NBC airs suppressed evidence in Mumia's Case

By Betsey Piette

Supporters of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a revolutionary Black journalist on Pennsylvania’s death row, rallied outside Philadelphia’s City Hall Dec. 8. They challenged outgoing Mayor John Street to “do the right thing” and not cave in to pressure from the Fraternal Order of Police to withdraw his support for a new trial for the world-renowned political prisoner.

Mumia supporters also celebrated a hard-won victory. On Dec. 6 NBC’s Today Show aired evidence pointing to an unfair trial and Mumia’s innocence. The occasion was an appearance by right-wing commentator Michael Smerconish and Maureen Faulkner, widow of slain Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. They were promoting their new book “Murdered by Mumia.” The program quickly cut to pickets in support of Mumia outside the NBC studios in New York.

This broadcast of the Today Show, the highest-rated morning news show in the country with an audience of millions, featured archival footage in which Mumia affirmed his innocence, as well as newly discovered original crime scene photos taken by press photographer Pedro P. Polakoff on Dec. 9, 1981.

The photos contradict the testimony of key prosecution witnesses during Mumia’s 1982 trial and 1995 Post Conviction Relief Act hearing. They have been ignored by the commercial media, with the exception of a Reuters article that appeared earlier in the week and an article in the San Francisco Bay View this past October.

Even after the Today Show brought these photos to light, none of the corporate Philadelphia media mentioned them or the show. The Philadelphia Inquirer, which features a regular column by Smerconish, instead put out misinformation on the Philadelphia rally, claiming that “40 police officers monitored 30 supporters of a cop killer,” while in reality over 100 supporters of Mumia staged a lively march and rally while a handful of police stood by.

Defense could ‘have a field day’

Today Show co-host Matt Lauer asked Faulkner and Smerconish about the new photo evidence, saying the photos “show a policeman holding two guns in his bare hand, contradicting the officer’s (James Forbes) trial testimony that he had preserved ballistics evidence. Another photo shows your husband’s hat on top of a car and not on the sidewalk as it is in the official police photo of the crime scene. A third shows a blood-stained sidewalk where the shooting took place, but does not show any signs of the marks in the concrete that might have occurred if your husband had been shot from above, as prosecutors contended. The defense attorney [Robert Bryan] says that he could ‘have a field day’ with these photographs if a new trial—”

At that point Smerconish, while not challenging any of the facts Lauer had raised, cut him off to accuse Mumia supporters of “manipulation of the process.” Faulkner then asked, “Where have these pictures been for 26 years? Why hasn’t this man come forth sooner than now?”

Faulkner’s question goes to the heart of police manipulation of the evidence and crime scene in 1981. The authenticity of Polakoff’s photos is not in question—several of the 31 photos he shot appeared in local newspapers at the time, and Polakoff offered them to the prosecution. However, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office deep-sixed them.

The photos clearly contradicted the official lies and exposed the incredibly sloppy and manipulative police investigation. Philadelphia journalist Linn Washington, speaking at a Dec. 4 press conference, noted that the DA’s “lack of interest, and the fact that they didn’t inform the defense, alone might be reason for a new trial.”

The photos also presented a problem for the prosecution because they knew that Polakoff was under the erroneous impression that Mumia was the passenger in a car belonging to his brother, Billy Cook, that Faulkner had pulled over. Polakoff, who was at the scene within 12 minutes of the shooting, heard witnesses tell police that the passenger in Cook’s car had shot Faulkner and fled the scene. Polakoff’s photos can be seen on the Journalists for Mumia website, www.Abu-Jamal-News.com.

The timing of the Today Show interview comes at a critical juncture for Abu-Jamal, who is awaiting a ruling by the Third Circuit Court on several appeals filed by his attorneys in May. Smerconish and Faulkner planned to use the interview to promote their book, which calls for Abu-Jamal’s execution. But a concerted effort by Mumia supporters, including an international petition and letter-writing campaign demanding equal air time for Mumia; press packets from Journalists for Mumia; and a 7:00 a.m. demonstration in the freezing cold, forced the Today Show to give some fair coverage.

Among those who wrote letters to MSNBC urging that the program show fairness was Veronica Jones, a former prostitute and witness whom police threatened and forced into lying at the original trial in 1982. When Jones tried to tell the truth at the hearing in 1996, she was handcuffed and arrested. Jones’ letter was read at the rally.

Speakers at the rally, including Pam Africa of International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal and Monica Moorehead of the International Action Center, addressed the atmosphere of police intimidation that has surrounded the case for 26 years.

“All Lauer did was show fairness to both sides,” Africa noted. “He clearly pointed out that police hid the evidence, yet last night Chris Matthews [of MSNBC] and other conservative talk show hosts did hit pieces on Lauer.”

Moorehead spoke to the vital role that the movement has played in keeping Mumia alive for 26 years. His case, she said, was really about silencing a voice that speaks out on all the important social issues, from the struggle against poverty, racism and wars to the right to health care, housing and jobs.

Other rally speakers included Ramona Africa, MOVE organization; Suzanne Ross, NY Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition; and Tyneisha Bowens, Fight Imperialism—Stand Together (FIST) youth group.


Photos at the Today Show Protest on Dec. 6
Photos above by John Catalinotto