As activists gear up for a Sept. 14 event in New York promoting the struggle to free Mumia Abu-Jamal, the state of Philadelphia has lodged another attack against him. On Aug. 15, this internationally revered political prisoner was illegally sentenced to life imprisonment.
Abu-Jamal, a MOVE Organization supporter and a former Black Panther Party member, is known as the “voice of the voiceless” for his continued anti-racist, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist journalism. After being framed and convicted for the 1981 killing of a Philadelphia police officer, Abu-Jamal spent decades in solitary confinement, as a worldwide movement coalesced to free him. In December Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams announced that the state was no longer seeking a death sentence for Abu-Jamal, and he was released into the general prison population.
While the state backed off in the face of continued activism in support of Abu-Jamal – and perhaps in the hope that the movement for his freedom would dissipate — it resumed its assault on Abu-Jamal’s life nine months later. Without any notice to Abu-Jamal or to his lawyers, Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Pamela Dembe sentenced him to life imprisonment without parole on Aug. 15.
A press statement from the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal and the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition (NYC) notes that “all sentences … require a formal proceeding allowing the person to be sentenced the right to be heard and to challenge his sentence.” (Aug. 21) The sentencing is therefore illegal and, as with many of the state’s maneuverings in this decades-long case, in violation of Abu-Jamal’s rights.
Dembe had shown her willingness to deny Abu-Jamal justice in the past. In 2001, she refused to hear a legal challenge regarding the racist bias of convicting Judge Albert Sabo, who was overheard by a stenographer saying that he was going to “help them fry the n——-“ before Abu-Jamal’s trial.
Abu-Jamal filed a Post-Sentencing Motion on Aug. 23. Rachel Wolkenstein, Abu-Jamal’s attorney, reports: “Mumia’s motion not only attacks his own sentence to ‘slow death row,’ but makes the constitutional challenge to life imprisonment without parole, solitary confinement for death-row inmates and solitary confinement in general. Mumia is fighting with and for the entirety of ‘incarceration nation.’” (Aug. 24 email)
In addition to the demand to free Abu-Jamal and all U.S. political prisoners, the Sept. 14 event will focus on ending mass incarceration and solitary confinement and on closing New York’s infamous Attica prison. Speakers will include ICFFMAJ leader Pam Africa; Michelle Alexander, author of the book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”; activist and former political prisoner Angela Davis; attorney Soffiyah Elijah; Jazz Hayden, a community “cop-watch” activist who is currently being framed by the New York Police Department; Marc Lamont Hill, who with Abu-Jamal co-authored the book “The Classroom and the Cell”; and Princeton University Professor Cornel West, who has been active in the campaign against the NYPD’s racist “stop-and-frisk” policies.
For more information, tickets and to sign a petition supporting the closing of Attica, visit freemumia.com.