Posted July 6, 2006

At Liberty Bell in Philadelphia
Protest says
‘Free all U.S. political prisoners!’

By Betsey Piette

Raising the question, "How can there be freedom when there are U.S. political prisoners?" around 75 people rallied across from the Liberty Bell at Sixth and Market streets here on July 1.

As demonstrators distributed literature to the thousands of tourists who were in the area for the city's week-long Independence Day celebrations, speakers, signs and banners raised the cases of many imprisoned political activists, including Mumia Abu-Jamal, the MOVE 9, Leonard Peltier, the Cuban Five and Puerto Rican political prisoner Antonio Camacho Negrón, who was recently moved to a federal prison in Philadelphia.

A young man visiting from Greece stopped to get information and ended up joining the rally. Other people passing by stopped to ask for more information on cases they were hearing about for the first time.

July 1 is very significant to the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who has been imprisoned for nearly a quarter century, accused of killing a Philadelphia police officer. In 1982 Judge Albert Sabo rushed through Abu-Jamal's trial proceedings and encouraged jurors to speed up their decisions so they could all enjoy their Fourth of July weekend. The Black journalist has always maintained his innocence and is being held in a state prison, SCI Greene, in Waynesburg, Pa.

The Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year agreed to consider three counts raised in Abu-Jamal's appeal: allegations that there was
racial bias in jury selection, that the prosecutor gave an improper summation and that a judge in a previous appeal was biased.

However, the recent naming of a street after Abu-Jamal in the Paris suburb of St. Denis has led the
right-wing here to introduce a new round of legislation on the local, state and federal levels pushing for the reinstatement of his death sentence.

This June 26 also marked 31 years since the shoot-out on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota that led to the railroading of American Indian Movement leader Leonard Peltier. Peltier is currently being held in Lewisburg Penitentiary in Pennsylvania.

Several children of the MOVE 9 addressed the rally on the case of these innocent men and women who begin their 28th year of incarceration this August. Police carried out a massive assault on their headquarters in Philadelphia in 1978, arresting the nine. Seven years later, the police and FBI burned down a whole city block in the Black community after dropping a bomb on
another MOVE house.

Russell Maroon Shoatz is another political prisoner
now serving his 34th year in the control unit of SCI Greene. While a member of the Philadelphia chapter of the Black Panther Party, Shoatz was arrested and tried for the murder of a police officer. He received two life sentences after an unfair trial in which he lacked adequate legal representation.

Demonstrators marched to the nearby Federal Detention Center where Puerto Rican political prisoner Antonio Camacho Negrón is being held. Negrón, one of the Macheteros, who completed his sentence for the famous Wells Fargo bank robbery in Hartford in 1985, was recently re-incarcerated by the FBI, part of an intensification of repression against the Puerto Rican independence movement that began last September with the FBI assassination of Filiberto Ojeda Rios at his home in Puerto Rico.

Speakers also talked about the struggle to free the Cuban Five, who are in U.S. prisons serving four life sentences and 75 years, collectively. Last year, a federal appeals court in Atlanta ordered a new trial for the five, who had been monitoring terrorist groups in Miami when they were arrested on conspiracy charges. They were convicted in 2001 by a U.S. federal court in Miami, a place where the appellate judges agree the five Cubans could not receive a fair trial.

Despite the ruling by the appeals court, Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González remain in prison.

A highlight of the demonstration was the response of prisoners in the Federal Detention Center. They gathered two each in all the many tall, narrow windows in the facility facing the demonstrators. Many tapped on their windows and raised fists in solidarity.