On the Road to Jericho '98

Amnesty and Freedom for All Political Prisoners

We Can't Let Them Kill Mumia Abu-Jamal

Revolutionary Worker #950, March 29, 1998

Over 15 years on death row.
Locked in a cell 22 hours a day.
Over a decade of thick glass between you and your wife.
Your kids go from small to tall.
You see them, but no touching allowed.
Caged, you live the complete opposite of freedom.
But your revolutionary words fly through steel bars.
Political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal gives it to the people: Live From Death Row.


Mumia Abu-Jamal--Black journalist, revolutionary activist, and political prisoner--has been on death row since 1982. He was falsely convicted of killing a cop and never got a fair trial. He was blatantly framed up by Philadelphia authorities and police who wanted him silenced. In 1995, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge signed a death warrant setting Mumia's execution date. But across the U.S. and around the world, people rallied hard to Mumia's defense and forced the government to back off its plans to murder Mumia.

The power of the people stayed the hand of the executioner in 1995. But Mumia still faces a death sentence, and the government is still using its legal system to try and execute him.

Mumia has dedicated his life to the people--especially those in the ghettos, barrios and prisons. He has used his talents to expose and oppose oppression. Mumia has been shot, tortured, imprisoned, isolated, slandered, and censored by the power structure--but he remains unbroken, his consciousness and commitment intact. His book, Live From Death Row, has inspired thousands with its biting exposure of prison life and eloquent commentary on the system of capitalism.

The facts in Mumia's case reveal, unmistakably, that he has been railroaded--that a profound injustice has taken place. This is much more than the story of just one man: The railroad of Mumia concentrates the way Black people are routinely mistreated by the police, the courts, the prisons, the media...in fact by the whole system in this country. The railroad of Mumia reveals how the U.S. government deals with political opponents--especially revolutionaries whose voices connect with those at the bottom of society. And the railroad of Mumia is vivid proof of why this government and this legal system should not have the power to execute human beings.

A climate is being manufactured in this country--demanding more prisons, more punishment and speedier execution. The struggle for Mumia and other political prisoners is a key battlefront for all who want to defeat this police-state tide.


It started with a typical Amerikkkan scene: the police beating of a Black man.

Shortly before dawn, on December 9, 1981, Mumia Abu-Jamal was driving his cab on a downtown Philadelphia street. He saw a cop viciously beating his brother, William Cook, with a metal flashlight. The police would later say they had stopped Cook for a traffic violation. Mumia rushed to help his brother, and there was a confrontation.

When the smoke cleared, Mumia had been shot in the chest--and was lying on the sidewalk in a pool of his own blood. The cop Daniel Faulkner lay on the street nearby, dying from bullet wounds. Mumia was charged for the murder of Faulkner--and has not spent a day free since.

The First Attempts to Kill Mumia

Two months after he was arrested, Mumia wrote: "It is nightmarish that my brother and I should be in this foul predicament, particularly since my main accuser, the police, were my attackers as well. My true crime seems to have been my survival of their assaults, but we were the victims that night."

The police tried to kill Mumia several times. First, he was shot, near the corner of Locust and 13th Street. Then, as he lay half dead from a bullet wound in his lung and diaphragm, the arriving police backup units beat him viciously and rammed him headfirst into a pole.

Mumia woke in the hospital after surgery with his belly ripped from top to bottom, large staples clamping the wound shut and tubes in his nose. He felt intense pain from pressure on his bladder and kidneys. Looking up he saw a grinning cop standing on his urine receptacle.

Later, the doctors warned that pneumonia in his punctured lung could kill him. But the police forced Mumia to spend night after night under freezing conditions.

Why They Hated and Feared Mumia

The U.S. government insists that they do not persecute, imprison or execute anyone for political beliefs and activities. Officials say that political prisoners like Mumia are only "common criminals." But the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal reveals what nonsense this is. Mumia was railroaded into prison because of his revolutionary stands and his broad political influence.

Some 800 pages of secret police files have surfaced, documenting how Mumia was put under surveillance by federal and city agents--starting when he was only 14 years old! At 15, Mumia was a founding member of the Philadelphia chapter of the Black Panther Party. At 17, as the Philadelphia Panthers' Minister of Information, Mumia wrote for the Black Panther newspaper. That experience, he recalls, "charged my pen with a distinctive anti-authoritarian, and anti-establishment character that survives to this day."

Mumia was targeted for police persecution. Phones were tapped and informants were planted. Mumia's relatives, acquaintances and school officials were interviewed and harassed. A February 1973 FBI report recommended keeping Mumia on their "Security Index," saying "Should the opportunity present itself, [Mumia Abu-Jamal] would definitely be a threat to established local and national government."

Through the 1970s, Mumia continued to serve the people. Working as a radio journalist, he exposed the systematic brutality and racism of Philadelphia's police--especially their campaign of persecution against MOVE, the predominantly Black revolutionary utopian organization.

In 1978, after a 10-month siege, a MOVE house in Powelton Village was assaulted by a 500-man army of Philadelphia police. Nine MOVE members were convicted for the murder of one cop. Mumia covered this trial and supported MOVE.

Philadelphia's authorities and police hated Mumia. And the management of the radio station he worked for forced him off the air. But on the streets, there was a different opinion--listeners started calling Mumia "The Voice of the Voiceless." In 1980, at 26, he was elected chair of the Philadelphia chapter of the Association of Black Journalists. When word spread that Mumia had been shot and arrested by police, over 300 people immediately formed a defense committee.

Political Railroad Full Steam

Mumia's trial began June 1, 1982. Mumia asked to represent himself and requested John Africa (the founder of MOVE) as his co-counsel. The presiding judge, Albert Sabo, refused to allow John Africa onto the case. Instead Sabo appointed attorney Tony Jackson to serve as backup counsel.

During jury selection, Judge Sabo stopped Mumia from questioning potential jurors. In a blatantly racist move, Sabo claimed Mumia's appearance--a Black man with a beard and dreadlocks--was "intimidating to jurors." When Jackson, at Mumia's request, refused to question potential jurors under such conditions, Sabo threatened the attorney with jail.

Then Sabo took over selecting jurors himself! Anyone who opposed capital punishment was barred from the jury. Philadelphia has a large Black population, but the majority of Black people considered were forced out of the jury pool. And the jury in Mumia's trial ended up with only one Black person.

Mumia continued to demand his rights. Sabo ruled that Mumia was being disruptive and said Mumia could no longer defend himself. Sabo had Mumia forcibly removed from the courtroom during large parts of the trial. In the courtroom, Mumia was represented only by a reluctant attorney whose complete incompetence was obvious to everyone.

In 1985 Daniel Faulkner's widow claimed that, when Faulkner's bloody shirt was displayed in court during the trial, Mumia turned to her with a cruel grin on his face. This is a proven fabrication--court records show that Mumia was not even in court that day because Sabo had kicked him out!

How the Police Manufactured "Eyewitness" Testimony

The mainstream press often claims that three kinds of evidence "established" Mumia's guilt at trial: First, prosecution eyewitnesses identified him as the gunman. Second, other witnesses said he confessed at the hospital. Third, his gun was found at the scene.

The truth is: Authorities crudely manufactured false evidence to frame Mumia. Witnesses were coerced. A false "confession" was fabricated. And genuine evidence was suppressed.

Cynthia White was the only witness who claimed to have seen Mumia with a gun in his hand. In fact, White was not at the scene at all. Several witnesses say she arrived after the shooting. But White was pressured to give false testimony. After Mumia was jailed, White was arrested repeatedly for prostitution. With each arrest her story about the Faulkner shooting changed. An outstanding bench warrant against her was lifted and she was brought from jail to testify. Afterward, she was allowed to work as a prostitute under police protection.

At the trial, a cab driver also identified Mumia as the shooter. But the night of the shooting, this same witness had said the gunman was a heavy-set man--well over 200 pounds--who ran away from the scene. Mumia was a slim man, and he was sprawled on the sidewalk with severe wounds. The jury was never told that this witness was on probation for a felony and therefore vulnerable to police blackmail. Later this man admitted he didn't actually see Mumia shoot or hold a gun in his hand.

Before the trial, four witnesses said they saw at least one person run away from the scene. By the time the trial started, the cab driver changed his story. Veronica Jones, another witness called by the prosecution, was arrested and intimidated by police. A third witness never backed off his story which would have pointed the finger away from Mumia as the shooter. He passed a lie detector test but was never called to testify because the defense was never told about him. A fourth witness, William Singletary, first reported that Mumia was not the shooter. Later he was forced by police to sign a statement that he did not see anything. He was harassed so badly that he left Philadelphia before the trial.

The police were never interested in finding the man who was seen "running away from the scene." They suppressed any evidence that he existed.

The Fictional "Confession" and Suppressed Ballistics

At the trial, a security guard testified that, at the hospital, Mumia confessed to killing the cop. However, the security guard never mentioned this so-called "confession" until 2 months after the event--and after Mumia filed charges that he had been brutalized while in the hospital. The arresting officer who stayed with Mumia at the hospital signed a statement that "the Negro male made no comments." When the defense tried to call this cop to testify they were told he was "on vacation." In fact, he was actually at home but Sabo refused to grant a delay in the trial until he could be made available."

The Police Department's medical examiner said that Faulkner's head wound was made by a .44 caliber bullet. Mumia's gun (which he was licensed to carry) was a .38 caliber. The police never tested Mumia's gun to see if it had been fired.

Police claim that Mumia was shot while standing over Faulkner. But the pathologist's report on Mumia's chest wound says this bullet had a downward trajectory. This is consistent with Mumia's statement--that he was shot by the cop as he approached the scene.

The prosecutors had massive resources for assembling this frame- up, interviewing over 100 witnesses. But they used only witnesses willing to help the frame-up--and deliberately withheld the names of other potential witnesses from the defense. Mumia had no money for investigators who could locate the witnesses or prove his innocence.

In short, Mumia was railroaded--by a conspiracy that rigged testimony, suppressed evidence, packed the jury, and constantly disrupted Mumia's attempts to launch a serious defense. The result is not surprising: On July 2, 1982 Mumia was found guilty of murder.

The Prosecutor
Openly Charged Mumia
with Revolutionary Politics

At the sentencing hearing next day, the following exchange took place when District Attorney McGill cross-examined Mumia:

McGill: Why don't you stand when Judge Sabo comes into the courtroom?

Mumia: Because Judge Sabo deserves no honor from me. This courtroom is run on force, not honor. He is an executioner, a hangman.

McGill: Did you ever say that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun?

Mumia: That's a quote from Mao Tsetung. It's America that seized the land from the Indian race, and it was not done through preaching Christianity and civilization. I think America has proven that quote to be the truth.

Judge Sabo sentenced Mumia to the electric chair--based on the prosecutor's arguments about Mumia's political views. McGill later remarked that Mumia "stands for a complete violation of any law and order. If he doesn't like something, he doesn't try to change it from within. He just rebels against it."

At that sentencing hearing Mumia said: "The truth is clear--for niggers, poor people, and Puerto Ricans, what remains of the Indian race, justice is a sham, a ruse, a joke.... I'm innocent of these charges that I have been tried for, despite the connivance of Sabo, McGill and Jackson to deny me my so-called `rights' to represent myself, to assistance of my choice, to personally select a jury of my peers, to cross-examine witnesses, and to make both opening and closing arguments. I am innocent despite what you 12 people think, and the truth shall set me free!... On December 9, 1981, the police attempted to execute me in the street. This trial is a result of their failure to do so.... This system is finished! Babylon is falling!"

The whole history of this railroad makes this clear that Mumia is an innocent man persecuted for his politics.

The Battle to Save Mumia

Since this unjust trial, Mumia has been fighting for a new trial. And he has continued to write his vivid commentaries from behind bars. His words have spoken to countless hearts--as he exposes forbidden and daring truths. His words are both biting and smooth--like razors and cream. Mumia's writings have found an eager and growing audience around the world.

Meanwhile, Mumia's enemies have not stopped trying to stifle his voice. In 1994, National Public Radio (NPR) announced they were going to air commentaries by Mumia. Then they shamefully retreated, under pressure from police and politicians. When Mumia's book Live from Death Row found a publisher, the police launched an unsuccessful campaign to stop the book from coming out.

On June 2, 1995, the system played its hand. Knowing that Mumia's legal team was preparing a new appeal, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge signed a death warrant for Mumia. An execution date was set for 10 p.m., August 17, 1995.

Soon afterward, on June 5, 1995, Mumia's lawyers filed a Post-Conviction Relief Appeal--which demanded a stay of execution and a new trial. Three hundred pages of documentation accompanied their appeal. Leonard Weinglass, Mumia's lead attorney, wrote: "The legal papers, based on months of investigation, research and review, demonstrate unequivocally that Mumia, a man who has claimed his innocence since the very beginning, was the victim of a politically motivated, racially biased prosecution in which evidence of his innocence was suppressed." The legal team summed up that Mumia was convicted because of "widespread police and prosecutorial misconduct, countenanced and advanced by a hostile and biased trial court."

Mumia's legal team also filed a Motion for Recusal--demanding that Judge Sabo not be allowed to rule on the appeal because he was clearly prejudiced against Mumia. But Sabo refused to recuse himself. And he refused to grant a stay of execution.

Sabo made outrageous rulings that were clearly aimed at rushing through the hearing and sabotaging Mumia's efforts to get a new trial. Despite this, Mumia's lawyers presented much evidence, showing very clearly that Mumia was railroaded and should have a new trial. But three days after the PCRA hearing ended, Sabo denied Mumia's request for a new trial.

In the two months before the scheduled execution date, a very broad and determined campaign developed to stop the execution of Mumia. All over the world, Mumia's case became a living symbol of the injustice of the U.S. system. Demonstrations were held in cities throughout the U.S. and in many other countries. Artists, authors and other prominent people stepped out publicly to defend Mumia. And in the ghettos and barrios of the U.S. a movement grew, determined to bring the power of the oppressed people into this struggle.

Meanwhile, prison authorities charged that Mumia was illegally "conducting a business" from prison--because he had a book published. They gave him 30 days of special punishment--placing him in even more isolated, cruel conditions and cutting off visits by other journalists and some of his paralegals. Meanwhile prison authorities opened Mumia's mail which included legal papers and correspondence with his lawyers and passed some of this on to the governor's office. Authorities then charged Mumia with another "offense"--"writing to another prisoner" by submitting an article to the Prison Legal News--and he was given another 30-day disciplinary custody.

On Monday, August 7--only 10 days before the state planned on murdering Mumia--Sabo signed a stay of execution for Mumia. The State of Pennsylvania had been going full steam ahead to have Mumia executed. But the power of the people forced them to temporarily back off. This was a real victory for the people. But the battle was far from over. As Mumia put it at the time: "I am now not under an active death warrant, although I remain under an active death sentence, thus I still sojourn in hell."

Mumia and his legal team have continued to fight for a new trial. And this demand for a new trial remains a key focus of the worldwide struggle to free Mumia.

New Evidence

In May 1996 Mumia's lawyers announced a dramatic new development in Mumia's case. Veronica Jones--one of the witnesses who testified in the 1982 trial--had come forward with powerful new evidence that Mumia was framed.

Jones was one of four eyewitnesses who initially told police that they saw people run from the scene. Their accounts directly contradicted the police claim that Mumia had shot the cop. But at the trial, Jones testified that she did not see anyone flee the scene. Her testimony was very damaging to Mumia's case. Now, in a sworn statement, Jones has admitted that she lied on the stand under police threats. She says that two cops visited her in jail shortly before the 1982 trial and told her that she would face a long prison sentence if her testimony helped Mumia's defense.

Mumia's lawyers submitted Jones' statement and a motion to reopen the PCRA hearing to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. But the state Supreme Court sent the case back to Sabo, the very judge who had colluded with the prosecutors to prevent Jones' real story from coming out! Sabo's decision was no surprise--he claimed that the new evidence was not believable or important and denied Mumia a new trial.

In early 1997 the defense team came forward with more new evidence. Pamela Jenkins, a former prostitute, signed a sworn statement stating that during Mumia's original trial, the police had pressured her to falsely accuse of of being the shooter. Insisting that she was nowhere near the scene, Jenkins refused to lie. Jenkins also revealed in her sworn statement that her friend Cynthia White--the prosecution's chief witness at the trial--confided to her that she testified after having her life threatened by the police. In a June 1997 hearing on Jenkin's testimony, Sabo ruled that this new evidence was--once again--"not credible."

Mumia's appeal is now in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. One of the justices was formerly the D.A. of Philadelphia who filed the brief against Mumia during his last appeal in 1989. Pennsylvania Governor Ridge has made clear his intention to sign a new death warrant setting an execution date, if the state Supreme Court rules against Mumia.

In May 1997 Mumia's lead attorney Leonard Weinglass wrote: "Once again, the American system of criminal justice is being challenged by issues of race, class and politics. The life of a black political activist lies threatened by those same forces who have historically urged a national system of intimidation and control. Nothing short of complete vindication for Mumia Abu- Jamal, already too late after fifteen years of tortuous incarceration, will prevent yet another injustice in a history already saturated with the blood of innocents."

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