International People's Tribunal

The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal

Revolutionary Worker #937, December 21, 1997

On December 6, The People's International Tribunal for Justice for Mumia Abu-Jamal was held at the Blue Horizon--a huge old theater in North Philadelphia, not far from where the main headquarters of the Philly chapter of the Black Panther Party used to be on Columbia Road. At least 1,200 people came to the Tribunal, from Philadelphia and from all over the world, including New Jersey, New York, Virginia, Detroit, Vermont, Boston, the Virgin Islands, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Mississippi, Canada, Martinique, French Guyana, France, Spain, Egypt, Haiti, Germany, South Africa. Increased participation by activists and masses from Philadelphia was particularly significant. And a lot of different forces worked together to make this important Tribunal happen. Mumia himself had called for such an event to happen and sent a statement of support, which ended with "Let our work here stimulate the natural vibration for liberation that radiates afar!"

One of the goals of the event was to change the terms of debate around this case from, "Is Mumia guilty?" to "Is the system guilty?" And the proceedings offered systematic evidence of the gross human rights violations against Mumia Abu-Jamal and other victims by a whole list of enemies of the people: Thomas Ridge, Governor of Pennsylvania; Ronald Castille, Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania; the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania; the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections; Edward Rendell, Mayor of Philadelphia; the Fraternal Order of Police; the Police Department of Philadelphia; Albert Sabo, Judge of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas; Lynne Abraham, Philadelphia District Attorney; Federal Bureau of Investigation, Janet Reno, United States Attorney General. After an all-day presentation of the evidence, the international panel of judges voted to find these authorities guilty of numerous crimes and proposed that, among other things, Mumia be immediately released from prison.

As the tribunal began, the theater was abuzz with activity. Banners hung from the balcony and many political groups had set up tables. The stage was draped with African cloths and three drummers beat out a defiant rhythm as people took their seats. The Mumia Abu-Jamal singers from Swathmore College performed two songs, one of them in Spanish. They were followed by the Seeds of Wisdom, a rap group formed by some of the MOVE kids, who rhymed to Mike Africa's rap, "Just Because It's Legal Don't Make It Right."

Mumia's sister Lydia greeted the crowd, saying, "It's truly wonderful to see all of you here. I welcome you to Philadelphia. My family says thank you, thank you, thank you so much for being here. It is you that has kept Mumia alive this far. Today we are about to embark on something very historical for Philadelphia and we expect it to be grand. We expect good results from this and we expect you to put everything you have into this. Thank you for your love and support. Mumia is strong. I talked to him on the phone and he knows that you'll do the right thing. Peace."

The event was conducted as a formal tribunal. The judges, who came from all over the world were introduced (see document, "Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law"). An indictment was read that detailed the crimes of each of the officials. And the prosecution then began its case. Evidence was presented in the form of narratives, oral testimony and videotaped evidence. Done mostly in chronological order, it covered Mumia's teenage years, the Black Panther Party and Mumia's role, COINTELPRO (the government's counter-intelligence program), the authorities' war on MOVE and Mumia's work as a journalist now known as "the voice of the voiceless", current police scandals and abuse, prison conditions and the death penalty. There was a thorough presentation of the legal evidence in Mumia's case followed by a summation and deliberations of the judges.

The opening statement by the people's prosecution described Mumia's life. It talked about how as a youth, Mumia was beaten by police for protesting an appearance made by racist Governor George Wallace. It described how 14-year-old Mumia joined the Black Panther Party, began to write for its newspaper and quickly became a target of FBI and police surveillance. Then it moved through the '70s to Mumia's coverage of the attack on the MOVE house in Powelton Village. And finally, it described the fateful December night in 1981 when Mumia and a cop named Daniel Faulkner were shot on the Center City street and "five people said they saw someone run from the scene."

Philadelphia-based journalist and teacher Linn Washington said, "Mumia Abu-Jamal's case is an extraordinary one, indeed. But to see it solely as an extraordinary case is to miss its real import. The injustices that animate Mumia's case--misconduct by police, prosecutors and, yes, judges, occur every day in Philadelphia. The bottom line on this case is the gross misconduct, the injustices involving the aforesaid person's affect on Black, brown, red, yellow and, yes, poor white people, again, every day." Washington talked about the epidemic of police brutality and shootings under Frank Rizzo, who was police chief in the late '60s and '70s. He described how Rizzo ordered a vicious attack on a demonstration of school children who were demanding the right to Black studies. A video showed Rizzo saying, "The Philadelphia police are going to do their job," while behind him, police were beating kids in the street.

Ronald Hampton, executive director of the National Black Police Association, spoke of his own experience and knowledge of police brutality in Philadelphia. Walter Palmer discussed the "structural racism in our society" that gives rise to systematic police brutality. Linn Washington ended this section by pointing out that during the Rizzo years, the mainstream media largely ignored police brutality, that it was risky to expose police abuse and that Mumia was one of the few journalists who did.

The Black Panther Party,

Rosemari Mealey, a former member of the Philadelphia and New Haven chapters of the Black Panther Party, talked about her years in the party with Mumia. She described how with each new challenge or attack on the party, Mumia grew stronger and his writing did, too. She said, "We all know of Mumia's history during the middle and later '70s, where his prominent, stellar journalistic skills as the people's communicator jetted him to national and international prominence. He was a radical journalist who never compromised the real import of his profession. He was the writer who mastered the pen as a sword, hurling it into the very core of the enemy's path with the truth. On that fatal December night in 1981 when he was shot, beaten, then arrested by the Philadelphia police because a cop was allegedly killed by Mumia, the world nearly lost a voice of truth and reason that exposed the facts and unmasked the deceptions... When he was captured, the police knew they had the best, and he had to be silenced at all costs. This was the collaborative thinking of the police and the FBI."

Ward Churchill, co-author of Agents of Repression: The FBI's Secret Wars Against the Black Panther Party and the American Indian Movement and COINTELPRO Papers, gave an overview of the U.S. government's COINTELPRO program. He pointed out that the point of the program was to identify those individuals who had an "effectiveness to communicate ideas" and that if you were a "key agitator," you were a target--like Mumia. Churchill also talked about political prisoner Leonard Peltier, "who's serving double life sentences in a federal facility at the present time based not upon the fact that they believe he actually did that for which he was convicted but based upon the fact that he serves as a symbol, a symbol of the costs that will be imposed by this society upon those who dare to stand up for their basic human rights, to resist and to struggle for a better world."

Geronimo Ji Jaga added testimony about government frame-ups--which he has direct experience with. Former Black Panther and victim of COINTELPRO, he spent 27 years in prison for a murder he did not commit--finally becoming free last summer. Geronimo said, "You have to understand that with Mumia, you're talking about the entire movement and strengthening the death penalty and they're strengthening it right now and even without the history of contributions and sacrifices that our beautiful brother has made, just by the fact alone that we have a revolutionary that they are about to execute is enough reason for us to raise the alarm and to prepare ourselves to defend him and to save his life. It's left to the people out on the streets to do these things. Cause if y'all wouldn't a did it for me, I would still be in there...."

The War on MOVE and
the Voice of the Voiceless

One piece of evidence of the government's war on MOVE was a powerful video in which Ramona Africa described the bombing of the MOVE house on May 13, 1985. Ramona was the only adult survivor of the bombing. As she spoke, the video showed the police attacking the house with high pressure water hoses, tear gas and then dropping two bombs on the roof. Ramona described how, when the adults tried to get out of the house, they were shot at by the police. Eleven men, women and children died in the inferno.

Walter Palmer, a liaison between MOVE and the authorities during a 1977 police blockade of MOVE, described how city officials treated MOVE and how MOVE won concessions despite ongoing threats. I-Abdul Jon, who's been associated with MOVE since 1977, introduced Sue Africa, a member of MOVE whose son Tomasso was killed in the 1985 bombing and who herself served over 12 years in prison for her defense of the MOVE house in Poweltown Village. Sue talked about John Africa's stress on the importance of consistency and unity to win and how by following this, MOVE won the release from prison of five of their members in 1978.

Police Brutality

There were four presentations about current police brutality. Daniel Sterling discussed the 39th District scandal, in which dozens of cases were thrown out after police were caught framing people for crimes they did not commit. In 1981, one of the cops involved in this scandal had asked his girlfriend, Pamela Jenkins, to say Mumia shot Faulkner, even though she wasn't even on the scene.

Ellen Sumikawa from Asian-Americans United spoke about police brutality and said, "There's a campaign to criminalize Asian youth on a massive scale in this city under the guise of controlling so-called Asian gangs." Charles Reeves, who lives in Greys Ferry, where two Black youth were recently beaten by a gang of racist whites, also gave testimony about racism and police brutality.

A powerful moment of the Tribunal was when Dona Rosa DeJesus and her cousin took the stage. Speaking in Spanish, DeJesus told how her son was murdered by the police. Her cousin translated: "The 25th District came and they beat her son and he had an epileptic attack. She had told the officers, but they wouldn't listen and they kept beating him. And there were like nine officers that beat him and he died two days later at Temple Hospital and she says she wants justice and she wouldn't want this to happen to anybody's children or anybody else in the street that the police like to abuse. And she wants help to stop this from happening. And there isn't a day that goes by that she doesn't remember. She witnessed the police officers beat him. He was a good person and he was 30-years-old when this happened to him.... And she's never going to forget this. She always has her son in her heart and she just hopes that we can stop this police brutality."

The Death Penalty

Tonya McClary of the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund gave testimony about the death penalty, noting that while many countries around the world have abolished capital punishment, the United States has stepped up executions. She told the panel that 40 percent of those executed in the U.S. are Black, far exceeding the percentage of Black people in the population. She also said a person was five times as likely to receive the death penalty if they were Black and killed someone white than the reverse. Terry Rumsey said African-Americans are 61 percent of those on Pennsylvania's death row while they make up 11 percent of the population. Rumsey also told the judges 90 percent of those on Pennsylvania's death row are poor. And he said "99 death warrants were signed by Governor Ridge in three years" and called Philadelphia the "death penalty capital of the United States" because this one city "sent more people to death row than 37 states in the entire country."

The Frame-up of Mumia

There was a detailed recounting of the evidence that shows Mumia is innocent, evidence which has already appeared in the pages of the RW*. This was presented by Mumia's lead attorney, Leonard Weinglass and Attorney Michael Tarif Warren. During his presentation, Warren held up a 1972 FBI photo of Mumia on which they had written the word, "dead." Steven Hawkins, a member of Mumia's legal team and the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, documented the bias of Judge Albert Sabo, who heard both Mumia's original so-called "trial" and his Post-Conviction Relief Appeal. Hawkins went into how during the sentencing phase of Mumia's trial, the prosecution used political statements made by Mumia, more than 10 years earlier, like quoting Mao saying "political power grows out of the barrel of a gun," as an argument for why Mumia should received the death penalty.

Videotaped statements from eyewitnesses at the murder scene were shown, including one where Veronica Jones described how she lied on the stand at Mumia's trial after two detectives threatened her with 15 years in prison. In 1996 Jones was found by Mumia's defense team and testified that she saw two men run from the murder scene--the same story she had originally told the police. After the videotapes were shown, Veronica Jones came up on the stage. The entire audience rose to their feet and applauded, and Jones thanked people for welcoming her.

Voices for Mumia

As part of documenting the significance of the voice the government is trying to silence, there were readings from Mumia's books Live from Death Row, Death Blossoms, a commentary by Mumia, the RW interview with Mumia, and the video "Prison Industrial Complex." Readers included Francis Goldin, Mumia's literary agent; Mark Taylor, professor at Princeton University and coordinator of Academics for Mumia; Sabrina from the D.C. coalition; Tommy Montero, a North Philadelphia resident; author and Temple University Professor Sonya Sanchez; Professor and Attorney Soffiyah Jill Elijah, who also brought greetings from Kwame Toure (AKA Stokely Carmichael). There were videos which showed Mumia, as well as the brutal conditions in the prison where he is being held.

Henry Richards performed a spoken word poem about Mumia. A fundraising pitch was shared by Pam Africa, Geronimo Ji Jaga, Kathleen Cleaver and Ishakamusa Barashanga. Safiyah Bukhari of the N.Y. Mumia Coalition announced the call for Jericho '98, a demonstration to be held in Washington, D.C. on March 27 aimed at winning recognition and freedom for political prisoners in the U.S. There were solidarity messages from political prisoners Leonard Peltier, Assata Shakur, Eddie Conway, Silvia Baroldini, Sekou Odinga, Matula Shakur and Marilyn Buck. Rosa Escobar from Pro Libertad brought greetings on behalf of 15 Puerto Rican political prisoners and prisoners of war. A group of activists from Vermont were joined by MOVE children in a performance piece called, "The Truth." King Hector of the Latin Kings brought a message of support from his group. Monica Moorehead of the National Peoples Congress read statements of support from former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark and a group of prisoners in Huntsville, Texas known as Panthers United for Revolutionary Education. And Leon Williams, who ran against Lynn Abraham for DA last fall, said he supported a new trial for Mumia.

After six hours of testimony and close to an hour of deliberation, the judges brought back their verdict: The authorities are guilty of the crimes as charged in the indictment.

A press release after the tribunal said, "Their conclusions were summarized in a three-page document that stated the named agencies and officials blatantly violated Mumia Abu-Jamal's constitutional and human rights, which led to `his unjust conviction, unlawful incarceration, and illegal death sentence.' " The document also recommended holding a thorough, impartial, international investigation into the conduct of the Philadelphia Police Department, the Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) of the FBI, the 1985 bombing of the MOVE headquarters in Philadelphia, and that those public officials found responsible for violation of Mumia Abu-Jamal's human rights should be removed from office."

On Wednesday, International Human Rights Day at the UN, the findings of the Tribunal were presented to an assistant of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights by Gamal Nkrumah, Julia Wright and Ramona Africa.

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