support kept the state from executing him. Finally, the Supreme Court vacated his death sentence in 2011. By Jan. 27 the following year, Mumia was transferred to the general prison population at SCI Mahanoy prison in Frackville, Pa., where he remains imprisoned today.
After months of medical neglect, Mumia was hospitalized for diabetic shock on March 30. His blood sugar was dangerously high, and he had lost 80 pounds. As of April 1, he was back in the Mahanoy infirmary — the same medical facility where doctors had administered three blood tests prior to his hospitalization but never told Mumia he had diabetes. His condition fluctuates now.
Without international and national pressure, including protests, petitions, phone calls and emails, Mumia would not have gotten medical treatment.
Mumia’s numerous supporters have demanded that his family and allies be allowed to visit him. Despite being so ill and confined to a wheelchair, he must submit to outrageous procedures — being strip-searched before and after visits — when seeing relatives and supporters outside the infirmary. Visits are prohibited inside the medical unit.
Suzanne Ross, of the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, visited with Mumia on April 13 and reports that he looked very thin and is weak, in pain and wheelchair-bound. He says he feels like he has post-traumatic stress disorder as he deals with the reality of prison officials’ deliberate neglect and mistreatment of his dire medical condition, endangering his life.
Mumia is receiving insulin and his diet seems to be improving. The prison food had been extremely unhealthy, especially for someone with diabetes. He insists that a better diet must be provided for all prisoners, particularly those with diabetes.
Mumia is documenting what happened to him in the infirmary, establishing a paper trail to get independent medical care and filing grievances within the prison system. His lawyers have filed a grievance with the state to enable him to consult and obtain a treatment plan by diabetic and other health specialists. They obtained his prison medical records but are still waiting for those from the hospital, and will be meeting with the Department of Corrections on April 14.
Keep the pressure on!
Mumia says he feels the love and solidarity expressed by the movement and is grateful for international support, including that of Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, who wrote to the head of the Pennsylvania DOC. It is crucial that activists keep the pressure on Pennsylvania prison and government officials, as Mumia is still gravely ill.
Support must be extended to Marylin Zuniga, a teacher in Orange, N.J., whose job is at stake because her third-grade class sent get-well cards to Mumia. She was put on paid leave pending an “investigation.” A campaign has been mounted to stop disciplinary action against this courageous educator.
A letter to the Orange Township Public Schools opposing Zuniga’s suspension recognizes that the New Jersey Board of Education is under pressure from the Fraternal Order of Police “and the bullying tactics it disseminates via biased news media. However, support for Ms. Zuniga is coming in [from] such distinguished authors and scholars as Robin D.G. Kelley (UCLA), Angela Y. Davis, Barbara Ransby (University of Illinois/Chicago), Joe R. Featin (Texas A&M), Vijay Prashad (Trinity College), James H. Cone and Cornel West (both of Union Theological Seminary).” (tinyurl.com/qyvhyv3)
Here is a roundup of news about some of the demonstrations for Mumia held in recent days.
Fifty people gathered at Love Park in Center City on April 10 at a spirited speakout to demand that the Pennsylvania DOC stop its efforts to execute Mumia by medical neglect.
Following up on Gov. Tom Wolf’s declaration of a moratorium on the state’s death penalty on Feb. 13, protesters marched to Wolf’s Philadelphia office at S. Broad and Walnut streets. After arriving outside the building, they remained in the street for more than an hour, taking over all lanes and effectively shutting down rush-hour traffic.
Speakers called on Wolf to stop prison officials from executing Mumia by denying him adequate medical treatment. Demonstrators included members of the MOVE organization, International Concerned Friends and Family of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the International Action Center, and several young activists from the Coalition for Racial, Economic and Legal Justice.
New York City
Some 120 activists rallied outside the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building in Harlem during the evening rush hour on April 10. Speakers included Juanita Young, mother of Malcolm Ferguson, a Black youth slain by police. Betty Davis, long-time community organizer, stressed the need for improved medical care for Mumia and Harlem residents. Suzanne Ross invited protesters to an organizing meeting afterwards.
Lucy Pagoada, of Honduras Resistance USA, connected state repression against Mumia to U.S. militarism abroad, including sending troops to Honduras. Johnnie Stevens, of IAC, Orrie Lumumba, of MOVE, and Tsehai Hiwot, from the People’s Power Assembly, co-chaired.
The protest was called by a coalition of #Mumia Must Live, IAC, Campaign to Bring Mumia Home, New York Jericho Movement, New York Free Mumia Coalition and MOVE. Passersby enthusiastically took copies of Workers World newspaper, headlined “No medical execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal.”
Demonstrators marched across 125th Street to St. Mary’s Church, where they planned future activities backing Mumia. Co-chairs were Johanna Fernandez, of the Campaign to Bring Mumia Home, and Suzanne Ross. Delbert Africa, a MOVE political prisoner, called in from prison.
Supporters of Mumia took to the corners of Brightleaf Square during rush- hour traffic on April 10 to demand an end to the medical neglect and torture of Mumia. Chanting “Brick by brick, wall by wall, we’re gonna free Mumia Abu-Jamal,” they distributed literature and engaged in conversations with passersby, asking them to contact Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and prison officials. Keith Cook, Mumia’s brother, joined the action, which was sponsored by the Workers World Party Durham branch.
Supporters of Mumia Abu-Jamal marched in front of City Hall at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center on April 10. They held placards and distributed more than 50 Workers World newspapers with the photograph of Mumia on the cover.
A diverse array of Mumia supporters held a protest in the pouring rain on April 10 at the Federal Courthouse. Chaired by long-time community and anti-police-brutality activist Brian Verdin, the rally demanded freedom for Mumia, as well as family visits, release of his medical records and independent health care. The activists also demanded improved health care for all prisoners.
Speakers included Babette Grunow, of the Latin American Solidarity Committee; prisoner-rights attorney Gary Grass; and Minister Sean Muhammad of Milwaukee Mosque No. 3 of the Nation of Islam. Maria Hamilton, mother of a Black youth fatally shot by police, also participated. The protest was sponsored by the Wisconsin Bail Out the People Movement. Members of the Coalition for Justice, Committee to Stop FBI Repression, Fight for $15, IAC, Progressive Students of Milwaukee, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Resists Cuts, Wisconsin Jobs Now, WWP and Youth Empowered in the Struggle attended.
The action was supported by other labor-community organizations such as Africans on the Move; #BlackLivesMatter; Ferguson Response Network; Rockford Fight Imperialism, Stand Together (FIST); Occupy the Hood MKE; and the Young, Gifted and Black Coalition in Madison, Wis.
Supporters gathered outside the Mickey Leland Federal Building demanding Mumia’s right to be treated by his own specialists and calling for his freedom. The Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, which has always supported Mumia, called the protest on April 13.
Sister Krystal Muhammad told the crowd, “America is at war with African Americans.The lynchings, the attacks by cops from coast to coast — the racism never ended for us. A Black man, Otis James Byrd, was just lynched in rural Mississippi. The U.S. has a racist history of lynchings, but we will not let them lynch Mumia.”
National of Islam Minister Robert Muhammad stressed, “He has given his life for the struggle and we must now step up and get justice for Mumia.” Recent college graduate Kamil Kahn, speaking for youth, stated, “Mumia is our hero and we must protect him from execution by medical neglect.”
Everyone there then phoned the heads of SCI Mahanoy prison and the Pennsylvania prison system. Kofi Taharka, National Black United Front president, said, “They won’t answer, but they know we are demanding that nothing happen to Mumia. The world is watching and we are taking care of Mumia.”
Joanne Gavin, a TDPAM founder, said, “We are going to have to kick things up a notch to make sure that Mumia is not lynched and is getting the treatment he needs from doctors he trusts.”
People from various organizations gathered in the afternoon of April 10 at the Downtown Federal Building to demand immediate medical care for Mumia and his freedom.
Jefferson Azevedo, of the IAC and LA Workers Assembly, chaired and tied the state’s war against Mumia with U.S. wars abroad against working and poor people. He noted the importance of national demonstrations against this system of war and repression that targets leaders like Mumia. Griff, a young Black man, spontaneously joined the protest, thanking its organizers. He talked about his involvement in an American Civil Liberties Union study about police killings.
Muffy Sunday, co-founder of the former LA Coalition to Stop the Execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal, along with the IAC, cited the importance of continuing the fight to save Mumia’s life and exposed capitalism’s anti-human nature. Dante Strobino, representing WWP, explained the root cause of police violence written about extensively by Mumia. Strobino was one of 400 activists arrested during LA protests following Michael Brown’s killing in Ferguson, Mo.
Endorsing and/or participating groups were Unión del Barrio, STOP LAPD Spying Coalition, BAYAN-USA, Black Lives Matter, Union of Progressive Iranians, UPWARD, National Lawyers Guild, Freedom Socialist Party, Revolutionary Communist Party, WWP, IAC and LA Workers Assembly.
Demanding “No execution by medical neglect,” some 75 protesters rallied at the Federal Building on April 10. Speakers included Jabari Shaw, a local Black activist recently targeted by an Oakland Police Department/Federal Marshal/FBI task force; and Hannibal Abdul-Shakur, formerly of the Trayvon 2, and an organizer of Afrika Town at the Qilombo recreation center. Also speaking were Jeremy Miller, of the Idriss Shelley Foundation; Jeff Mackler, of the Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal; David Welsh, retired postal worker and labor activist; and Judy Greenspan, of WWP. The following day, another rally at the same location again drew a large crowd of protesters.
Contributors to this roundup include Abayomi Azikiwe, Terri Kay, John Parker, Betsey Piette, Gloria Rubac, Johnnie Stevens and Workers World bureaus in Durham and Milwaukee.
Photos: Milwaukee, Ben Herrenbruck. WW photos: Detroit, Abayomi Azikiwe; Houston, Gloria Rubac; Los Angeles, Dante Strobino; New York, Anne Pruden; Oakland, Terri Kay; Philadelphia, Joseph Piette.