The struggle to save Mumia Abu-Jamal, Americas most famous political prisoner, is moving toward a climax. Mumia, a former Black Panther, has been behind bars since 1982 when he was framed for the killing of Daniel Faulkner, a Philadelphia cop.
On 22 April 1999, Mumias legal team filed a writ of certiorari before the U.S. Supreme Court, which was tossed out on 4 October when the court announced that it would not hear the appeal. Nine days later, on 13 October 1999, Governor Tom Ridge signed a second death warrant for Mumia. The first one in 1995 was nullified when Mumia was granted a stay following a wave of international protests. The second warrant was also stayed when Federal Judge William H. Yohn Jr. agreed to consider Mumias request for an evidentiary hearing on a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. If granted, this will permit Mumias defense team to introduce a wealth of new evidence that has been painstakingly excavated since 1982. It will also provide an opportunity to demonstrate how Mumias constitutional rights were violated in his original trial. Every attempt by his attorneys to present evidence in 1995 during the Post-Conviction Relief hearings was blocked by extremely prejudicial rulings from presiding judge Albert Sabo, the King of Death Row, who had conducted the original frame-up.
During the prosecutions closing summation at the original trial, the district attorney assured the jurors: If you find the Defendant guilty of course there would be appeal after appeal and perhaps there could be a reversal of the case, or whatever, so that may not be final (cited in L. Weinglass, Race for Justice). U.S. courts have previously established that urging a jury to find a defendant guilty, while suggesting that their decision may later be reversed, is, in itself, sufficient grounds for throwing out the conviction. Like many arguments presented by the defense, however, this has been repeatedly dismissed out of hand by the Pennsylvania judiciary.
The district attorneys argument is all the more macabre since the appeals process has been short-circuited by Bill Clintons Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which was pushed through in the wake of the deranged rightist bombing of the Oklahoma federal building in 1995. This act guts federal habeas corpus by discouraging federal courts from examining state convictions, thereby speeding up the machinery of death. An evidentiary hearing before Judge Yohn would not only be Mumias first real opportunity to officially present new evidence, it is likely to be his only chance. In terms of legal options, a great deal depends on whether or not Mumia is granted the hearing he has requested.
Ultimately, the legal proceedings in the courthouse will be shaped by political considerationsespecially the numbers and level of activity of Mumias supporters, particularly within the labor movement. The only reason that Mumia was not executed in 1995 was because of the scope of the protests in the U.S. and internationally.
Comrades of the International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT) have regularly participated in the campaign to save Mumia in the localities where we exist. In the San Francisco Bay Area, our comrades have worked with the Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia (LAC), which has done valuable work in bringing the campaign into the labor movement, and which helped initiate the International Longshore and Warehouse Unions (ILWU) historic one-day West Coast port shutdown in April 1999 in solidarity with Mumia. The LAC has held public forums on the case, provided speakers for union meetings and organized labor contingents in demonstrations for Mumia.
A fund-raising Party for Mumia held by the LAC on 14 February was forced to change venues twice as a result of police intimidation. Originally scheduled for Sweet Jimmys, a black nightclub in Oakland frequented by longshore and postal workers, the event had to be moved when the owner canceled the booking after receiving threatening phone calls from the police. In a gesture of solidarity, the Open World Conference in Defense of Trade Union Independence offered the LAC space they had previously booked for a social at the Bay View Boat Club. But, at the last minute, the boat club also backed out. The ILWU saved the day by providing Local 10s View Room for the party, which succeeded in raising $2,000 for Mumias defense.
Our German comrades in the Gruppe Spartakus (GS) participated in a major demonstration for Mumia in Berlin on 5 February, which drew 8,000 people from across Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark. On 10 March the GS sponsored a successful united-front demonstration in Mönchengladbach with Blockbuster/Youth Against Racism , the Party of Democratic Socialism (the successor to the former East German ruling party) and other anti-fascist groups.
In Britain, our comrades have played a central role, along with anarchist militants, in organizing Mumia Must Live! (MML) a united front launched in February 1999 on the basis of two slogans: Free Mumia Abu-Jamal and Abolish the Racist Death Penalty. Mumia Must Live! has sponsored a number of significant events in London, including an emergency response rally last October following Ridges signing of the second death warrant, and a 150-person rally the next month to protest the circulation of anti-Mumia disinformation in the capitalist media. On 4 March, MML sponsored a demonstration that drew 1,000 people to Trafalgar Square, in the largest Mumia defense rally in Britain so far.
In the course of building the March demonstration there were several intense discussions within Mumia Must Live!, particularly after the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP) joined. The SWP contributed significant resources, and has given MML a much higher profile. At the same time, SWPers have made several attempts to include, as part of MMLs basis of unity, a demand for the U.S. courts to retry Mumia. Our comrades and some of the anarchists were opposed to including this demand, and after some to-ing and fro-ing, the SWP relented, and agreed to only raise it in their own name.
The SWP is not alone among Mumias supporters in attempting to make a new trial the focus of the defense campaign. In the 1960s and early 70s, there was a wave of demonstrations in the U.S. in defense of the chairman of the Black Panther Party, Huey P. Newton. Anyone who had raised a call for giving Newton a New Trial at one of these Free Huey rallies would have been regarded as either extremely dubious or insane. Today, some of the same revolutionary groups who called for freeing Huey are advocating a new trial for Mumia. They rationalize this adaptation to liberalism as a tactic to enhance the campaigns mainstream appeal and thus make it easier to obtain celebrity endorsements from ephemeral glitterati.
We take a different approach, and recall Leon Trotskys injunction to speak the truth to the masses. And the truth is that the U.S. judicial system is shot through with racism and class bias. While every possible legal avenue must be pursued in the campaign to save Mumias life, the best way to protect him is not to pander to liberal illusions in the impartiality of the courts, but to use his frame-up to expose the whole corrupt system of racist capitalist injustice, and thus help win a new generation of youth to the program of socialist revolution.
The IBT published the following statement on 28 February:
The campaign to free Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther framed for the 1981 killing of a policeman, is reaching a critical stage. Over the past 18 years, as Mumia has sat on death row in Pennsylvania, his case has won worldwide attention and the campaign to save his life has steadily gained momentum. Trade unionists around the world, from Brazil, to South Africa and New Zealand have taken up his case. In the U.S., the longshore union shut down all the ports on the Pacific Coast for a day last April as a gesture of solidarity with this class-war prisoner.
Mumia was a founding member of the Philadelphia branch of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s. He subsequently won a reputation as the Voice of the Voiceless for his work as a reporter and his fearless criticisms of police brutality and racist persecution. The Philly cops knew him and hated himhis FBI file alone is over 700 pages.
He was convicted in a farcical trial presided over by Judge Albert Sabo, a life-long supporter of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), and a well-known hanging judge. Sabo also handled Mumias 1995 appeal for post-conviction relief where he ruled in favor of his original decision.
In January of this year, federal judge William Yohn in Philadelphia agreed to hear challenges to Sabos findings of fact in the case. Mumias attorneys have documented 29 separate claims of constitutional violations in a petition for a federal writ of habeas corpus to overturn his conviction. (A copy of the defense memorandum can be found on the internet at mojo.calyx.net/~refuse/mumia/court.html).
Judge Yohn is scheduled to begin considering defense arguments in April. This hearing, at the federal district court level, is Mumias only opportunity to introduce new evidence into the official record. Subsequent appeals in higher federal courts are bound to only review evidence heard in the district court. The defense is seeking to present new evidence, including statements from key prosecution witnesses at Mumias original trial, that their testimony had been coerced by the Philly police. Sabo refused to admit these admissions on the bizarre grounds that these witnesses, who had provided the evidence for Mumias original conviction, were no longer credible.
The outcome of these hearings is impossible to predict. In a memo issued in late January, C. Clark Kissinger, who is close to Mumias legal team, outlined a series of possibilities. The judge could permit new evidence to be heard and then overturn the conviction. But he could also deny an evidentiary hearing and uphold Sabos decision. He could also let the guilty verdict stand, but ask the Pennsylvania courts to reconsider whether the sentence should be execution or life imprisonment. He could also rule that Mumias conviction was unconstitutional without hearing any new evidence. In that case, the state would likely appeal, thus setting the stage for a subsequent decision on the basis of the facts established by Sabos kangaroo court.
"Free Mumia" or "Re-Try Mumia"?
Mumias case is at bottom about politicsnot legalities. The reason that he was not executed after his death warrant was signed in 1995 is because there was a groundswell of popular political protest that exposed the racist vendetta by the Philly cops and courts. In November 1999 the national conference of the FOP, the largest police organization in the U.S., called for boycotting anyone who spoke out for Mumia, and singled out popular entertainers like Sting and Rage Against the Machine. The capitalist media has ignored the sinister implications of this unprecedented campaign of police intimidation. But it is a powerful confirmation of the fundamentally political character of this case.
Within the movement to defend Mumia an important disagreement has arisen over the political direction of the campaign. Some who once called for freeing Mumia are now calling for him to be re-tried. While it is necessary to pursue every possible legal avenue, the demand for winning freedom for Mumia must remain the political focus of the defense campaign.
Every fair-minded person who investigates this case can see that it is a classic frame-up. Every activist in his defense campaign knows that Mumia is innocentwhich is why the prosecutors had to coerce witnesses and suppress evidence at his original trial. Why then should we focus on a call for the same racist state to re-try him?
In January 1927 when the International Labor Defense (ILD) campaigned in defense of Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian anarchist immigrants framed for a murder they did not commit, James P. Cannon, National Secretary of the ILD at the time, wrote:
If Mumias conviction is overturned, the prosecutors are likely to demand a new round of legal hearings. What will the revolutionaries who are now calling for a new trial say then?
Rubin Hurricane Carter, subject of a recently released film, was targeted by the FBI and local police after he advocated black self-defense against racist cop terror. He was convicted of murder in 1967 on the testimony of two petty crooks whom the prosecutors paid $10,500. In 1976, after the states witnesses recanted their testimony, Carter was granted a new trial only to have it turn into a re-run of the original frame-up. In 1985, after 18 years in jail, a federal court judge granted his habeas corpus petition and released him. The prosecution initially threatened to try him yet again, but ultimately decided not to.
In 1997, when Geronimo Pratt, former Black Panther Party Deputy Minister of Defense, was finally released from jail after serving 27 years on a bogus murder charge, the prosecutors talked of forcing him to face a re-trial. In Pratts case, the FBIs own wiretaps and surveillance logs proved that he had been 500 miles away when the murder was committed. His real crime, like that of Mumia and Hurricane Carter, was that the cops and state authorities considered him their enemy.
Liberals, civil libertarians and others who have confidence in the integrity of capitalist legality may view Mumias case as a product of collusion between a few corrupt cops, an over-zealous district attorney and a racist judge. Such people may indeed be more comfortable with a campaign which sets as its goal a new trial for Mumia, but they are also likely to accept the result, including a second guilty verdict.
The entire state apparatus exists to defend social inequality and perpetuate racial, sexual and class oppression. Mumias campaign has already helped expose the workings of a system which routinely puts innocent people on death row. Why should we drop the call for his freedom in favor of calling for a new trial which might only provide an alibi for his execution? Mumias case is a political one and ultimately it is through a political appeal to the workers movement, the black community and other layers of the oppressed that we will win his freedom.
Bristol Anarchists Run Amok
For United-Front Defense of Mumia!
Reprinted below is an exchange from a British Mumia Abu-Jamal e-mail list. The first item was posted on 4 March by an anarchist attempting to justify an assault on members of the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP) during a Mumia demonstration in Bristol which led to a split in the local Mumia support group. While written by an individual, the letter expresses attitudes that are widespread in anarchist circles. The second item is a response posted on 8 March from a supporter of the International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT) who is active in the Mumia Must Live! (MML) campaign in London.
Swat the Swipes!