WHO IS MUMIA ABU-JAMAL?

 
PAGE STILL UNDER RE-CONSTRUCTION
 
 
 
Who is Mumia Abu-Jamal?
 
 
 
Mumia Abu-Jamal is:

  • an internationally celebrated black writer and radio journalist
     
  • author of six books and hundreds of columns and articles
     
  • organizer and inspiration for the prison lawyers movement
     
  • former member of the Black Panther Party and supporter of Philadelphia’s radical MOVE organization

who has spent the last 30 years in prison, almost all of it in solitary confinement on Pennsylvania’s Death Row.
 
His demand for a new trial and freedom is supported by:

  • heads of state and prominent politicians worldwide (France, Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, and elsewhere)
     
  • Nobel laureates Nelson Mandela, Toni Morrison, Desmond Tutu
     
  • the European and Japanese Parliaments
     
  • city governments from San Francisco to Detroit to Paris and its suburbs
     
  • distinguished human rights organizations such as Amnesty International
     
  • the Congressional Black Caucus and other members of the U.S. Congress
     
  • prominent civil rights groups such as the NAACP
     
  • numerous labor unions such as

and by scholars, religious leaders, artists, scientists and countless others who cherish democracy, human rights and justice.
 

 
Mumia’s trial and conviction
 
 
Mumia Abu-Jamal was tried, convicted and sentenced to death in 1982 for the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, an incident which took place on December 9,1981.
 
 
Since the trial
 
 
For the next 30 years, Mumia was held in isolation on Death Row.
 
He was kept there for over ten years even though a federal judge ordered his death sentence overturned in 2001.
 
However, after losing numerous appeals of that order, the Philadelphia District Attorney on December 7, 2011 announced he was giving up his attempts to restore Mumia’s death sentence.
 
Mumia remains in prison under a sentence of life without parole.

 
 
Amnesty International on
the trial and post-trial environment

 

Link to Amnesty International’s full report on Mumia
 
“Mumia Abu-Jamal was sentenced to death for the murder of a police officer in 1982 after a trial that failed to meet international standards.
 
In this report Amnesty International conducts a full analysis of the trial of Mumia Abu-Jamal including the background and atmosphere prevailing in the city of Philadelphia in 1982 and the possible political influences that may have prevented him from receiving an impartial and fair hearing.”
 
       – Amnesty International
 
 
Hip Hop artist Immortal Techinique’s commentary
on the significance of Mumia Abu-Jamal

 

 

Link to Immortal Technique’s commentary
 
 
 
What has been the state’s claim?
 
 
Philadelphia prosecutors argued, and still claim, that Mumia, driving a taxi in downtown Philadelphia, came across his brother who had been stopped by Officer Faulkner.
 
Prosecutors further claimed that, motivated by a longstanding hatred of the police from his days as a Black Panther and supporter of MOVE, Mumia ran to Faulkner and shot him in the back.
 
Finally, they allege that, although wounded by a return shot from Faulkner, Mumia stood over the fallen police officer and shot him several times in the face.

 
 
What do Mumia’s supporters
believe happened at the crime scene?

 
 
There is no dispute that Mumia was wounded as he approached the scene. After Mumia was shot, however, the details are unclear. It is known that after police apprehended Mumia and while in transit to the hospital, he was beaten severely by the police.
 
It is also clear from photographic and ballistics evidence which has only recently come to light that the state’s version of what happened cannot possibly be true.
 
Moreover, many of those who believe in Mumia’s innocence claim that the most likely shooter was a fourth person at the scene, Kenneth Freeman, who was riding in Mumia’s brother’s car.
 
At the trial, the presence of Freeman was known to the prosecution, but carefully concealed from the jury. Patrick O’Connor, in his book, ‘The Framing of Mumia’, offers the most reasoned account for this version of events.
 
On the morning after the MOVE bombing, Kenneth Freeman’s dead body was found naked and handcuffed. Many of Mumia’s supporters believe that he was killed ‘execution-style’ by police who knew he, rather than Mumia, was the guilty party.
 
Other defenders of Mumia have no unified theory of events but, nevertheless, unite in viewing his 1982 trial as a mockery of justice and affirm Amnesty International’s conclusion ‘that justice would best be served by a new trial’.

 
 
What do those who oppose a new trial claim?
 
 
Mumia’s detractors routinely refer to him as a ‘cop-killer’. They are led by the Fraternal Order of Police and supported by many in the corporate media and political establishment.
 
They often claim that:

  • the evidence shows that Mumia’s conviction is an open-and-shut case which later appeals have confirmed
     
  • supporters of Mumia – from Amnesty International to the European Parliament, and including countless others – are simply uninformed about the case
     
  • Mumia, as a former Black Panther and revolutionary journalist was just waiting for a chance to kill a cop
     
  • Mumia’s writings and notoriety are a mode of torture for the slain officer’s widow, Maureen Faulkner, who is being denied ‘closure’
     
  • all the arguments made by Mumia’s attorneys and supporters are based on ‘myths’

However, the critics’ visceral campaign to kill Mumia is often not extended to others who have been convicted of killing police officers.
 
What seems to set Mumia apart from similar cases has been his writing and oral commentaries, as well as his ongoing activism.
 
It often seems as though these forces are far more afraid of Mumia’s political analyses getting any hearing than of getting to the truth of what really happened to Officer Faulkner.
 

 
What have Mumia’s lawyers argued?
 
 
By 1999, Mumia’s attorneys had filed appeals at all levels of state and federal courts, arguing 29 claims showing numerous violations of Mumia’s constitutional right to a fair trial.
 
Many of these claims were discussed and confirmed by the Amnesty International 2000 study of Mumia’s case “A Life in the Balance: The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal”.
 
The most prominent of these claims focused on:

  • the original trial judge’s racial bias
     
  • the failure of police to do minimal forensic tests
     
  • racial bias in jury selection
     
  • providing Mumia with only ineffective and under-resourced defense counsel
     
  • rushed trial proceedings
     
  • denying Mumia the right to self-defense
     
  • giving inadequate instructions to the jury about mitigating circumstances, and
     
  • prosecutors’ venomous closing arguments to the jury

Since 1999, Mumia’s attorneys have been allowed by the federal courts to focus largely on only four areas:

  • in relation to sentencing, whether the jury verdict form, along with the judge’s instruction to the jury, mislead the jury in violation of Supreme Court case law
     
  • in relation to conviction and sentencing, whether racial bias in juror selection existed to such an extent that it tended to produce an inherently biased jury and therefore an unfair trail
     
  • in relation to conviction, whether the prosecutor improperly attempted to reduce jurors’ sense of responsibility by telling them that a guilty verdict would be subsequently vetted and subject to repeated appeals, but that a not guilty verdict could not be reviewed, and
     
  • in relation to the post-conviction review hearings in 1995-1996, whether the presiding Judge Sabo, who had also presided at the trial, demonstrated unacceptable bias in his conduct

Also in the years following 1999, Mumia’s attorneys have tried to get judicial review of:

  • an affidavit by a court stenographer that Judge Sabo said in a court anteroom about his role in the case, “Yeah, and I’m going to help them fry the nigger”
     
  • witnesses who have recanted their testimony given at trial, who now say they were pressured by police to deny the presence of a fourth fleeing person at the scene and into naming Mumia as the shooter
     
  • a confession by another man who claimed to have been the actual shooter, and
     
  • the failure of both defense attorneys and prosecutors to present for review to any jury or judge the first photos taken at the crime scene (the Polakoff photos)

Only police photos taken slightly later, and with significant differences from the Polakoff photos, were used at trial.

 

 
Where does the legal case stand now?
 
 
This section needs to be updated from the out-of-date information found at the bottom of this page.
 
 
What grounds do supporters cite when claiming Mumia’s innocence?
 
 
Supporters draw from, and often combine, four types of arguments:

  • Procedurally and legally, no one should be denied innocence until a constitutional and fair trail has been provided. With the long list of distinguished jurists and human rights analyses that decry the many violations at trial, Mumia’s guilt remains unestablished.
     
  • Those who know Mumia – his personal history, character, beliefs, principles, career development and convictions – argue that it is inconceivable that Mumia could be guilty of the cold-blooded murder of Officer Faulkner.
     
  • The fourth person at the crime scene, Kenneth Freeman, who was riding in the car with Mumia’s brother and who fled the crime scene (a fact never heard or considered by the jury). Freeman has been alleged by acquaintences to have been harboring rancor, grievances and a temper under conditions of widespread and frequent police violence suffered by him and other citizens in 1970s and 1980s Philadelphia. Freeman as the shooter has not been even considered by the courts, but that he was the shooter is more plausible than believing Mumia to be. In 1985, Philadelphia police dropped a military explosive on MOVE headquarters, letting a fire burn out of control, and destroying over 50 blocks of West Philadelphia. The next morning, Freeman was found dead in a Northeast Philadelphia lot, reportedly hand-cuffed, naked and gagged, with a drug needle jabbed in his arm.
     
  • During and after the time of Mumia’s arrest, trial, and conviction, police were often convicted of corrupt procedures and of fabricating the guilt of defendants. This makes it considerably more plausible that Mumia, too, was “framed,” especially since he had for so long been routinely singled out by police and authorities for his reporting on police violence in Philadelphia. It is well known, for example, that in 1981, police and prosecutors framed four men: two were acquitted in trials, one in 1982, and the second after spending 1,375 days on death row; the other two men spent nearly 20 years in prison for murder before released on DNA evidence and confessions by the real killers.

 
Why have Mumia’s numerous appeals failed to result in a new trial?
 
 
This section needs to be updated from the out-of-date information found at the bottom of this page.
 
 
Why is Mumia’s case and struggle so important?
 
 
This section needs to be updated from the out-of-date information found at the bottom of this page.
 
 

 
 

 
 
WRITE TO MUMIA AT:
 
Mumia Abu-Jamal
#AM 8335
SCI Mahanoy
301 Morea Road
Frackville, PA 17932
 

 
 

The information below is out-of-date since Mumia has been removed from death row, following the (October 2011) US Supreme Court ruling vacating his death sentence, and later placed into the general prison population (January 2012).

It needs to be re-worked, and then placed into the appropriate sections above.

Where Does the Legal Case Stand Now?

Mumia’s requests for a new trial have been denied by each reviewing court. Only claim (a) of the four post-1999 claims has been a fruitful ground for relief for Mumia, so that a district federal judge, William Yohn, set aside Mumia’s death sentence in 2000. Yohn’s decision was appealed by prosecutors to the federal appeals circuit court which affirmed it. Unfortunately, the US Supreme Court vacated that grant of relief and has asked the federal appeals court to reconsider its ruling in light of the highest court’s recent ruling on another case, Smith v. Spisak. During all of these appeals, Mumia has never left death row.

Last year a petition was filed in Philadephia’s Court of Common Pleas asking for a new trial based upon a newly released report from the National Academies of Science that found flaws in many forms of forensic evidence. That petition was denied and an appeal of that denial is currently pending in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Nevertheless, amid all these ongoing processes, Mumia remains on death row, with prosecutors and politicians in Pennsylvania ready to dispatch him to death as soon as a way is made clear. Even if execution is avoided, Mumia faces the sinister prospect of life in prison for a crime he did not commit.

Why Have Mumia’s Appeals Failed to Bring Him Relief?

Three factors are often pointed to:
(1) New laws of judicial review, passed during both the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush presidencies, protect state decision-making on death penalty cases from thorough scrutiny by higher courts at the Federal level.
(2) The Philadelphia and Pennsylvania criminal justice systems – from police officers on the street, to District Attorney Seth Williams, Mayor Michael Nutter, and Governor Ed Rendell (the Philadelphia D.A. during Mumia’s 1982 trial), to elected justices on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court who are supported by the Fraternal Order of Police – all of these, maintain an intense and unquestioned advocacy and application of the death penalty and routinely convey their beliefs to decision-makers in power.
(3) An exceptional politics of judicial review seems at work in Mumia’s case when courts repeatedly rule against Mumia, especially when those same courts have found in favor of identical appeals by other death row inmates. This has been analyzed in detail as “The Mumia Exception” by award-winning journalist, Linn Washington, Jr. of the Philadelphia Tribune, also Professor of Journalism, Temple University. (Washington’s essential article is available at the EMAJ web site.)

Why is Mumia’s Case and Struggle So Important?
(After all, there are so many others on US death rows – over 3200 – and thousands more have suffered similar violations of due process.)

(1) Mumia’s Humanity. Mumia is a human being, with a family and a network of friends and family who value his life. His case and struggle is important, first of all, because of the threat to the life and dignity he bears simply as a human being. He is a husband, father and grandfather who, despite his isolation from his own family has maintained an extraordinary sense of humane care and advocacy for them and many others.
(2) Mumia’s Writings are Remarkably Inclusive. With hundreds of columns, prison radio commentaries, six books, and essays in venues as distinct from one another as the homeless Street News to Forbes Magazine, to the Yale Law Review, Mumia has foregrounded the struggle of many peoples. These have indcluded advocacy, at times, even for prison guards and police officers, but especially for persons who routinely are rendered voiceless – whether they are African-American, Latino/a, Asian-American, Native American, Arab-American, white American, or the often detained from immigrant populations today.
(3) Mumia’s Notoriety. Mumia’s skillful journalistic writings regularly reach both national and worldwide audiences – in Europe and throughout many sites of the global South – and this notoriety has made him a human face and story of US death row and its prisons. In the context of the namelessness and dehumanization suffered by most death row inmates and prisoners and prisoners, the notoriety of his story and struggle is an important way of keeping national and international pressure on US incarceration and execution practices.
(4) Mumia’s Case as “Primer.” Mumia’s case is frequently cited as offering a “primer” on the many problems that attend US criminal justice systems in the US: runaway prison construction and mass incarceration, police use of excessive force, prosecutorial and judicial misconduct, inadequate defense counsel for poor defendants, excessively long sentences race, class and gender imapcts on imprisonment and execution in the US.
(5) Mumia’s Case Links Issues: For many, Mumia’s political analyses “connect the dots,” stimulating valuable reflection on connections between US mass incarceration, the US military industrial complex, and its wars abroad (overt and covert), US economic policies, the so-called “drug war” and “war on terror” – all of whch bring to the fore issues of empire and of the coloniality of power at work in US policies. Recently, he has addressed the tragedy in Haiti, the struggle for health care in the U.S., and the war in Afghanistan – all with unusual clarity, acumen and artistic skill.
(6) Mumia in Pennsylvania. As confined among the 225 men and women on death row in Pennsylvania (nicknamed “the Texas of the North” for having the largest number on death row among northerly US states), organizing around Mumia’s case is a way to challenge a criminal justice and judicial system in Pennsylvania and Philadelphia that has routinely been found corrupted by racialized and adversarial politics. The struggle for Mumia, thus, takes the struggle for political justice in the US to one of the most hotly contested sites in the nation.