Why Mumia Abu-Jamal Must Be Set Free
UPDATE: DEATH PENALTY SENTENCE DROPPED FOR MUMIA ABU JAMAL
UPDATE: This morning, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams announced that prosecutors are dropping the death penalty sentence against Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was incarcerated 30 years ago this week after being arrested for allegedly killing a police officer. Supporters for Abu-Jamal are now pressing for him to be completely released from prison. Here is a statement from advocates who've been working on Abu-Jamal's case, including Dr. Johanna Fernandez: "The news that the DA’s Office of Philadelphia is no longer seeking the death penalty for Mumia is no news to supporters of the nearly 30 year Pennsylvania Death Row prisoner. However, because Mumia has for thirty years been subjected to torture on death row and because he is innocent, justice for Mumia will not be served by life imprisonment, but by his release from prison."
Below is an op-ed from Dr. Fernandez that was published today (12/07/11) on why Abu-Jamal should be freed from prison completely:
The 30th anniversary of the incarceration of Múmia Abu-Jamal, America’s most celebrated death row inmate, arrives on December 9, 2011. The occasion coincides with a recent U.S Supreme Court motion that upheld the decisions of four federal judges who all declared Abu-Jamal’s death sentence unconstitutional.
This Thursday, on December 9, at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, human rights activists including Cornel West, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Michelle Alexander, and many other great activists will offer their views on the case. Hundreds of other citizens will join them to influence the public debate about the death penalty and to decry the refusal of constitutional rights to Abu-Jamal, and to demand his freedom.
In the Abu-Jamal case, the jury was misled to believe it had to unanimously agree to consider mitigating factors against a death sentence. The fact is that any one juror could have blocked a sentence of death. The presiding judge responsible for the instruction was the infamous and openly racist Albert Sabo, who was overheard by court stenographer Terri Mauer Carter saying that he “was going to help them fry the nigger.”
In light of these constitutional violations, the federal courts now mandate that Abu-Jamal be granted a new sentencing trial or have his sentence changed to life without parole. Recent discussions in Philadelphia’s mainstream media, all of which have emphasized the enormous costs of a new trial to the financially strapped city, suggest that the district attorney is likely to choose a life sentence.
A recent Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed argued against pursuing a new sentencing trial because “even Faulkner's widow wonders whether it's time to end the costly, 30-year effort to carry out the sentence given to her husband's killer.” The paper also argued that life in prison without parole for Abu-Jamal, would be in “the best interest of justice.”
The speakers at our December 9 Constitutional Hall forum, will dispute the assumption that a life sentence is appropriate by examining the long record of abuses and police corruption in the Abu-Jamal case that point to his innocence. We will insist that justice for Múmia will only be served by freedom.
Despite widespread evidence of prosecutorial and judicial misconduct during the conviction-phase of the trial, the federal courts have only granted Múmia relief on the constitutionality of his sentence. But if the courts have found violations during the trial’s sentencing-phase, shouldn’t these findings call into question the fairness of the trial from the beginning?
At least one federal judge, Thomas Ambro, has declared the manner in which Abu-Jamal’s original conviction was obtained unconstitutional. In 2007, Judge Ambro wrote a dissenting opinion upholding Abu-Jamal’s attorneys’ claims that the elimination of 11 out of 15 potential African Americans from the jury was overwhelming racially biased.
What Múmia’s jury could not have known prior to convicting him is that within days of the trial’s end, 15 of the 35 police officers who collected evidence at the crime scene would be convicted and jailed as a result of a federal investigation that began in 1979. The cops were convicted of corruption and tampering with evidence. Among these officers was Alfonzo Giordano, who led the crime scene investigation in Abu-Jamal's case. The federal investigation of the Philadelphia Police Department resulted in the first civil rights suit by the federal government against a Mayor and his police department. The suit contended that Philadelphia Police Department practices of “shooting nonviolent suspects, abusing handcuffed prisoners, suppressing dissension within its ranks, and engaging in a pattern of brutal behavior shocks the conscience.”
Of all the compelling evidence of innocence in this case, the most important and least known is the existence of a fourth person at the crime scene, a man named Kenneth Freeman. In his excellent book, The Framing of Múmia Abu-Jamal, Patrick O’Connor argues that Freeman, not Abu-Jamal, killed Officer Faulkner. Within hours of the shooting, a driver’s license application found in Officer Faulkner’s shirt pocket led the police to Freeman, who was identified as the shooter in a line-up. Yet Freeman’s presence at the scene was concealed, first by Inspector Giordano and later, at trial, by Prosecutor Joe McGill.
For 30 years, high-ranking Pennsylvania officials motivated by political gain have launched bloodthirsty campaigns of misinformation on this case. Governors Ed Rendell and Tom Ridge and also Seth Williams, Philadelphia’s first black district attorney, and Lynne Abraham, who in 1995 was deemed "America’s Deadliest District Attorney" by a New York Times Magazine writer, have all persistently called for Abu-Jamal’s execution. Ridge made the killing of Abu-Jamal a campaign promise, and signed his death warrant twice. In this pursuit of death for Abu-Jamal, the above-mentioned politicians have been supported (financially and ideologically) by the powerful Philadelphia chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police.
We must remember that the same Pennsylvania courts that are being denounced today for the mass incarceration of juveniles are the same courts that framed Múmia. Pennsylvania has more juveniles serving life than any other state in the nation. The backdrop of constitutional violations in Múmia’s case include: routine corruption, evidence tampering, prosecutorial misconduct, judicial racism, discrimination in jury selection, and the disproportionate incarceration of African Americans and Latinos. The issue of mass incarceration of black and Latino males is one of the gravest civil rights crises of our time.
We’re sobered by the realization that for 30 years an international movement kept Abu-Jamal alive long enough for the appeals process to run its course. But what if the movement hadn’t kept him alive? For 30 years Abu-Jamal has been forced to withstand tortured isolation in a windowless cell the size of a small bathroom. For thirty years the threat of execution has hung over his head, and he’s not been allowed to touch his children or his grandchildren, or his wife and siblings, or his friends.
A petition: Because for 30 years he has been subjected, unconstitutionally, to unbearably inhumane conditions; because he is innocent of the crime for which he is charged, and because he has been denied a fair trial, Múmia Abu-Jamal should be immediately released from prison and awarded restitution for time served.
I believe that history will prove that Múmia is innocent and that our quest for his release marks one of the most moral political assignments of our time. That’s why, on December 9, we’ll gather at Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center, where, in the presence of that powerful nationwide symbol of liberty and justice, we’ll again raise our voices and say, Free Múmia!
Johanna Fernández is Assistant Professor of History at Baruch College of the City University of New York. She is the writer and producer of the documentary film, Justice on Trial: The Case of Múmia Abu-Jamal, which premiered at the National Constitution Center in September 2010.
A message from Mumia Abu-Jamal to Loop 21 readers, as delivered by Dr. Fernandez:
Brothers and Sisters,
I write you from the deepest hole there is. These words flow to you from Death Row, U.S.A., one of the blackest neighborhoods in the Prison Industrial Complex of today.
Your work this week shines some light into this bleak place. For your work is designed to bring a final end to what scholar Michelle Alexander has called "The New Jim Crow."
We live, all of us, in Prison Nation. Now, I may surprise you with this reference, for I am not speaking of my situation, or the formal prison system at all. For when you drive down the street, indeed when you walk down the street, when you send a text message, or, God forbid, you join the Occupy Wall Street movement, you are under the perennial, ever-present Orwellian surveillance of the police state. An exercise of any or all of these rights can subject you to not only unlawful surveillance, but the uninvited violence of some state force that can lead you back to the formal prison or worse, to the cemetery. For any and all of these acts, some paranoid cop, can infringe on your freedom or your life.
Though not written in law, in the real world of the United States of America circa 2011, driving while black, standing while black, talking while black, and sho' 'nuff,-protesting-against-capitalism-while-black can get you bean-bagged, rubber-bulleted, black-jacked, punched and kicked into jail, despite what any goddamned constitution says; so don't trip.
So kudos on your work, Loop 21, for trying to change society from what is to what can be.
I thank you all.
On a Move. Long Live John Africa.
From Death Row, this is, Mumia Abu-Jamal.