Pennsylvania moves to silence its prisoners’ voices


On October 5th, 2014 Mumia Abu-Jamal addressed via a recorded message the commencement at Goddard College in Vermont.
 
 

 
If the embedded audio file above
does not work with your browser;
or if you wish to view a PDF of the address
and/or a video slideshow accompanying the address,
you can go to:
 
Prison Radio’s coverage of
Mumia Abu-Jamal’s address to Goddard College

 
 
Essay from Goddard College on the address
 
 
The response to these events in the corporate media and by
politicians who support the imperial project was typically
visceral and vicious. This quickly led to a set of bills
fast-tracked through the Pennsylvania legislature, using
the white supremacist frenzy which surrounds the case of
Mumia Abu-Jamal as the pretext to silence all prisoners
of the mass incarceration system commonly understood
as “The New Jim Crow”.
 
The Pennsylvania House passed HB2533 October 15, followed
by SB508 in the Senate on October 16.
 
Cynically named the Revictimization Relief Act, it enables
the silencing of all Pennsylvania prisoners based on the
allegation of having caused “mental anguish to their victims”
by having spoken out. The new law can also be used to threaten
and intimidate those who help prisoners get their works read
and voices heard by the general public.
 
It is currently set to be signed by Governor Corbett on Tuesday,
October 21, in Philadelphia.
 
 
Message from Mumia Abu-Jamal regarding the legislation:
 
 

 
If the embedded audio file above
does not work with your browser,
you can go to:
 
Prison Radio web page with
Mumia Abu-Jamal’s reaction to the bills



 

 
 
CALL TO ACTION (PDF file)
 
The full text of the CALL TO ACTION
can also be found further below on this page.
 
 
Join us in Philadelphia for a day of action
on October 22, 2014

 
Press Conference at 12PM
Location TBD
 
Honk against the Bill at 4PM
City Hall (north end)
15th St. and Market St.
Philadelphia, PA 19107
 
Town Hall Meeting at 5:30PM
Temple University
Gladfelter Hall, Room 24
11th Ave. and Berks St.
Philadelphia, PA 19122
 
For more information:
 
 
Campaign to Bring Mumia Home
 
Prison Radio
 
Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition NYC
 


 

 
 
ACLU of Pennsylvania
response to the legislation (PDF file)

 
 
Democracy Now’s coverage of the issue
 
(Coverage of this story begins at approximately 08:40
in the video on the linked Democracy Now web page)
 
 


 

 
 
Statements from Decarcerate PA :
 
 
Statement during the legislative debate (PDF file)
 
 
Mass incarceration “The New Jim Crow” (PDF file)
 
 
The people of Philadelphia DEMAND ANSWERS (PDF file)
 
 

 
 


 

 
 
Text of the House bill (PDF file)
 
 
Text of the Senate bill (PDF file)
 



CALL TO ACTION:
 
PENNSYLVANIA GOVERNOR CORBETT
TO SIGN BILL
SILENCING PRISONERS
 
ON TUESDAY, OCTOBER 21

 
After a fast-tracked passing of a bill which, if enacted, has the
power to silence all Pennsylvania prisoners if they allegedly cause
“mental anguish to their victims” by speaking out, this bill has now
passed both the House and the Senate of Pennsylvania and is set
to be signed by Governor Corbett on Tuesday, October 21,
in Philadelphia.
 
The bill, which passed the House on October 15 (HB 2533)
and the Senate on October 16 (SB508) is called
the Revictimization Relief Act.
 
This Act is clearly unconstitutional
and is being challenged by legal experts,
the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
 
ACLU statement
 
the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), and others
as violating prisoners’ basic First Amendment rights,
the right to free speech.
 
In addition to fighting back legally, we are asking people to
sign our call below and to join us in Philadelphia
for a day of protest on Wednesday, October 22.
 
Please join those of us who have signed the Call for Action and
add your organization’s name or your individual name.
And if you possibly can, come to Philadelphia
on Wednesday, October 22, for a day of protest,
which will include a press conference in the morning,
a street action in the afternoon,
and a town hall meeting at 6 PM.
 
Details as to the exact time of the press conference and
the location of the Wednesday events will follow.
 
If you have any questions about the Call or would like to
go to Philadelphia on Wednesday and need help getting there,
please call Suzanne Ross, 212 927-2924.
 



THE CALL
 
This “Call to Action” is also a summons to all persons of conscience
to protest in Philadelphia on October 22, 2014.
 
To add your name to this call as an organization or individual,
please email sophia.williams@baruchmail.cuny.edu
 
For details see:
 
Campaign to Bring Mumia Home
 
Prison Radio
 
Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition NYC
 
_______________________________________________________


We the undersigned stand unequivocally against the passage, in Pennsylvania, of House Bill HB2533 on October 15, 2014, and PA Senate Bill SB508 on October 16, 2014.
 
Because the bill was fast-tracked in the legislature, the Governor of Pennsylvania is already poised to sign the bill into law.
 
Known collectively as the “Revictimization Relief Act,” the law affords virtually unlimited discretion to District Attorneys and the Attorney General to silence prisoner speech by claiming that such speech
causes victims’ families “mental anguish.”
 
This law targets both prisoners’ speech and supporters who sponsor that speech. Thus, under the guise of victim relief, politicians are claiming a power that if granted to them will be difficult if not impossible for citizens to check.
 
In seeking to silence the legally protected speech of prisoners, the law establishes a precedent for the further erosion of First Amendment rights. In so violating prisoners’ speech, the state also damages citizens’ right and freedom to know — in this case, to consider the speech of the imprisoned to better understand an area of American life physically removed from public scrutiny. The courts have consistently upheld the right of prisoners to constitutionally protected speech; with little success government and prison officials have sought to curtail that speech for political reasons, often claiming safety concerns.
 
“Victim relief,” while a worthy goal in itself, is only to be achieved by just verdict and the extension of due process to all parties involved. Victim relief is not served by denying fundamental rights to those convicted, especially because prisoner freedom of speech is crucial for redressing wrongful convictions and the current crisis of harsh sentencing that is often disproportionate to alleged crimes.
 
Our society is currently engaged in a full-scale debate on the problems of mass incarceration. This debate could not have grown without the articulation by prisoners themselves in the press, exposing systemic violations of their rights in the courts and the dehumanizing conditions of prison life.
 
This legislation emerged as a politically charged response on the part of the Fraternal Order of Police and its political allies, because they failed to stop Pennsylvania prisoner and radio journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal from delivering his October 5, 2014, commencement address at Goddard College in Vermont, from where Abu-Jamal earned his BA in 1996 while on death row. Students at Goddard collectively chose Abu-Jamal as their commencement speaker and the administration supported the invitation. In this case, this law would deny the school the right to hear from its alum, Abu-Jamal.
 
To block Abu-Jamal’s free speech at Goddard College would have been a violation in itself. But this law goes further and sacrifices the rights of all prisoners in Pennsylvania in order to silence Abu-Jamal. This is an unethical deployment of collective punishment by those in power.
 
At stake in this legislation is the very premise on which American democracy was erected — the notion that in order to achieve a robust engagement with and understanding of society and its problems, the state cannot be allowed to silence unpopular or dissenting voices. Instead of defending constitutional rights, Pennsylvania politicians appear to be far more interested in promoting their own interests and political vendettas. The Bill was debated in an atmosphere that reflected an unethical process riddled with political maneuverings, rather than fair and informed deliberation.
 
As PA Senator Daylin Leach confirmed in his vote against the legislation: “This is the most extreme violation of the First Amendment imaginable.” This law has a chilling effect that prevents any prisoner from speaking out on any issue for fear of a retaliatory civil suit.
 
This law, therefore, violates the public trust we expect from legislators. It is an attack on our freedom, a freedom that must be guarded — especially when and if officials do not agree with the content of speech they hear.
 
We oppose and protest Pennsylvania’s abuse of state power and its trampling of the fundamental human rights of all — of students to hear Abu-Jamal, of teachers and journalists to access perspectives of the imprisoned, and, by extension, of everyone who deserves the free flow of information in society.
 
With the growing number of executions by the police across the country and the passage of flagrantly unconstitutional laws as seen in Pennsylvania, we the people have to organize collectively in our neighborhoods and in the streets to oppose the increasingly ominous display of rogue state power in Pennsylvania.


Join us in Philadelphia for a day of action
on October 22, 2014

 
Press Conference at 12PM
Location TBD
 
Honk against the Bill at 4PM
City Hall (north end)
15th St. and Market St.
Philadelphia, PA 19107
 
Town Hall Meeting at 5:30PM
Temple University
Gladfelter Hall, Room 24
11th Ave. and Berks St.
Philadelphia, PA 19122
 
For more information:
 
 
Campaign to Bring Mumia Home
 
Prison Radio
 
Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition NYC
 
 
Signatories:
 
Campaign to Bring Mumia Home
 
Prison Radio
 
Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition NYC
 
International Concerned Family and Friends
of Mumia Abu-Jamal (ICFFMAJ)
 
National Lawyers Guild
 
Center for Constitutional Rights
 
Cornel West
 
Netfa Freeman, Voices With Vision
on WPFW 89.3 FM, Washington DC
 
MOVE
 
Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal (EMAJ)
 
Keith D. Cook, the Cook Family & Friends
 
International Action Center/IAC
 
International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5
 
Campaign to End the New Jim Crow
 
Students Against Mass Incarceration (SAMI)
 
National Jericho Movement
 
German Network Against the Death Penalty and
to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal
 
Committee to Save Mumia Abu-Jamal
 
Sankofa Community Empowerment
 
Mobilization to Free Abu-Jamal/Northern California
 
Le Collectif Français “Libérons Mumia”
 
Amig@s de Mumia de México
 
Frantz Fanon Foundation (France)
 
Resistance in Brooklyn
 
Megan Gabriel, The DC Childcare Collective
 
Workers World
 
Freedom Archives
 
Family & Friends of Incarcerated People (FFOIP)
 
Carl Dix, Revolutionary Communist Party, USA
 
Komitee Free Mumia Wien, Austria
 
Iyaluua Ferguson
 
New Jim Crow Movement (FL)
 
Free Marissa Now Mobilizing Campaign
 
Will Miller Social Justice Lecture Series, Burlington, VT
 
Black Organizing for Leadership & Dignity (BOLD)
 
Samuel Légitimus, Collectif James Baldwin de Paris
 
Talib Kweli
 
Frances Goldin
 
Laura Whitehorn
 
Dave Lindorff, Journalist
Founding Editor of ThisCantBeHappening.net
 
Prison Action Network
 
Blue Carreker, Campaign Manager
Citizen Action of New York
 
Askia Coalition Against Police Brutality