On the heels of a favorable court decision that will allow Mumia Abu-Jamal to reopen his appeals, hundreds of people marched in the streets in the historically African-American Germantown section of Philadelphia April 27, days after the imprisoned activist/journalist’s 65th birthday.
The event kicked off with a rally at Vernon Park. Speakers included Ralph Poynter, longtime activist against mass incarceration and partner of Lynn Stewart, and Rachel Wolkenstein, activist lawyer and decades-long supporter of Abu-Jamal. Younger activist Megan Malachi, with Philly REAL Justice, spoke on abolishing the police, while Philadelphia activist and radio host Gabriel Bryant chaired the event.
Expressions of international solidarity came from Palestinian author and activist Susan Abulhawa, who spoke on solidarity between prisoners in Palestine and the U.S., including Mumia. Marcos Rezende, of Black Entities and the Workers Party of Brazil, raised the struggle to free imprisoned Brazilian Workers Party leader Lula da Silva and noted that Abu-Jamal had sent a message of solidarity to Lula.
Rally participants came from Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Maryland. The action, celebrating both Abu-Jamal’s birthday on April 24 and his recent court win, was one of several in the U.S. and London, Berlin and Mexico. Abu-Jamal called activists in Mexico to thank them for their international solidarity.
The Philly march took to the streets with chants, signs and banners calling for freedom for Mumia and all political prisoners. Volunteers passed out “Release Mumia Now” fliers to bystanders as the crowd of 200 or more, including several carloads of supporters following behind, eventually halted in front of Marc Lamont Hill’s Uncle Bobbie’s bookstore.
The People’s Sanctuary next door was the venue for the day’s Peoples Forum, where Abu-Jamal’s 10th and newest book, “Murder Inc., Volume 2” was released. Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio organized the book launch with the support of Uncle Bobbie’s. International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal leader Pam Africa opened the program.
Parts of the book, a groundbreaking, anti-imperialist history lesson for the people, were read by Abu-Jamal supporters, including longtime Philadelphia activist Fatirah Aziz; Abu-Jamal’s nephew, Wayne Cook; Basym Hasan with the Pennsylvania Prison Society; and Mike Africa Jr., son of MOVE 9 members Debbie Africa and Mike Africa Sr. Debbie and Mike were each recently released from prison after 40 years.
Other readers included Dr. Suzanne Ross, longtime Mumia activist who has organized much of the international support for Mumia; Barbara Easley-Cox, Black Panther Party Alumni member; and Johanna Fernandez, Baruch College history professor and coordinator of Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Ten books penned from prison
Before closing the program with an update on Abu-Jamal’s legal situation, Fernandez paid tribute to his contributions of thousands of political essays and 10 books to date, all penned from his prison cell. She reminded the audience: “Mumia was part of the Black Panther Party that made teaching Black children and youth to read a part of their program.
“The Panthers fearlessly challenged the power of the police by arming themselves. These descendents of enslaved Africans took up arms to defend their communities. It was during this post-Civil Rights America that police began to use the term ‘cop killer’ to denigrate Black movement activists.”
Concerning the new legal developments, Fernandez said, “Because the movement held him accountable, Judge Leon Tucker did something phenomenal. He granted Mumia’s appeal right, in part because of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Williams v. Pennsylvania. Ron Castille, as a former prosecutor in the case, should have recused himself as a judge. But Tucker took it further.
“Tucker cited Castille’s targeting of Pennsylvania capital cases involving ‘cop-killers’ as one example of Castille’s obvious bias and grounds for why he should have recused himself in Mumia’s case. There were only three such cases at the time — Mumia’s and two others.”
Next up in the courts
Fernandez explained that a three-judge panel from the Pennsylvania Superior Court will now decide whether to review Abu-Jamal’s appeals or send them to the higher Pennsylvania Supreme Court. “It’s a hot potato case, with the courts saying, ‘You take it.’ ‘No, you take it.’ Legal briefs are due by June 3, but the lawyers may ask for extensions. In any case, there will not be public hearings.
“In the same press release where [District Attorney Larry] Krasner said he wasn’t going to challenge Tucker’s order, he also said he would oppose all of Mumia’s legal appeals. All prosecutors, regardless of their political party, represent the state. Krasner needs to be put on trial, along with the system he will now defend.”
Fernandez concluded: “We need to bring this case into the court of public opinion and be in the streets to say, ‘No more delays. Release him now!’”