Mumia Abu-Jamal

Revolutionary on Death Row: The Story of Mumia Abu-Jamal

Revolutionary Worker #1003, April 25, 1999


Imagine a case in which a person isn't allowed to represent himself, one in which witnesses are threatened or even arrested on the stand. Imagine a case in which a man charged with killing a cop is tried by a judge who is a lifetime member of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). Imagine that this case's appeal is heard and denied by a court where five out of seven of the judges have either received campaign contributions or campaign endorsements from the FOP. Imagine a case in which a "confession" was manufactured. I don't have to imagine such a case. It's mine.

Mumia Abu-Jamal in Source magazine, February 1999

Mumia Abu-Jamal has been on death row since 1982. Falsely convicted of killing a white Philadelphia cop. Blatantly framed up. Never got a fair trial. Sentenced to death for his political beliefs.

Back in the days when he was a teenager in Philadelphia, Mumia was a member of the Black Panther Party and their Minister of Information. Later, as a radio journalist he was known as the "voice of the voiceless." He supported MOVE and exposed the murderous police attacks against these Black revolutionaries. He used his award-winning journalistic talent to speak out against racism and police brutality. And in 1980, at the age of 26, he was elected chair of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists.

For all this the Philadelphia authorities and police hated Mumia. They tried to kill him. And when that failed, they framed him up for the murder of a cop named Daniel Faulkner. Now, for the last 17 years Mumia Abu-Jamal has been on death row--locked alone in a cell 23 hours a day. He's denied contact visits with his family. His confidential legal mail has been opened and reproduced by prison authorities. He's been put into punitive detention for writing his book Live from Death Row. His commentaries have been censored on the radio. As Mumia put it, "They don't just want my death, they want my silence."

Mumia has dedicated his life to the people--especially those in the ghettos, barrios and prisons. In the face of brutality, isolation, slander and censorship--he has remained unbroken, his revolutionary consciousness and commitment strong.

It is a profound injustice that Mumia is on death row. And this is more than the story of just one man. The frame-up of Mumia concentrates the way Black people are routinely mistreated by the police, the courts, the prisons, and the media. The railroad of Mumia reveals how the U.S. government deals with political opponents--especially revolutionaries whose voices connect with the people at the bottom of society. This case is vivid proof of why this government and its legal system should not have the power to execute people. Today, the system is building prisons as fast and as furiously as they're criminalizing the youth. Police brutality and murder is an epidemic with cops acting like judge, jury and executioner on the streets. "Three strikes" laws are sending thousands of kids to spend their whole life behind bars. Executions are going down like clockwork. And politicians keep demanding more prisons, more cops, more punishment and speedier executions. The struggle for Mumia and other political prisoners is a key battlefront for those who want to defeat this whole assault on the people.


On December 9, 1981, Mumia Abu-Jamal was driving his cab on a downtown Philadelphia street. He saw a cop beating his brother, William Cook, with a metal flashlight and he rushed to the scene. There was a confrontation and when the smoke cleared Mumia was lying in a pool of blood, shot in the chest. Nearby, Philadelphia cop Daniel Faulkner lay dying from bullet wounds. Mumia was charged for the murder of Faulkner--and has not spent a day free since.

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. 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 up in the hospital after surgery with his belly ripped from top to bottom, large staples clamping the wound shut and tube 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, when doctors warned that pneumonia in his punctured lung could kill him, the police forced Mumia to spend night after night in a cold room.

On June 1, 1982 Mumia's trial began in Judge Albert Sabo's court. On July 3 it ended with a death sentence that revealed what this whole case has been about from the beginning.

The U.S. government says it doesn't persecute, imprison or execute people for their political beliefs and activities. But Mumia was clearly framed up, railroaded and now faces execution because he is a revolutionary who has broad political influence.

From his days in the Black Panther Party Mumia was targeted by the government for political persecution. Eight hundred pages of secret police files have become public that document how federal and city agents started putting him under surveillance when he was only 14 years old! At 15, Mumia was a founding member of the Black Panther Party. At 17, as the Philadelphia Panther's 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."

The authorities used phone taps and informants to monitor his activity; Mumia's friends, relatives, and school officials were interviewed and harassed. The Panthers were subjected to a brutal campaign of suppression by the Philadelphia police under Chief Frank Rizzo who later became mayor.

Throughout the 1970s, Mumia worked as a radio journalist, exposing the systematic brutality of Philadelphia's police--especially their campaign of persecution against the radical Black utopian MOVE organization. In 1978, after a 10-month siege, a MOVE house in Powelton village was assaulted by a 500-man army of Philadelphia police. Fifteen MOVE members were framed for the death of one cop. Mumia covered this trial and supported MOVE.

On the streets Mumia's listeners started calling him "The Voice of the Voiceless," but the Philadelphia authorities and police hated Mumia. Rizzo himself had threatened Mumia, saying that Mumia's reporting had "to stop...And one day, and I hope it's in my're going to have to be held responsible and accountable for what you do."

The day Mumia was sentenced for the murder of Daniel Faulkner, Assistant District Attorney McGill brought up Mumia's political history to argue for the death penalty. In his plea that the court send Mumia to death row, the DA asked Mumia, "Did you ever say that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun?" Mumia answered, "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."

Based on these arguments about Mumia's political views, Sabo handed down a death sentence. Mumia summed it up like this: "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!''


Judge Albert Sabo has sentenced more people to death than any other sitting judge in the United States. Six former Philadelphia prosecutors have sworn in court documents that no one could get a fair trial in the court of Judge Sabo.

During jury selection, 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." Against Mumia's will, Tony Jackson was appointed Mumia's lawyer. When Jackson refused to question potential jurors under such conditions, Sabo threatened him with jail.

Then Sabo took over selecting jurors himself! Anyone who opposed capital punishment was dismissed. And 11 qualified African-Americans were removed by peremptory challenges from the prosecution--a blatantly racist practice that we now know was taught to Philadelphia prosecutors in a special training videotape. The jury ended up with only one Black person.

True to his reputation, Sabo blatantly discriminated against Mumia throughout the whole trial. He claimed Mumia was being disruptive and had him forcibly removed from the courtroom during large parts of the trial. When Mumia asked to represent himself and requested John Africa (the founder of MOVE) as his co-counsel, Sabo refused to allow John Africa onto the case. The investigator who was supposed to work on Mumia's defense quit the case before the trial began because the court didn't provide enough funds and the defense didn't have enough money to hire a ballistics expert or pathologist.


Judge Sabo is a lifetime member of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). And Mumia's appeal has been heard--and denied--by the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court where five out of seven judges have either received campaign contributions or campaign endorsements from the FOP. This national organization of cops has been a force against Mumia outside the courtroom. They've waged an ongoing campaign to call for Mumia's execution. They've picketed events by Mumia supporters. They've sent letters to intimidate celebrities who have taken a stand against Mumia's execution. They've paraded Maureen Faulkner, the widow of Daniel Faulkner, around to spread lies. And they've worked closely with the mainstream media to slander Mumia supporters and spread all kinds of disinformation about this case.

After Mumia's unjust trial, the FOP and the media have continued to argue the prosecution's frame-up case. They say eyewitnesses identified Mumia as the one who shot Faulkner. They say Mumia confessed to the killing at the hospital. They say Faulkner was shot with Mumia's gun.

But the real truth is that authorities manufactured false evidence to frame Mumia. Witnesses were threatened and coerced. A false "confession" was fabricated. And real evidence has been suppressed.


The prosecutors in Mumia's case interviewed over 100 witnesses. But they used only those witnesses willing to help in the frame-up. They deliberately withheld the names of other potential witnesses from Mumia's lawyers. And Mumia wasn't given any money for investigators to locate witnesses for his defense.

Before the trial, four witnesses said they saw a man run away from the scene. But the prosecution was not about to bring this testimony into the trial. Instead they forced witnesses into corroborating their version of what happened. Veronica Jones, Robert Chobert, and Cynthia White all gave testimony that helped the prosecution. All three of them were messed with by the prosecution.

In 1996 Veronica Jones came forward and exposed how the police threatened her into helping with their frame-up. Jones had initially told the police that she saw someone flee the scene. But then at the trial, she said she didn't see anyone run away and her testimony was very damaging to Mumia's case. Jones now admits, in a sworn statement, that she lied on the stand under police threats. She says two cops visited her in jail shortly before the 1982 trial and said if she helped Mumia's defense she would have her children taken away and would be given a long prison sentence. In 1996 when Veronica Jones came forward to support Mumia with this testimony, the court immediately retaliated against her and arrested her for an outstanding warrant.

Mumia's legal team, headed by Leonard Weinglass, submitted Jones' statement and a motion for a hearing with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. But the state Supreme Court sent the case back to Sabo--the very judge who had presided over the frame-up of Mumia in 1982! The outcome here was no surprise. Sabo claimed this new evidence was not believable or important and denied Mumia a new trial.

Robert Chobert and Cynthia White, two other witnesses who testified for the prosecution, clearly received special treatment, including exemptions from criminal prosecution, in return for their assistance in the frame-up of Mumia.

Robert Chobert was a white cab driver who told police on the scene that the man who shot Faulkner was a heavy-set man, well over 200 pounds, who ran away from the scene. This testimony would have helped the defense--Mumia was a slim man and was sprawled on the sidewalk with severe wounds. But at the trial Chobert changed his story. And the jury was never told that this witness was on probation for a felony and therefore vulnerable to police blackmail.

Cynthia White, the other key witness for the prosecution, backed the whole police story. But several witnesses say Cynthia White was not at the scene when Faulkner was shot, that she arrived after the shooting. After Mumia was charged with murder, White was arrested repeatedly for prostitution and with each arrest her story about the 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.

In 1997 Mumia's lawyers revealed that Pamela Jenkins, a former prostitute, had signed a sworn statement stating that during Mumia's original trial the police had also pressured her to falsely accuse Mumia 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 Jenkins' testimony, Sabo ruled that this new evidence was--once again--"not credible."

Another witness, Dessie Hightower, 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 the police forced him to sign a statement that he didn't see anything. And then he was harassed so bad by the police that he left Philadelphia before the trial.


After being shot by Faulkner and then beaten by other cops Mumia was taken to the hospital, and the prosecution claims that it was here that Mumia made a loud confession to the murder. But the jury never heard from police officer Gary Wakshul, who was guarding Jamal at the hospital and reported "the Negro male made no comments." When called as a defense witness, the prosecution contended he was on vacation and unavailable, and Sabo refused a continuance so he could be brought in. In fact, Wakshul was home and available to testify.

The most stunning thing about this is that Wakshul actually got on the stand in 1995 and said that he didn't "remember" Mumia had confessed because he was "upset." Then he admitted in court that he "remembered" the confession more than two months later after a "roundtable meeting" with DA McGill and other cops. This is clear, direct evidence of a police manufactured confession to frame up Mumia.

The attending physician at the hospital said Mumia didn't say anything about shooting Faulkner. And the security guard who was with Mumia only came up with a story about a "confession"--two months later.


The prosecution also claimed ballistics evidence proved Mumia was the shooter. But the police never tested Mumia's gun to see if it had been recently fired. They never tested Mumia's hands to see if he had fired a gun. They have never shown Mumia's gun to be the fatal weapon. And they lost a bullet fragment removed by the medical examiner. Also, the police claim that Mumia was shot while standing over Faulkner. But the pathologist said the bullet entered Mumia's body in a downward trajectory--which is consistent with Mumia's statement that he was shot by the cop as he approached the scene.

In short, Mumia was railroaded. The jury was packed; the testimony rigged, the evidence suppressed. Mumia's attempts to launch a serious defense were constantly disrupted; and he was given the death penalty on the basis of his revolutionary beliefs and activities.


On June 2, 1995 Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge signed a death warrant setting Mumia's execution date for 10 p.m., August 17, 1995. Mumia's lawyer, Leonard Weinglass, quickly filed a Post-Conviction Relief Appeal, which demanded a stay of execution and a new trial. Three hundred pages of documentation accompanied this appeal which demonstrated, as Weinglass wrote, "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." Mumia's legal team also filed a Motion for Recusal--demanding that Sabo not be allowed to rule on the appeal because he was clearly prejudiced against Mumia. But Sabo refused to recuse himself. He refused to grant a stay of execution and made outrageous rulings 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 and showed very clearly that Mumia never got a fair trial. But three days after the PCRA hearing ended, Sabo denied Mumia's request for a new trial and the execution date remained in effect.

A very broad and determined movement rallied hard to stop the execution of Mumia, and 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. The power of the people forced the government to issue a stay of execution and back off its plans to murder Mumia. But today Mumia still faces a death sentence, and the government is still trying to execute him. As Mumia said: "I am now not under an active death warrant, although I remain under an active death sentence, thus I still sojourn in hell."

From the darkness of death row Mumia has continued to expose the system and inspire people with his eloquent writing. And his 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 October 29, 1998 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court unanimously let stand a lower court decision denying a new trial for Mumia. This ruling was a dramatic indication that the government has made a political decision to press ahead with its plans to execute Mumia. The government has delivered a message. They have made it clear what they intend to do and have pushed things to another level.

It is up to the people to save the life of Mumia. It is on the people to step up the struggle and make it clear to the government that WE WON'T LET THEM KILL MUMIA ABU-JAMAL!

Millions need to ask themselves: "Can I stand by and do nothing while the government carries out a political execution? We cannot afford to lose this battle. We cannot afford to let the powers-that-be take Mumia from us because he is precious to the oppressed and all those who hunger for justice.


For more information on Mumia's case see RW website:
Refuse & Resist! website:
International Concerned Family & Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal:

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