San Francisco: 3,000 Rally for Mumia Abu-Jamal

Revolutionary Worker #921, August 31, 1997 Saturday, August 16: 3,000 people packed into the auditorium at Mission High School in San Francisco for a rally in support of political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. The featured speakers were Geronimo ji Jaga-- former Black Panther and political prisoner for 27 years, Mumia's lead attorney Leonard Weinglass, and author Alice Walker. Over $30,000 was raised at the event for Mumia's legal expenses.

The event was organized by a broad coalition of over 100 organizations, including Grace Cathedral, the ACLU of Northern California, the National Conference of Black Lawyers, Refuse and Resist!, Art vs. Cops, the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, ACT UP East Bay Chapter, the National People's Campaign, Horizontes (Spanish-language) newspaper, the Pan African Student Union at UC Berkeley, the Young Comrades, Radical Women, and dozens of professors, professionals, union officials and others.

Statements of support were made by Christina Vasquez from Compañeros del Barrio, Dennis Bernstein, co-producer of Pacifica Radio's Flashpoints show; Anti-war Vietnam Veteran Ron Kovic; Paul George, Director of the Peninsula Peace and Justice Center, Kiilu Nyasha, host of "Freedom is a Constant Struggle" on Free Radio Berkeley, Walter Johnson, Secretary Treasurer of the San Francisco Labor Council/AFL-CIO, Jeff Mackler from Socialist Action, former political prisoner Angela Davis, Sheamus Nugent from the Roisin McAlinskey Justice Campaign and others. Actor Michael Lange read from Mumia's book Death Blossoms. San Francisco Supervisor Reverend Amos Brown spoke and issued a call for the march to defend affirmative action set for August 28. Another city supervisor, Tom Amiano, read a proclamation from San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown that said, in part, "Whereas, many believe that Mumia Abu-Jamal has been wrongly imprisoned for the past 15 years; and Whereas, many of us are working toward securing a new trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court; and Whereas, the evening of solidarity has drawn support from the labor unions, leaders of African American religious organizations and government officials; now Therefore be it resolved, that I, Willie L. Brown Jr., Mayor of the City and County of San Francisco, in recognition of the efforts to find justice for Mumia Abu-Jamal, do hereby proclaim August 16, 1997 as Justice for Mumia Abu-Jamal Day in San Francisco."

There was an urgent atmosphere at this event. Many speakers emphasized the need to step up activity, to make sacrifices and to unite broadly to free Mumia. The coalition that organized the rally is calling for a mass demonstration in San Francisco on December 6 to Free Mumia.

Alice Walker told of her meetings with Mumia in prison last April. She said Mumia told her to tell his supporters, "I believe in the truth, and I believe the truth will set me free." And she said that Mumia is "someone that we very much need out here with us to help us with all the problems that cause us so much suffering." Alice read several poems that challenge people to defy the system and fight for freedom. She dedicated a poem to Mumia's wife, that ended with, "Let us gather blossoms under fire."

Alice Walker also read her poem "Each one Pull One" because, she said, "the responsibility is ours to reach out, to not be afraid, to reach out and hold the hand of the person who is behind bars." This poem ends with: "Each one, pull one/ back into the sun/We who have stood over so many graves/know that no matter what they do/all of us must live/or none."

Leonard Weinglass put Mumia's case in the context of what he called the "crisis in America" where more than a million people are in prison--nearly 500 per 100,000 people in custody. He told the crowd that they were joining 100,000 in Italy and 40,000 in France who have signed petitions for Mumia. And he also said 71 members of the Danish parliament, 40 members of the Japanese Diet, Nelson Mandala, the President of Germany, and the Foreign Minister of Belgium have all called for a new trial for Mumia.

Weinglass recounted what happened on December 9, 1981. He said Mumia stopped his cab after seeing his brother being beaten by the police, that gunfire erupted and Mumia was shot on the scene and fell to the sidewalk. Police officer William Faulkner was also shot and died. Mumia was taken to the hospital and Weinglass said, "The officers who brought him to the hospital testified that they acknowledged that they had difficulty picking Mumia up, and when they went to put him in the van they accidentally rammed his head into a pole...they lost their grip on him and dropped him on his face on the pavement while his hands were handcuffed behind the hospital they dropped him on the floor." After Mumia was operated on a nurse came into the recovery room and found two cops standing on the bag that was taking fluids out of Mumia's body, forcing the fluids back up into Mumia's body.

Weinglass talked about how five different witnesses said they saw the person who shot Faulkner run away in the same direction and how their claims were never investigated. He exposed how Mumia was railroaded in the courtroom of Judge Sabo--"the judge who has put more people on death row than any sitting judge in the United States" and how Mumia's efforts to defend himself in court were banned--at one point because a white juror supposedly said she was scared of Mumia's dreadlock hairstyle! Weinglass said all kinds of crucial evidence never came out in the trial, including the fact that Mumia's gun, a 38, did not match the 44 caliber bullet found in Faulkner's body.

Weinglass told how the prosecution used a quote from Mao Tsetung to convince the jury to sentence Mumia to death: "They pulled out something which the United States Supreme Court has since said cannot be permitted in any courtroom in the United States, and that is one's political background in order to gain the death penalty. And what did they do about Mumia's political background? He was 28 years old at the time he was charged. When he was 16, he was a member of the Black Panther Party--12 years earlier. He was interviewed by a media representative after Fred Hampton was assassinated by the police in Chicago. And in response to a question, he told that media representative, quoting from Chairman Mao Tsetung of the People's Republic of China, `political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.' And they played that quote to the jury, and the fact that Mumia was a member of the Black Panther Party, as if to show that somehow on this night, Mumia was exercising political power by using a gun." Within an hour, the jury sentenced Mumia to death.

Weinglass talked about the witnesses who have come forward to refute the charges against Mumia, and how that new evidence is being denied by Judge Sabo. Mumia has appealed these rulings, but the appeals are being heard by a strongly pro-death penalty, pro-police Pennsylvania Supreme Court. As soon as the Pennsylvania Supreme Court acts, the governor has said he will set a new date for Mumia's execution. Weinglass explained how the "Anti Terrorism Bill" and its "Effective Death Penalty Act" Amendment that were signed into law by Clinton "effectively removes from the jurisdiction of these federal judges, the right to conduct an independent review of these state death penalty cases." Before this Act, federal judges had reversed over a thousand death sentences. That Act will be challenged at the U.S. Supreme Court. But Weinglass warned that, "If this bill is not overturned by the United States Supreme Court, (where) it will be challenged, then Mumia indeed will face a very serious situation. A situation that can only be responded to effectively by you."

Geronimo ji Jaga was then introduced to the crowd and was greeted by a wave of celebration and cheers. Geronimo's voice was hoarse from speaking earlier that day at a rally in his honor in Oakland--but it was still strong and powerful and the 3,000 in the auditorium leaned forward in their seats to hear his message of unity with Mumia.

Geronimo spoke of his own experience spending some time on death row and what Mumia is going through there. He saluted the people for the "courageous, audacious" support people had given him and other political prisoners during his 27 years of unjust imprisonment, and said that it was this that kept him strong under "the worst form of torture you can ever imagine."

He told the crowd about how impressed he was by Mumia when he met him as a youth in the Black Panther Party, "how he stood out, such a young, precocious brother who was always willing to participate." Geronimo informed the audience of the situation of many other revolutionary and political prisoners in the U.S. and urged them to take up all these cases. He told stories of being placed in solitary and being beaten and tortured in jail for testifying on behalf of other political prisoners, including Puerto Rican freedom fighters, white revolutionaries and others. He told of telling activists who were taking up his case when he was in prison that they had to fight for Mumia if they were going to take up his case. He said, "We all have to come together if we're serious about saving Mumia's life."

Geronimo told the crowd--which was mostly youth, that "We didn't join the movement to go in prison and say `you owe me, I did for you.' We didn't join like that. We joined to be sacrificial lambs, if you will, all the way dedicated to these principles, that people should be free. Shouldn't have slavery. Shouldn't have filthy rich corporations. Capitalism is wrong. Capitalism is the worst form of social society, ever--know what I'm saying--in the annals of history."

Geronimo shared the anger of the youth and talked about how he himself is impatient to get it on with the enemy: "I'm telling you, it's not easy. Brothers get to the point--and sisters--where they don't care. You talk about killing an innocent man because he had a Red Book?! (Because) he said `political power grows out of the barrel of a gun'!? And you gonna convict him? We gotta put a stop to it."

It was late Saturday night when people finally emptied out of the Mission High auditorium and into the cool streets of the Mission District. Even then, many hung around outside--not wanting the evening to end, and wanting to talk about how to step up the struggle to free Mumia, and all the other heavy questions and challenges that had been put on the table that night.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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