Philadelphia

Political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal turned 70 on April 24. This important life milestone was observed in Philadelphia with the delivery of petitions containing thousands of signatures, collected in France, to District Attorney Larry Krasner and to Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro. They demanded that this innocent man be released to rejoin his family and obtain necessary medical care. 

Demonstrators march down Market Street in Philadelphia to commemorate Mumia’s 70th birthday on April 24, 2024. WW Photo: Joe Piette

Mumia is a victim of racism, targeted by the police and FBI in its war on the Black freedom movement and has been incarcerated for nearly 42 years, including 28 on death row. He is a veteran Philadelphia Black Panther, radical radio journalist, grandfather and foremost revolutionary thinker and writer. He has written 11 books from inside prison.

Given the severity of the Israeli/U.S. genocide in Gaza, organizers for Mumia’s birthday observance linked the struggle for his freedom with the global fightback movement against the racist, settler-colonial occupation and genocide in Palestine.

The rally first gathered at the statue of 19th-century Black civil rights fighter Octavius Catto outside Philadelphia City Hall, bringing together activists from around the city and up and down the East Coast. Buses came from New York and Boston.

Gabriel Bryant and YahNé Ndgo co-chaired, opening with a moment of silent tribute to Kamau Becktembe, a beloved Philadelphia activist who was always the first to show up at protests. Becktembe died on Jan. 13 following a long illness.

From City Hall, the demonstrators marched to Krasner’s office where speakers included members of a French delegation who delivered the petitions. They raised that Krasner has the power — as he has shown with other unjustly incarcerated prisoners – to release Mumia. Since the 1990’s, the French Collective for the Liberation of Mumia, consisting of over 100 organizations and public figures, has fought for Mumia’s freedom. Today, Mumia is an honorary citizen of Paris and 25 other French cities. 

From Krasner’s office participants marched down Market Street and ended at the regional office of Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, to deliver more petitions. Unlike at the DA’s office where the French delegation was allowed to enter, security guards at this building were reluctant to let people in, despite receiving advance notice. They even tried to close the door on Bryant’s hand, only allowing the French delegates to slide the petitions through the narrow opening.

Meanwhile demonstrators kept up chants including “From Philly to Palestine, all our struggles are intertwined,” “From Philly to Mexico, all these prisons got to go,” “From Philly to the Congo, repressive systems got to go” and “Brick by brick, wall by wall, we’re going to free Mumia Abu-Jamal!”

Mumia’s message of solidarity with Palestine

In the evening, a standing-room-only indoor rally was held at the historic Black Waters Memorial AME Church. The program opened with Baruch Professor Johanna Fernandez, author of “The Young Lords: A Radical History,” who paid tribute to the students occupying college campuses across the U.S. with encampments calling for divestment from Israel.

Suzanne Ross, who has built international support for Mumia over the years, stated: “We are celebrating Mumia’s birthday, and also the incredible resistance that is coming up from the younger generation of activists at this moment. Young people want to hear Mumia’s message of resistance and hope.”

Midway through the program, Mumia was able to call in and delivered a message of solidarity with Palestine: “This is their time. When radical moments come around, we must grasp it with both hands. When we see the carnage, the mega death that’s been visited on the occupied territories of Palestine, it’s time for us to raise our voices and to speak truth to power and really speak out against this massive punishment against the people for daring to fight for their freedom, for their land.   

“When I think about Palestinians, I think of Indigenous people of the U.S. … Israel and the U.S. are settler-colonial states, they came to take the land from the people in both situations — trying to do that in Palestine in the same way they did it over hundreds of years in the U.S. How can it be that the Indigenous people, the original people, in what’s now called the U.S. live in reservations and poverty?

“The ghettos of Gaza are too big for the appetite of the Israelis and the invaders.  They want to put them [Palestinians] on reservations or wipe them out. Now is time to speak up and speak out and stand with the oppressed of Gaza and the West Bank.”

Since April 24, Mumia has been interviewed by The Guardian, USA Today, and Democracy Now, in addition to directly addressing students at the Palestine encampments at City College of New York.

Historic gathering of Black Panther Party members

Black Panther Party members on hand for Mumia’s 70th birthday. Sundiata Acoli fourth from right. Philadelphia, April 24, 2024. WW Photo: Joe Piette

A highlight of the evening was honoring veterans of the Black Panther Party on hand in solidarity with Mumia. They included Sundiata Acoli, sentenced to life in prison in 1974 in connection with the death of a New Jersey state trooper.  He was granted parole in 2022 at age 85.  Acoli also mentioned Assata Shakur in connection with the same incident. She remains in exile in Cuba. 

Dhoruba bin Wahad spoke on behalf of the BPP: “These are crying times, and they are liberation times. You cannot take the liberation struggle away from a people and kill their will to survive and defend themselves and defend their people.  What’s happening is changing the whole paradigm in West Asia. We pay tribute to Hamas and their resistance.

“The Israel European settler project — these Zionists — know they are on their last leg. The world has turned against them, and they are reviled by everyone. A new generation of people are out on the streets, getting arrested as we speak. Our job is to educate and liberate.”

Other speakers included Mike Africa, Jr; Vijay Prashad; Laura Whitehorn on behalf of Release Aging People from Prisons; Jenipher Jones on behalf of Leonard Peltier Official Ad Hoc Committee; a representative of the Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network;  Kalonji Jama Changa; Marc Lamont Hill; Judge Wendell Griffen; Monica Moorehead; Charles and Inez Barron and Cornel West.

Other events paying tribute to Mumia on his 70th birthday were held in Houston, Detroit, Washington, D.C., and San Diego in the U.S., and in Paris; Frankfort, Berlin and Heidelberg in Germany; Mexico City; Bern, Switzerland; and in Remire-Montjoly, French Guiana, where the Trade Union of Guianese Workers held a two-day, 71 kilometer march. A protest is scheduled for May 4 in London.

A video of the evening event is available at youtube.com/live/cadsHQ3mG94.

Free Mumia! Free Palestine!

Betsey Piette

Betsey.Piette@workers.org

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Betsey Piette

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