Philadelphia – Hundreds of people braved bitter cold weather to come out here for Mumia Abu-Jamal on Dec. 9, the 35th anniversary of his incarceration. Some traveled from New York, New Jersey, Maryland and North Carolina to save Mumia’s life and demand his freedom.
At a kickoff rally at Municipal Plaza, Rufus Farmer, from the Philadelphia Racial, Economic and Legal (REAL) Justice Coalition, discussed the group’s campaign to tear down a bronze statue there of Frank Rizzo, former Philadelphia mayor and police commissioner. Farmer detailed Rizzo’s history of brutality against Black and Brown communities, especially his assaults on the Black Panther Party and the MOVE organization. As a journalist in Philadelphia, Abu-Jamal became a target of the state for exposing and calling out Rizzo’s crimes.
Farmer led the crowd chanting “Take it down!” and encouraged everyone to sign a petition on Facebook at #FrankRizzoDown.
Pam Africa, minister of confrontation for the MOVE organization, called on people to support Leon Williams, a Mumia and MOVE supporter, who hopes to defeat District Attorney Seth Williams in the next general election. She also thanked City Council Members Cindy Bass and Janie Blackwell for getting the entire council to vote for a resolution calling on Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf to ensure that individuals incarcerated and working in state prisons have access to clean water and proper health services.
Abu-Jamal and 7,000 other prisoners in Pennsylvania suffer from untreated hepatitis C. SCI Graterford prisoner Jose Varios died in early December from hep C complications stemming from the state’s year-long delay in giving him life-saving drugs.
Lamont Lilly, activist and organizer from North Carolina and the 2016 Workers World Party vice presidential candidate, paid tribute to Abu-Jamal for inspiring him and other young Black journalists: “The Philadelphia police and Cointelpro thought they had silenced Mumia by putting him on death row, but he kept writing.”
The Rev. C.D. Witherspoon, a community organizer with the Baltimore People’s Power Assembly and president of that city’s chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said: “The movement is stronger because of Mumia. We understand that when the state was forced to take him off death row, their strategy was for him to die sick behind bars. We want our brother released now!”
REAL Justice Coalition organizer Erica Mines described Abu-Jamal as “the epitome of Fred Hampton’s slogan that ‘you can jail the revolutionary but you can’t jail the revolution.’” Mines was seven years old when she watched the bombing of MOVE take place in 1985.
Orie Lumumba, of International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, said, “What this government failed to do Dec. 9, 1981, they are trying to do now, and that is to murder Mumia through medical neglect. New York and other states have treated prisoners with hepatitis C, but Pennsylvania wants to make Mumia an example. We won’t let them!”
Protesters marched to the Philadelphia office of Gov. Wolf, while pushing two large shopping carts with boxes of petitions calling on Wolf to give Abu-Jamal the drugs that can cure him and provide clean water for all Pennsylvania prisoners.
Outside the governor’s office, Keith Cook, Abu-Jamal’s older brother, read the City Council resolution. He and Suzanne Ross announced they would take the petitions into the building accompanied by a videographer. Police blocked their access. As the crowd chanted, “Take our petitions!” Wolf’s staff finally agreed to post cell phone pictures as proof that they had accepted the petitions.
Town hall on hep C and water crisis
At an evening town hall at the Arch Street United Methodist Church, panels discussed the health care and water crises; legal updates on Mumia’s case; and the next steps for Mumia and other political prisoners in the toxic atmosphere created by Trump’s election.
Teresa Sullivan and Shani Akilah, community health care advocates, said hep C has surpassed HIV/AIDS as a leading cause of death in Philadelphia. Pennsylvania prisoner and environmental advocate Bryant Arroyo called in from SCI Frackville to discuss the ongoing crisis of contaminated water plaguing Pennsylvania prisons. Dr. Michelle Strongfields, a graduate of Cuba’s Latin America School of Medicine, connected the health care crisis with Philadelphia’s deep rates of poverty.
Attorney Robert Boyle gave an update on legal actions against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections for violating prisoners’ Eighth Amendment protection against “cruel and unusual punishment” by refusing to provide antiviral drugs that could cure Abu-Jamal and other prisoners. Attorney Rachel Wolkenstein reported on a new appeal filed on Abu-Jamal’s behalf based on the precedent-setting 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision Williams v. Pennsylvania. The court overturned Terry Williams’s conviction on the grounds that Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Ronald D. Castile held a dual role as prosecutor and then judge in his case. The Williams case applies fully and directly to Abu-Jamal’s.
Other speakers included immigrant activist Carmen Guerrero and representatives of struggles to free political prisoners Leonard Peltier, Oscar López Rivera, the MOVE 9 and Dequi Kioni-Sadiki. Larry Hamm, chairman of the New Jersey Peoples Organization for Progress, gave a rousing call for struggle and movement building in the face of the ultraright Trump administration.
The session included a prerecorded message from Abu-Jamal reminding people of our collective power. “When we come together, we are a force to be reckoned with. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about the death penalty, the hepatitis C crisis or freedom. When we come together, when we rumble together, we make things happen. We can open the prison gates. Trust yourself. Trust in the movement. Trust in the people. The people united will never be defeated.”
Below are reports on several other Mumia protests that day.
Houston activists held a militant demonstration demanding freedom for Mumia, clean water and treatment for all prisoners with hep C.
Liliana Castrellon, with the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, speaking in English and Spanish, said Mumia should never have been arrested and must be treated humanely. She reported on a demonstration for Mumia in Mexico City that day.
Participating in the Houston action were members of the Black Panther Party Alumni Association, the National Black United Front, Freedom Road Socialist Organization, Workers World Party and other activists.
– Gloria Rubac
Ras Ceylon, hip-hop artist and activist, emceed a rally of several hundred people at Oscar Grant Plaza. Speakers were Mumia Abu-Jamal on tape; Pierre LaBossiere, Haiti Action Committee; Cristina Gutierrez, Frisco 5 hunger striker; Derrick Muhammad, International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 secretary-treasurer; Carole Seligman, Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia; Gerald Smith, Oscar Grant Committee; and Michael Sandoval, Ohlone/Costanoan-Esselen Nation, just back from Standing Rock.
The protestors marched to Oakland Police Department headquarters, chanting “Brick by brick, wall by wall, we’re going to free Mumia Abu-Jamal!” Speakers there included Richard Becker, Answer Coalition; Judy Greenspan, Workers World Party; and Dave Welsh, who sang a solidarity song.
– Terri Kay
A demonstration for Mumia outside the notorious Erie County Holding Center jail was co-sponsored by the Buffalo Anti Racism Coalition, Burning Books, the International Action Center and Workers World Party.
The crowd demanded treatment for prisoners with hepatitis C; clean, safe water in prisons; and that prisons, which are nothing but concentration camps for the poor and oppressed, be torn down.
– Ellie Dorritie