After 17 years on death row in Philadelphia USA, black journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal remains under threat of political execution. Last October Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge signed a new death warrant, which set a date of 2 December for Mumia to be executed by lethal injection. A stay of execution has now been granted to allow for an appeals process, but Mumias life is still in grave danger.
Last year the US Supreme Court rejected a petition that the court examine Mumias case without waiting for it to work up through the usual channels. The petition pointed out that Mumia had been denied his Sixth Amendment rights to a fair trial. These rights were abridged when the Pennsylvania trial court in 1982 refused to let Mumia function as his own attorney, when it held a meeting in the judges chambers to remove a juror without Mumia being present, and when Mumia was removed from the courtroom without provisions for him to follow the proceedings in which his life was at stake.
Mumia has now petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus in the federal district court in Philadelphia, citing 675 instances of police misconduct, judicial errors and factual flaws in his 1982 prosecution. The two sides will be presenting their arguments to Judge Yohn at the beginning of April, who will decide whether to hold a hearing with witnesses, just go over the existing court transcripts or allow Mumia to go free. Should he decide to hold a full evidentiary hearing, this would be an important breakthrough on the legal front, but it guarantees nothing. It is essential that the legal proceedings are accompanied by a mass campaign of workers solidarity actions and demonstrations to win Mumias freedom.
In 1995 Governor Ridge also signed a death warrant for Mumia while knowing that an appeals process was underway, with the intention of putting pressure on the courts to speed things up. At that time mass international protest succeeded in postponing the execution, ten days before it was due to be carried out, illustrating that international support and protest can save Mumias life. We must do the same again this time aiming not only to stop the execution but also to win Mumias freedom.
Demonstrations around the world, notably in April last year, show the strength of feeling about this case. Stop-work actions by longshoremen on the US west coast (closing down every port on the coast for the day shift on 24 April) and by teachers in California and Brazil also show the potential of a campaign that is based in the organised workers movement and can hit the capitalist ruling class financially (see Marxist Bulletin no. 9). More recently in Brazil, the Rio de Janeiro state CUT labour federation, representing hundreds of thousands of unionists, raised freedom for Mumia as an official demand of a day-long work stoppage on 10 November.
The intensification of actions such as this would be a powerful lever in winning Mumias freedom and would show that workers and oppressed will not accept that judicial murder is a fit punishment for speaking out and fighting injustice Mumias real crimes in the eyes of the American state.
Mumia has been targeted by Philadelphia police and the FBI since he was a teenager. As a former Black Panther, a supporter of the black radical MOVE organisation, and a journalist writing about the vicious and racist rule of the Philadelphia police, he was an obvious target for the forces of the state. In 1981, after an incident in which policeman Daniel Faulkner was shot dead and Mumia injured, they saw their opportunity to silence him. Charges were fabricated, Mumia was subjected to a farcical trial and convicted with the help of the testimony of intimidated witnesses, fake confessions and a complete disregard for forensic evidence that would have helped his case.
If this execution goes ahead it will the most prominent judicial murder carried out by the US state since the political execution of the Rosenbergs in 1953 and of anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti in 1927, and will strengthen the state in attempts to silence other dissidents. On the other hand, determined international protest actions can help free Mumia and win a victory going far beyond the issue of his particular case to strike a powerful blow against repression and racist oppression in the US and throughout the free world.
On 6 November last year, over 150 people gathered in Trafalgar Square to protest the signing of the death warrant and demonstrate support in Britain for Mumias freedom. Protesters moved on to Hanover Square, home to US magazine Vanity Fair and the ABC television network, where a rally was held. Both media institutions have taken part in what Mumia terms snuff journalism a vicious campaign waged by the capitalist press in the US and internationally, presenting the states case for Mumias death.
This protest was organised by Mumia Must Live!, a united front group in which the IBT participates, and was attended by several other left groups and many individuals who see the necessity of this fight against state racism and repression and its relevance in Britain and around the world. We call on all other organisations and individuals on the left to join and intensify this campaign, which becomes increasingly urgent in the coming months.
Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!
Abolish the Racist Death Penalty!