On 7 December 2011, the death sentence imposed on Mumia Abu-Jamal—wrongly convicted for the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Falkner 30 years earlier—was finally lifted. Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams announced that he was abandoning attempts to execute Mumia (a former Black Panther and journalist known as the “voice of the voiceless”) after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to overturn a 2001 decision by Federal District Court Judge William Yohn voiding the death sentence. Yohn upheld the conviction, but ruled that the jury had been improperly instructed during the penalty phase of Mumia’s 1982 frame-up trial. Mumia is leaving death row, but is still condemned to rot in prison for the rest of his life without the possibility of parole.
Mumia, whose struggle for freedom has become a potent political symbol of resistance to institutional racism, is America’s best-known class-war prisoner. His case powerfully illustrates that for those in the clutches of the U.S. judicial system, “innocence is no defense.” Over the decades Mumia’s supporters have unearthed a mass of evidence of his innocence—including recantations by key prosecution witnesses, proof of gross judicial bias and a sworn statement by a man hired to murder Faulkner, Arnold Beverly, that Mumia had no involvement in what was a contract killing. But the courts have steadfastly refused to hear any of it. The reason the Philadelphia DA is no longer seeking to execute Mumia is because doing so would require a new sentencing hearing which might have focused attention on the evidence of his innocence.
At a rally for Mumia held in front of the U.S. embassy in London on 9 December 2011, two days after Williams’s announcement, a representative of the International Bolshevik Tendency made the following remarks:
“We need to be very careful about calling this a victory. Although it is a good thing that Mumia is now removed from the immediate threat of the death penalty, it is important to recognize that there are many in the U.S. state machinery who made this tactical decision consciously. For too long, they have had to deal with Mumia—a nuisance and a danger to them—the reasons why they wanted to kill him in the first place.
“Now they are hoping that Mumia will be forgotten, that the movement will die down.”
Mumia must not be forgotten. The fight to win his freedom remains a powerful lever for exposing the machinations of the capitalist injustice system in the citadel of the “free world.”
While we favor pursuing every possible legal avenue, it is important not to have illusions in the conscience or goodwill of the operatives of the juridical system that framed Mumia in the first place. This same point was made in January 1927 by James P. Cannon, National Secretary of the International Labor Defense (the legal defense arm of the American Communist Party) in connection with the case of Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian anarchist immigrants framed-up on bogus murder charges:
“One policy is the policy of class struggle. It puts the center of gravity in the protest movement of the workers of America and the world. It puts all faith in the power of the masses and no faith whatever in the justice of the courts. While favoring all possible legal proceedings, it calls for agitation, publicity, demonstrations....This is what has prevented the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti so far. Its goal is nothing less than their triumphant vindication and liberation.
“The other policy is the policy of ‘respectability,’ of the ‘soft pedal’ and of ridiculous illusions about ‘justice’ from the courts of the enemy....It tries to represent the martyrdom of Sacco and Vanzetti as an ‘unfortunate’ error which can be rectified by the ‘right’ people proceeding in the ‘right’ way.”
— “Who Can Save Sacco and Vanzetti?,” reprinted in Notebook of an Agitator
Mumia is only alive today because a wave of international mass protest stayed the hand of the executioner only days before he was scheduled to die on 17 August 1995. Since then, the courts have brazenly refused to admit evidence of his innocence and declared that the truth, at this point in the proceedings, is “legally irrelevant.” Making the evidence of Mumia’s innocence “relevant,” and ultimately winning his freedom, will require a sustained political campaign, centered on the organized labor movement in the U.S. and abroad, to expose the hideous truth about the rigged system of racist capitalist injustice in America.
Free Mumia now! Abolish the racist death penalty!