The Fight to Free Mumia

A slightly edited version of a talk given by Barbara Dorn at the Anarchist Bookfair in London on 23 October 2010. A representative of the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Defense Campaign UK also spoke at the meeting.

I've been campaigning for Mumia in Britain for a long time now. About a decade ago, for several years, we participated in an organisation called Mumia Must Live, which included the Anarchist Federation, the International Bolshevik Tendency, and other groups and individuals. It was an excellent example of unity in action between Trotskyists and anarchists, working together around a point of agreement — the two slogans 'Free Mumia-Abu Jamal!' and 'Abolish the racist death penalty!'. And there were some pretty interesting arguments in the pub afterwards around points where there wasn't quite so much agreement.…

So, why campaign for an American prisoner in Britain? Mumia Abu-Jamal is a former Black Panther and political journalist who has been on death row in Pennsylvania since he was framed for the killing of police officer Daniel Faulkner in December 1981. He was framed precisely because of his political past and his work as a journalist in exposing the corruption of Philadelphia city officials and cops and their attacks on the MOVE organisation, of which Mumia was a supporter. This was made clear at his trial when his Black Panther past was used, illegally, to convince the jury that he deserved the death penalty. He became another statistic — one of the vastly disproportionate number of black men in the US prison system, and on death row. But Mumia refused to just be a statistic — he continued to write and broadcast from his cell, sharply critical of the system that held him there. This makes him perhaps the world's best known political prisoner.

The details of the frame-up are complex and you can read about it in our pamphlet, The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. In summary it involved false confessions, coerced witnesses, faulty ballistics, jury rigging and a racist judge — a mixture that has put Mumia behind bars for nearly 30 years for a crime he did not commit. Despite repeated appeals the US courts have refused to hear evidence in Mumia's favour, including another man's confession that he killed Faulkner.

Arnold Beverly has signed an affidavit asserting that he was one of two men hired to kill Faulkner by corrupt cops who believed Faulkner was reporting their extra-curricular activities. This statement is backed up by much documentation of corruption among Philadelphia police at that time, and explains exactly why the state need someone to pin the blame on. Conveniently for them, Mumia found himself on the wrong street corner at the wrong time. The courts refuse to admit this confession as evidence. It is too hot to handle, reveals too much about the nature of the state guardians of 'law and order'.

Mumia's lawyers have been representing him through the complexities of the US legal system, through appeals and counter-appeals, but Mumia is still alive today because his case has been taken up by political activists around the world. In 1995 and again in 1999 his death warrant was signed, only to be revoked in the face of a powerful international protest movement. This is one reason to campaign for Mumia in Britain, the strength of international protest. On 24 April 1999, Mumia's birthday, dockers on the west coast of the US shut down the ports for a day in support of Mumia — an explicitly political action. This kind of action — the power of the organised workers movement — is the kind we need to win this fight.

Legal options are now running out. Courts to the highest level have refused to hear evidence of Mumia's innocence. The next hearing on 9 November will rule on his sentence — the death penalty or the slower death of life imprisonment, and there will be a protest here in London outside the US Embassy and other protests around the world. I'm with the International Bolshevik Tendency and we'll be protesting on that day. We will not be calling, as some of his supporters do, for a new trial for Mumia. The history of his original trial and subsequent appeals and hearings have shown beyond doubt that the racist US state and its so-called justice system will provide no justice for Mumia. We need to fight for Mumia's immediate freedom. A month later, on 9 December, he will have been incarcerated for 29 years — let's get him out of there.

Finally, one more reason to campaign for Mumia in Britain. Mumia's case tells us how capitalism works — how it protects its own; how it moves to silence those who threaten it; how it literally murders on the basis of race; how the complex interlocked machinery of police, courts and government work to safeguard the system. But a movement that succeeds in freeing Mumia will begin to tell us how we can organise to destroy this system and replace it with a world run on the basis of human need, not racism, wealth and corruption. That's why Mumia's case is so important.

Posted: 29 October 2010