WE ARE ALL MUMIA!
Published Nov 17, 2010 5:51 PM
More than 500 people, mostly African American and youth, mobilized for an
outdoor rally Nov. 9 here in support of political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. The
rally lasted through a 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals hearing on whether the
death sentence would be reinstated for Abu-Jamal, who has maintained his
innocence since being railroaded to death row for the 1981 killing of
Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.
Johanna Fernandez, co-producer of the film
‘Justice on Trial: The Case
of Mumia Abu-Jamal.’
WW photo: Joe Piette
Abu-Jamal’s supporters included a delegation from the Transport Workers
Union Local 100; Charles Barron, the New York Freedom Party gubernatorial
candidate; Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition, NYC; International Concerned Family
and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal; and the International Action Center. Activists
traveled from as far away as California, Texas, Arizona, Germany, France and
Shenice Morris told Workers World that she and two other high school students
missed school to attend: “We are not going to sit down and be oppressed.
Mumia’s case is an example of just how corrupt this government is. We are
tired of the attacks on the African-American community. It has to
After the hearing, supporters speak out to
WW photo: Joe Piette
Larry Holmes with the Bail Out the People Movement stated: “We are all
Mumia. We want to see Mumia walk out as a free man. We will not give up until
that happens. Around the world Mumia has come to symbolize the struggles of
African Americans for freedom and against oppression.”
Inside the court, a three-judge panel convened to reexamine their 2008 decision
regarding confusion over jury instructions in the sentencing phase of
Abu-Jamal’s 1982 trial. Two years ago these judges, finding that the jury
had been given flawed and misleading instructions, upheld an earlier decision
by Judge William Yohn to vacate the death sentence. Yohn’s decision left
Abu-Jamal in prison for life without the possibility of parole.
Detroit, Nov. 9.
WW photo: Bryan G. Pfeifer
However in January 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a lower court order
vacating the death sentence in another case had been in error. That case, which
also focused on confusing language on a jury ballot form and misleading
instructions to the jury, involved neo-Nazi Frank Spizak, who was sentenced to
death for the random killings of Black and Jewish people.
An appeal of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision in
Abu-Jamal’s case, filed by the Philadelphia district attorney, was
pending in the Supreme Court. After ruling against Spizak, the court sent
Abu-Jamal’s appeal back to the 3rd Circuit, asking them to review their
decision in light of the Spizak ruling.
Detroit, Nov. 9.
WW photo: Alan Pollock
While Assistant District Attorney Hugh Burns tried to argue that the issues in
Abu-Jamal’s case were “almost identical” to those in
Spizak’s, Widener University law professor Judith Ritter, arguing for
Abu-Jamal, countered that the two jury forms were “fundamentally
different.” Ritter successfully argued the same issue before these judges
At a press conference following the hearing, Professor Johanna Fernandez with
Educators for Mumia said she “found it very disturbing that the court was
obsessive over semantics and insignificant details, without being willing to
consider the case as a whole — the overwhelming evidence of innocence and
the totality of violations of Mumia’s legal and constitutional
No decision is expected until 2011, but even if the judges uphold their 2008
decision, the district attorney’s office can appeal again to the Supreme
Court. And the Supreme Court could vote to reverse the lower court and
reinstate the death penalty.
If the Supreme Court chooses not to take the case or lets the lower court
ruling stand, the district attorney would have to decide whether to seek a new
penalty-phase trial or to leave Abu-Jamal with a life sentence. A new trial
would give Abu-Jamal the chance to introduce new evidence regarding the
It’s clear that support for Abu-Jamal cannot be allowed to waiver.
Supporters vowed to intensify a campaign demanding that Attorney General Eric
Holder conduct an investigation into the numerous violations of
Abu-Jamal’s civil rights.
The high energy at the rally was fueled by an event the night before where two
Abu-Jamal supporters, Fernandez and attorney Michael Coard, took on
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams and filmmaker Tigre Hill in a
debate on the case.
Hill, who is African American, had previewed his anti-Abu-Jamal,
pro-Fraternal-Order-of-Police film, “The Barrel of a Gun,” to a
mostly white audience of cops and politicians in September. He set up the Nov.
8 debate to follow a screening of his film at the National Constitution Center
in Philadelphia the night before Abu-Jamal’s hearing.
It’s hard to believe Hill did not anticipate that Abu-Jamal supporters
would pack the hall, or that Fernandez and Coard would trounce him and
Williams, but that’s exactly what happened.
Hill’s film claims that Abu-Jamal conspired with his brother, William
Cook, to murder Faulkner because Abu-Jamal was a former member of the Black
Panther Party and a supporter of the MOVE Organization that “always
wanted to kill police.”
Long on innuendo but seriously short on facts, “The Barrel of a
Gun” presents a one-sided portrayal of the revolutionary Black movements
of the 1960s and 1970s as a group of “violent, extremist,
communist-sympathizing radicals out to kill cops.”
There is never any mention of the rampant police repression against the Black
and Latino/a communities, nor of the widespread corruption that eventually led
to federal investigations of the Philadelphia police department. Hill ignores
the fact that Black Panther Party members carried guns in self-defense after
dozens of their comrades were killed by police.
Williams tried to minimize the facts as well, repeating a refrain that
“four witnesses said they saw Mumia shoot Faulkner” and
“Mumia confessed.” When Williams said, “We’re bound by
the facts,” he was greeted by jeers from the audience.
Fernandez responded that the prosecution’s star witness, Cynthia White,
initially picked out Kenneth Freeman, a passenger in William Cook’s car,
in a lineup. Police coerced White to change her testimony. Fernandez noted that
15 of the police involved in collecting evidence in Abu-Jamal’s case were
brought up on corruption charges for evidence tampering in other cases, but the
jury was not told that.
Fernandez has produced another documentary on the case entitled “Justice
on Trial.” She challenged Williams and Hill to “stick to the facts
in the case, not the ones you make up.”
Coard spoke of the inherent racism in the U.S. and compared Abu-Jamal’s
case to those of thousands of other Black and poor people who are railroaded
through the judicial system without adequate representation or juries of their
peers. Coard noted that the police failed to perform gun residue tests on
Abu-Jamal’s hands to prove he had even fired a gun the night Faulkner was
Coard also pointed out that Abu-Jamal’s attorney during the original
trial, Anthony Williams, was eventually disbarred.
Seemingly nervous that the debate was not going his way, Hill left the stage at
one point to be coached on the sideline. He returned with yet another lie: that
Abu-Jamal’s former attorney, Robert Bryan, “was going to argue for
self-defense.” Fernandez and the audience booed this outright lie.
A highlight of the debate came when Coard stood up and hand-delivered an order
charging Hill with copyright infringement for using substantial footage from
the film “Black and Blue” without obtaining permission from its
owner, Hugh King. “Black and Blue” focuses on police brutality in
Philadelphia. The order instructed Hill to cease screening and disseminating
his film and to destroy all copies or risk a lawsuit.
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