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Mumia, racism and the court

Published Apr 8, 2009 3:14 PM

Mumia Abu-Jamal

In one of his weekly radio columns broadcast via telephone from prison, Black revolutionary journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal recently spoke of “The other inauguration celebration.” At the very same time that Barack Obama was sworn in as president of the United States, he explained, guards at Pennsylvania’s Camp Hill prison had launched an attack on Black inmates there, according to an extensive report from FedUp!, the Pittsburgh chapter of the Human Rights Coalition.

Said Mumia, “On the morning of the inauguration, one high-ranking guard reportedly announced over the PA system: ‘He [speaking of Obama] may have won, in my eyes he’s still a n——r.’” That was followed by “a fit of beatings, electric stun gun (and shield) shocking, kicking, punching and other such treatment, accompanied by a rash of racist slurs by white guards against Black prisoners.”

Now Mumia himself is feeling the vengeance of the racist, ruling class establishment that hired these thugs. The U.S. Supreme Court, which can wound and kill with words instead of stun guns, has rejected his appeal for a new trial without even giving any reasons. At a time when the electorate has chosen an African American for president, the court’s action shows shocking contempt for the hopes for unity and overcoming racism expressed by the majority of voters.

Mumia is known and respected around the world precisely because his case is seen as a monstrous example of racist injustice in the United States. His appeal had invoked the precedent of the Batson decision, in which the Supreme Court in 1986 ruled that a prosecutor could not use peremptory challenges to exclude jurors based solely on their race.

At Mumia’s trial, the prosecutor had used 11 of his 15 allotted peremptory challenges to exclude Black jurors. A training video used by the Philadelphia district attorney showed this was a very conscious strategy of the DA’s office. The video was part of the evidence presented to the court in the recent appeal.

In response to the court’s decision, Mumia said, “It shows you that precedent means nothing, that the law is politics by other means.” It must be very hard for a man who has spent most of his adult life on death row to be so profoundly objective about the limitations of the legal system. But Mumia is no pessimist. This former Black Panther is a fighter. His statement means that all who support him must keep up the struggle, because that is the only way to secure justice—not through the courts or the ballot box, but in the streets.