An event titled “Bearing Witness in the Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal” brought together over 150 people to the First United Methodist Church of Germantown in Philadelphia, March 11. With a live-stream option, over 2,000 more supporters were able to view the event from other cities and countries. In several places, activists organized watch parties with groups of participants.
The program included Rev. Judge Wendell Griffen, a retired state court trial judge from Arkansas; professor and author Dr. Marc Lamont Hill; Philadelphia-based organizer Gabriel Bryant; Dr. Johanna Fernandez, historian and movement liaison to the Abu-Jamal legal team; and Associate Professor of Journalism Linn Washington Jr., who served as moderator.
German journalist Michael Schiffmann and philosopher Dr. Cornel West joined the program via video conferencing. A highlight of the event was a phone call from Abu-Jamal, who was convicted in 1982 of shooting Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner but maintains his innocence.
Washington reminded the audience that Abu-Jamal, while best-known as a political prisoner in Pennsylvania, is a radio journalist and author of over 3,000 commentaries and eight books. They were all handwritten, as he has no access to a typewriter. Washington addressed key issues in Abu-Jamal’s case, including evidence in hidden file boxes withheld from defense attorneys.
Washington explained: “One of the most common forms of misconduct by district attorneys is the withholding of evidence of innocence that they are obligated to make available to the defense, under the 1963 decision Brady v. Maryland. Since 2013, of the 33 exonerees in Philadelphia, 30 involved Brady violations.
“Larry Krasner, who became Philadelphia District Attorney in 2017, had made his career about hearing evidence. Now a judge [Lucretia Clemons] is saying some of the evidence is time-barred, but if evidence takes 100 years to be uncovered, so be it.”
Judge Griffen expanded on this: “If the government is charging us, they cannot hide stuff that clears us. They have an obligation to produce and deliver all evidence they have of our innocence. You don’t need a law degree to know that things got jacked up in Mumia’s case.”
State hid boxes of evidence
Six concealed file boxes pertaining to Abu-Jamal’s case were uncovered by DA Krasner in late 2018. The boxes contained documents indicating that key state witnesses were compensated for their testimony.
Fernandez went into some detail: “The cab driver [Robert Chobert] was fed, housed in a hotel and driven around by prosecutors all during the trial. But evidence found in the hidden boxes — a letter to Prosecutor Joe McGill asking ‘Where’s my money?’ — showed he expected more. In the case of the state’s other chief witness, sex worker Cynthia White, all 33 of her pending convictions went away. Then after the trial White also disappeared.”
Schiffman, who appeared via video conferencing, explored the holes in the state’s case, which were exposed in photos taken by Pedro Polakoff, the first photographer on the crime scene in 1981. The photos show that Chobert’s cab was not where he claimed. This called into question his testimony about directly witnessing the shooting.
Another photo shows that the police officer responsible for handling the weapons involved was carrying both guns in his bare hand. Other key evidence withheld by the prosecutor included the fact that the driver’s license of a fourth man at the scene — Kenneth Freeman — was found in Faulkner’s pocket.
The program was organized by The Mumia United Nations Liaison Group and was co-sponsored by Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books, Mobilization4Mumia, Love Not Phear, Campaign to Bring Mumia Home and the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Abu-Jamal’s supporters held meetings and demonstrations around the U.S. and in several other countries, calling on Judge Clemons to do the right thing and release him. South Africa’s largest union, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, demanded “Free Mumia!” in a spirited protest outside the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria. See NUMSA Facebook to view photos and videos of the protest in Pretoria. (tinyurl.com/ynpfsrkw)
In French Guiana, activists hung a banner calling for Abu-Jamal’s release on the gates of the courthouse in the city of Cayenne. Activities were also held in Argentina, Australia, Benin, France, Germany, Mexico, Portugal, Senegal and Togo, many organized by dockworkers.
In a Dec. 16, 2022, hearing, trial Judge Clemons ruled that Abu-Jamal’s attorneys should have access to examine all of the prosecution’s evidence in this case. Her decision is expected later in March.