The following is a reprint of an April 16, 2008, commentary from the youth group Fight Imperialism, Stand Together (FIST) on the eve of the April 19, 2008, march and rally in Philadelphia to demand the freedom of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
There 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 liberation.
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 United States.
But those are the oppressor’s heroes. Who are ours? Who are the heroes of people of color, women, lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender and 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 a terrorist and a murderer. But the people’s struggle has kept him alive.
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 color.
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.