Mumia Faces New Prison Persecutions

Revolutionary Worker #896, March 2, 1997

The authorities have made a series of new moves recently against revolutionary political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. In the past two weeks: the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected one of Mumia's legal briefs concerning testimony by a key witness; officials at SCI Greene, where Mumia is on death row, ordered him to cut his hair, which he wears in dreadlocks for religious reasons; one of Mumia's lawyers was denied a visit with Mumia; Mumia received a piece of confidential mail from his lead attorney that was partially opened and had "cop killer" written across the front; a member of the Bruderhof religious community who has visited Mumia often was banned from all Pennsylvania prisons.

These attacks take place at a time when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is poised to decide on Mumia's appeal. And they are happening in the context of important developments that will send word about Mumia's case to many new people.


Here is a brief run-down of key developments in the past several months.

On October 31 last year, Janice Leber and Nolen Edmonston of the Prison Radio Project visited Mumia to tape a set of 13 commentaries to be aired on the Pacifica Radio network. According to a press release from the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, in the commentaries Mumia will "sing a few bars of an R. Kelly song and muse about rap, as well as comment on the death penalty outlawed in South Africa, police brutality, and many other topics." The commentaries will be accompanied by interviews with Alice Walker, Helen Prejean, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Martin Sheen, Jocelyn Elders, John Edgar Wideman, Assata Shakur and others. There will also be a CD-ROM version. The first two commentaries aired on Pacifica's "Democracy Now!" program on February 4. The rest are scheduled to be aired February 24-28 on over 30 stations across the country. These commentaries will play an important role in spreading the word about Mumia.

Shortly after the taping of the commentaries, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections banned all cameras, audio and video equipment from prisons. Visits by journalists will now be counted as "social" visits, meaning they will have to displace prisoners' family visits. Prisoners at SCI Greene call this "The Mumia Rule."

On December 4, a federal court ruled that Pennsylvania officials had violated Mumia's constitutional rights to legal counsel when they opened, photocopied and read confidential mail from his attorneys. Based on this ruling by Judge Ambrose, Mumia's attorneys filed a brief demanding that Mumia's case be dismissed.

Mumia's new book, Death Blossoms, was published on December 6. His first book, Live From Death Row, has already sold 75,000 copies and is available in eight languages.

On February 3, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected one of the briefs filed by Mumia's attorneys regarding Veronica Jones, an important witness who has given new testimony proving Mumia was framed. Around this time, Mumia received a piece of mail from his lead attorney, Leonard Weinglass, that had a corner torn open and the words "cop killer" written across the front. This is in direct violation of Judge Ambrose's order that the prison authorities stop opening Mumia's legal mail.

On February 12, Chris Zimmerman, a member of the Bruderhof community and the Pennsylvania Prison Society, was ordered to leave while visiting a prisoner at SCI Greene. Zimmerman, who has visited Mumia frequently, has now been barred from the entire Pennsylvania prison system. Bruderhof members believe this may be in retaliation for the publication of Death Blossoms, which was published by the Bruderhof's Plough Publishing Company. When Live From Death Row was published, prison authorities retaliated by cutting off Mumia's access to the media and supporters outside the prison.

On February 13, Mumia was notified by prison officials that he must cut his hair or face the threat of disciplinary detention at a hearing on February 23. The International Concerned Family and Friends pointed out: "Mumia wears his hair in natural `dreadlocks' for religious reasons just as other prisoners wear religious head coverings. He has worn his hair this way for the 16 years he has been held captive. In 1985, immediately after the bombing of the MOVE house in Philadelphia, Mumia was ordered to cut his hair. He refused, and was thrown into `the hole' until 1992 when major protests worldwide forced then Gov. Casey to rescind the order." Mumia has made it clear he will refuse to cut his hair. If the authorities go through with their threats of disciplinary action, Mumia could be placed in "Phase II custody"--effectively cutting Mumia off from supporters outside the prison. He would be allowed only one visit a month with his immediate family, would not be able to make phone calls, and would not be allowed to watch TV, listen to the radio or read anything other than legal materials.

On February 16, attorney Jere Krakoff was refused entry into the prison after authorities claimed he was not on Mumia's visiting list. Krakoff is well known to the prison officials, since he was the attorney who handled Mumia's civil suit against the prison authorities that resulted in the federal court's decision against the state of Pennsylvania.

As we go to press, the RW heard from Mumia's attorneys that if the prison officials try to force Mumia to cut his hair, a lawsuit will be filed based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Steve Wiser, a member of the Bruderhof community and Mumia's spiritual adviser, told the RW that he had just visited Mumia. According to Wiser, Mumia has not been moved, and prison officials have now told Mumia they will not try to force him to cut his hair. Mumia gave Wiser this message for the media: "What is it that the state fears in the voices of those it has condemned? Why has it sealed its doors, banned microphones and shuttered cameras? These prisons, these man-made hellholes, are yours. They are built by you, maintained by you and staffed by your cousins, uncles, father and brothers. Why should you be denied from seeing or hearing? These are the questions that must be answered when the states of California and Pennsylvania batten down their hatches...."

Before Mumia could finish, the guards entered the room and took him back to death row.


Taken together, the recent moves by the authorities may indicate that they are preparing for a decision from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Mumia's appeal. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge has already stated publicly that he will immediately sign a new death warrant on Mumia if the state supreme court turns down the appeal. At that point, Mumia's lawyers would have to file an appeal in federal court. However, President Clinton and Congress have greatly limited these habeas corpus appeals.

Any moves by the authorities to force Mumia to cut his hair, to deny him access to supporters or other attacks against Mumia must be immediately exposed and opposed. And the movement to demand a new trial and freedom for Mumia must be raised to a new level of broadness, diversity and determination. Mumia's life is in our hands. Only the struggle of the people can free Mumia!

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
(The RW Online does not currently communicate via email.)