The People Will Save Mumia Abu-Jamal

By C. Clark Kissinger

Revolutionary Worker #1001, April 11, 1999

Last October 29, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected the appeal of Mumia Abu-Jamal for a new trial. In a case known to the world for its outrageous prosecutorial misconduct and denial of basic rights, this court declared that there was not a single error in 17 years of trial, hearings and appeals. This astonishing declaration that the state is down for the judicial murder of a defiant revolutionary brought the worldwide movement to save Mumia's life into high gear.

C. Clark Kissinger is an activist with Refuse & Resist! and a contributing writer for the Revolutionary Worker. Over the last few months he has been traveling across the country speaking to conferences, teach-ins, and programs on Mumia's case. The article that follows is adapted from his basic presentation.


At the beginning of this year, an important national leadership meeting of the movement to save Mumia Abu-Jamal was held in New York. It brought together most of the national organizations and major local coalitions in the U.S. and activists from Europe working for Mumia. This was the first time such a meeting had been held, and it was very successful.

Four things came out of the meeting. First, we gained a deeper understanding of the legal and political situation. This is a sober analysis that recognizes several important aspects.

Mumia has a stay of execution, but a stay is nothing but a postponement. Mumia is still under sentence of death, and the government is deadly serious in its intention to execute him. We have to recognize that our movement--which forced a stay of execution in 1995--is not yet strong enough to prevent Mumia's execution.

In addition, we are already at the year of decision. One way or another, by the end of November, Mumia will be in federal district court on a motion for a writ of habeas corpus. In the U.S. judicial system, only trial courts (lowest level courts) hear evidence. Thus the federal district court will be Mumia's only opportunity to present his case, call his witnesses, and get the discovery orders that were denied him in the Pennsylvania court system. After the federal district court, there is nothing but the review of transcripts by higher courts.

In the past, Mumia could have expected a full review of the evidence by the federal district court. But that right is now threatened. Under the "Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996," federal courts are now supposed to give a "presumption of correctness" to findings of fact by state courts, unless the defendant can show by overwhelming evidence that the state courts were in error. In other words, the 154 rulings of fact by Judge Sabo are now supposed to be the basis on which the federal courts decide whether Judge Sabo gave Mumia a fair trial!

The federal district judge still has some discretion to hear the evidence, but now it's an uphill battle in which massive national and international pressure is critical. What the Effective Death Penalty Act tries to do is throw us back into the days of Jim Crow law and "state's rights," and wipe out a most important gain of the Civil Rights movement--the extension of the power of the federal courts to review and overturn unjust acts by the state courts.

What is particularly outrageous here is that Mumia made a tactical decision not to testify in the 1995 state court hearings for a new trial, because they were presided over by Judge Sabo. This decision was made on the basis of the then existing law, which would have given him a full hearing in federal court. But then the government changed the rules on Mumia in 1996 with the "Effective Death Penalty Act." This means that our movement has to become strong enough by the end of this year to force the federal district court to grant a full evidentiary hearing to Mumia. After the federal district court, the federal appeal process will move very quickly. There is no time left for complacency.

The second important result of the January meeting was to develop a program that would put our movement where it has to be by the end of this year.

Millions for Mumia

The first major step is MILLIONS FOR MUMIA, the powerful national and international demonstrations set for April 24, concentrating in this country in Philadelphia and San Francisco. These will be the largest mass actions ever held for Mumia. We are determined that they will bring together tens of thousands in concerted protest, sending people home inspired and emboldened. To build for April 24 a series of regional conferences and meetings have been held in New York, Washington, Berkeley, Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston. MILLIONS FOR MUMIA will then be followed by the annual activist conference and demonstration in Philadelphia on the July 4 weekend.

The next big leap in our movement will be in September. A National Day of Art to Stop the Execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal-- "Mumia 911"--is called for September 11. From September 19-25, there will be a national week for Justice for Mumia. Through this national week we intend to bring the Mumia movement into communities throughout the nation, with hundreds of local organizations, unions, campuses, communities taking up the case of Mumia themselves, studying the issues, and developing programs and activities appropriate to their own constituencies. During that week we want to see Mumia's picture and hear his voice all across the country. This will culminate on September 25, a day of actions for Mumia throughout the country. The cumulative effect of these actions, and the controversy they engender, will be to make Mumia's case a major social issue.

Uniting All Who Can Be United

The third important result of the January meeting was a growing sense of unity in our movement. The movement to save Mumia Abu-Jamal has brought together a great range of political forces. Many people have been struck by this new sense of purpose and willingness to debate the issues and solve the problems together. We owe a great deal to Mumia for inspiring this new unity.

Such unity does not mean that the differences among people and organizations have just disappeared, nor does it require that we all say the same thing. My own organization, Refuse & Resist!, has devoted much effort to explaining the issues in the case and building spirited resistance. We take up Mumia's case as a prime example of the repression of political dissent, and we set it in the context of the whole reactionary program being forced on the people. But we are committed to pulling together with all the many forces who have taken up this battle to save the life of Mumia Abu-Jamal.

The fourth result of the January meeting was further unity around the correct dividing line for the movement to stop the execution of Mumia. People unite with this movement for many reasons. Some believe that Mumia was framed up by the state for his revolutionary politics and exposure of the police. Some feel that Mumia is a typical example of what happens to young men of color in the judicial process every day. Others do not make any judgment about why he was prosecuted, but recognize that his "trial" was a mockery of justice. And still others make no judgment at all about his case, but staunchly oppose the death penalty.

We need all of these people! And that is why we seek to unite everyone who is opposed to the execution of Mumia, and we do not require that they accept other views and judgments to join with us. That does not mean that the only thing that people can say is "Stop the Execution." Those who believe that Mumia is innocent or is a political prisoner will continue to speak their mind. The point is that everyone who is opposed to the execution of Mumia must be welcome in our movement, and must feel welcome.

Determination to Stop the Execution

Mumia's case has now become the showdown case on the death penalty in the United States, and how it is resolved is going to affect the political climate for years to come. Will we live in a society where the people regularly rise up and force the government to back off of injustice--where thousands of Geronimo ji Jagas walk the streets, head held high? Or will we be forced to live in a society where anyone who dares to speak up is crushed without the slightest pretense of justice?

Our ability to actually win this battle depends upon the fact that the government is not all powerful. It can be forced to give ground, but only when it stands to suffer greater losses by not doing so. The power structure must be made to fear the consequences of carrying through this execution from many sides: from millions of people who previously believed in the system losing faith in its justice, to international condemnation, to disruption of schools and work places, to the threat of another Los Angeles rebellion. But the threat that this system would suffer a very high price must be real and growing.

We are now at the point where, to make the leap in our movement that is required, we have to break our movement out beyond those already in motion. We have to get the widest range of organizations and communities to take it up themselves, and not just call on them to come to things we organize. We want people to look into the case themselves, and take it up in their own constituencies. Then as the ferment spreads, we must periodically draw together the growing streams of protest into ever more powerful manifestations at the national level.

This was the lesson of the Oakland Teachers Association taking up a lesson plan on Mumia and the death penalty in the Oakland public schools in January. When school officials tried to ban the classes and assemblies, the teachers stood firm and students were outraged over the attempt to keep them from hearing about the case. The resulting controversy put Mumia's name on the TV news and newspaper pages of Oakland and San Francisco for a week. This is what it means to make the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal a major issue in society. And what we are shooting for with the national week for Mumia in September is "Oakland" on a national scale.


Mumia's case strikes a chord in people because he is both the exception and the rule. He is "the exception" because he was singled out by the authorities for his unflinching revolutionary politics and his role as a journalist in exposing the police. He is somebody very special. But he is also "the rule" because what has happened to him in the judicial process is so typical of what happens to young men of color in the courts every day. Mumia's experience cannot be separated from the whole history of Black people in this country, their situation today, or their future tomorrow.

While emphasizing again the need to unite all people who oppose the execution of Mumia, regardless of the reasons for which they take this stand, I would like to end with my reasons.

I cherish Mumia and his dangerous writings because Mumia is a revolutionary and revolutionaries represent the highest aspirations of the people for a better world. Mumia has dedicated his life to getting rid of this unjust system, and has refused to give up his principles, even in the face of the death chamber.

He has upheld the revolutionary legacy of the '60s and carried it forward into the '90s. This has inspired a whole new generation to fight for justice, and to question the very foundations of this society. This is why his words are so dangerous.

As Mumia has so eloquently put it, "They don't just want my death, they want my silence."

We are determined that they shall have neither.

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