An interview with Mumia Abu-Jamal
"Don't let them depoliticize my case
By Monica Moorehead
Larry Holmes and Monica Moorehead met with death-row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal on March 17 at the SCI Greene Unit near the border of Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Our visit with this remarkable revolutionary and journalist lasted for more than five hours, so every opportunity was taken to converse with Mumia on a whole array of political issues, including the heroic Palestinian resistance in the face of monstrous Israeli/U.S. aggression. Mumia conveyed how much he especially admired the self-sacrificing role that Palestinian women are playing in the current phase of the intifada, which began in September 2000.
Other issues discussed with Mumia included his reaction to the outrageous first-degree murder conviction of political prisoner Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, formerly H. Rap Brown. Al-Amin was recently sentenced to life in prison for the killing of a police officer.
Mumia was asked what aspect of his legal case the movement should be most aware of. Without hesitation, he answered that the courts are trying to "depoliticize" his case. Mumia went on to explain, "Well, it's the first time a court has issued a decision on my case and not mentioned a word of my relationship with the Black Panther Party. If this is not depoliticization--what is?"
He was referring to the decision issued this past Dec. 18 by Federal District Court Judge William Yohn, who overturned Mumia's 1982 death sentence but not the first-degree murder conviction. Yohn based his ruling on one out of 29 constitutional rights violations outlined in a federal appeal brief filed by Mumia's former attorneys on Oct. 4, 1999.
This brief had requested that Mumia be granted an evidentiary hearing as a vehicle to allow all suppressed evidence to finally be heard. This evidence, it argued, would prove that he did not kill white Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner on Dec. 9, 1981.
Yohn's ruling stated that the original jury had not been properly instructed by the judge regarding its sentencing "options": that it could sentence Mumia to either a life sentence or to be executed. The ruling implied that none of the other constitutional violations raised in the appeals had any merit. For example, during the original trial Mumia had been denied the right to the legal counsel of his choice. Also, the district attorney's office had put Mumia's political beliefs on trial while not presenting any real evidence to prove his guilt.
His trial was political, but now court denies it
It is common knowledge that after Mumia joined the BPP as a teenager in Philadelphia, the Federal Bureau of Investigation began to keep a detailed file on his political activities. When this file was recovered by the defense, the word "dead" had been written across it.
If the court allowed the district attorney to try Mumia because of his revolutionary beliefs, why was this overlooked in the Yohn decision, along with the other obvious constitutional violations? Yohn's decision was a political one, but couched in legal terms.
Mumia also mentioned that the Yohn decision is an attempt to "deracialize" his case and obscure the prejudicial reaction by the courts towards his political beliefs. The systematic exclusion of Black people from jury selection in criminal cases is grounds for overturning a conviction.
Mumia raised the examples of three relevant Pennsylvania cases, Hardcastle vs. Horn, Commonwealth vs. Basemore and Commonwealth vs. Sneed. In these three cases, it was found that the district attorney used racial profiling to improperly exclude Black people from the jury pool.
Mumia explained to this writer in a March 25th letter that if the district attorney used racial profiling in some cases, wouldn't it have been used when a Black revolutionary's life was at stake? Mumia stated, "Hardcastle involved an arson/robbery and murder of two elderly blacks who ran a speakeasy in North Philly; Basemore involves a robbery of a school where the security guard was killed (a white man); and Sneed involves the shooting of a man in a drug-related dispute. Now is it even remotely logical that the district attorney would use race improperly to exclude blacks in cases involving two old blacks, a security guard and a guy involved in drugs and not use it in a case involving a Black Panther charged with killing a white cop? Does that make sense?"
General statistics show that Black people are four times more likely to be dismissed from jury duty than whites. During Mumia's pre-trial jury selection, Black people were dismissed at a rate four times higher than this national statistic. At one point, the district attorney used racially charged language to dismiss 11 of the 15 African American prospective jurors.
Sitting on the bench during Mumia's original trial--and brought out of retirement to preside again during Mumia's post-conviction hearings in 1995 and 1996--was none other than "hanging" Judge Albert Sabo, a card-carrying member of the Fraternal Order of Police. Sabo has sentenced more people to death row than any other judge in the U.S.
Before his arrest, Mumia was an award-winning journalist known for his hard-hitting exposés of police brutality in Philadelphia, especially in the 1970s when then-Mayor Frank Rizzo unleashed a reign of police terror against the Black and Latino communities and movements.
Still trying to get courts to hear the evidence
Mumia's new attorneys have appealed the Yohn ruling. It is part of their legal strategy to try to force the state and federal appeals courts to hear the videotaped statement of Arnold Beverly, a self-confessed mob hitman who has stated under oath that he, not Mumia, killed Faulkner. They also are trying to get the appeals courts to consider other sworn affidavits from key witnesses who have recanted earlier testimony and now say that Mumia is innocent.
The district attorney has also appealed the Yohn ruling, hoping to have the death penalty reinstated.
Hundreds of people have spent much of their adult lives in prison because of their radical, revolutionary beliefs. The progressive movement has deemed them to be political prisoners and prisoners of war, and rightfully so. The Counter Intelligence Program, or Cointelpro, was initiated in the 1950s by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI. It expanded in the 1960s with the intent to destroy national liberation movements inside the U.S., including the Black Panther Party and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. Mumia and Al-Amin were both members of the BPP. Al-Amin was also a leader of SNCC.
The incarceration of both Mumia and Al-Amin as well as American Indian Movement leader Leonard Peltier and many others is a constant reminder that political repression against those who dare to struggle against all forms of racist injustice is very much alive and well. The progressive movement must continue to find popular ways to build mass support for their freedom.
You can write to Mumia directly at:
Mumia Abu-Jamal AM 8335
175 Progress Drive
Waynesburg, PA 15370