New York Town Hall:
A Night for Mumia

Revolutionary Worker #998, March 14, 1999

As it became clear that the February 26 Town Hall program in New York City was going to bring together broad and diverse support for Mumia Abu-Jamal, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) tried to stop it. As they did last month with the Rage Against the Machine benefit concert for Mumia, the FOP combined a media campaign with intimidation and threats. But, once again, the cops failed. Over 1,500 people packed the theater for the event, which was part of the efforts to build momentum and support for the April 24 Millions for Mumia demonstration in Philadelphia. Across the street was a small demonstration of about 50 cops--Pam Africa of MOVE called them "Fools on Parade."

The evening began with a vibrant performance by Haitian band Boukman Eksperyans. At the end of their set, the lead woman singer threw her fist in the air and shouted, "Freedom for Mumia! Freedom! Freedom!"

The lights went down and a large picture of Mumia was projected behind the stage. Actor Ossie Davis welcomed everyone, read a piece from Mumia's book Live from Death Row and said: "Usually he closes his [radio] broadcast saying, `This is Mumia Abu-Jamal, live from death row.' And then we hear the slamming of a massive door. But the door need not slam forever on Mumia Abu-Jamal. It depends in large part on what we do here tonight and April 24 in Philadelphia.... This is a night of getting together. This is a night when the voice of the people begins to awaken from a long sleep. And it will not go back to sleep. This is a night when the voice of the people will be heard."

Monica Moorehead of Millions for Mumia, revolutionary journalist Sally O'Brien, Temple University student Leslie Jones and Maude Le Blanc of the newspaper Haiti Progres co-hosted the event. The audience was a real mix of people--political activists, youth, revolutionary nationalists, former political prisoners and others. A banner from the Refuse & Resist! Youth Network said, "Mumia Is Fearless & So Are We!" Long time activist Yuri Kochiyama, former Black Panther Party member Kathleen Cleaver, Reverend Lucius Walker, Irish freedom fighter and internationalist George Harrison were among those in the audience. Rhythms of Aqua drummed between speakers.

A theme that ran through the evening was the need for broad unity to stop the execution and free Mumia. Maude Le Blanc spoke about the U.S. and UN occupation of Haiti and pointed out that the same police force that murdered Amadou Diallo and tortured Abner Louima is "training" the Haitian police: "We identify with Mumia just as he identified with us, the Haitian people.... We have been fighting for our rights just as he has been fighting for the right of his people, not just African-Americans, but all the oppressed and working class people in North America--Black, white, Asian, Latino and yes, even us Haitians. We have a proverb in Creole: you can't eat okra with one finger. Therefore we must all come together in this mobilization."

Author Leslie Feinberg said: "Now violence and bigotry and police brutality that I have faced and millions face because of our sexuality or our gender has made me understand the eloquent truth that the union movement is built on--that an injury to one is an injury to all.... We are no less enraged that the state is trying to legally lynch Mumia than we were outraged over the anti-gay lynching of Matthew Shepard or the racist lynching of James Byrd Jr. or the NYPD execution of Amadou Diallo."

C. Clark Kissinger, member of the National Council of Refuse & Resist! and a contributing writer to the Revolutionary Worker, said: "There must be even more breadth, more outreach, and more determination to our movement. We have to break out beyond the ranks of those already convinced, and make Mumia's case into a major social justice issue in this society." He also pointed out: "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."'

Ramsey Clark--former U.S. Attorney General and lead attorney for Native American political prisoner Leonard Peltier--said: "Our government wants Mumia Abu-Jamal and it wants him for several reasons. It wants him for his talent, his beautiful voice, his dignity. It wants him for his commitment, his drive, his perseverance. Nothing daunts him. It wants him for his race. It wants him because it believes or wants to believe it doesn't matter--an officer of the police was killed and they want him to die for it. And they will not relent unless we force them to. We've got to end executions in this country forever. And we've got to begin it with Mumia Abu-Jamal, and can't rest until we do!"

Pam Africa from MOVE said everyone is "sitting on death row" under this system. She said, "My sister Merle Africa languished in prison, sentenced to 30 to 100 years for a crime that she didn't commit. Innocent, she died at the hands of this government." She also talked about how revolutionary consciousness gives strength to those behind bars: "Mumia Abu-Jamal and my family and other people who understand what revolution is are not prisoners to this system. They are free."

Dick Gregory did a standup comedy routine about the oppression of Black people. Folk singer Pete Seeger led the audience in the song "If I Had A Hammer." 1199 Union President Dennis Rivera brought a message of solidarity for Mumia from his union. Like a number of speakers, Larry Holmes of Millions for Mumia talked about the connection between the police murder of Amadou Diallo and the attempt to execute Mumia, a powerful voice against police brutality. Bernard White, journalist at WBAI Radio and initiator of the Black Ribbon Campaign Against Police Brutality, read "Capital Punishment" from Live from Death Row. Statements were read from author E.L. Doctorow and Robert Meeropol, the son of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg --political prisoners executed during the 1950s.

Attorney Michael Tariq Warren discussed how the frame-up of Mumia went all the way to the top levels of the U.S. government. A number of speakers focused on the death penalty. Safiya Bukhari--co-coordinator of the New York Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition, the Jericho Movement, and first vice president and minister of defense of the Republic of New Afrika--spoke about the government's attacks on habeas corpus and the impact on Mumia's case. People's lawyer Ron Kuby talked about how he watched in horror as one of his clients received a lethal injection in Texas. And he declared, "We won't let this happen to Mumia Abu-Jamal!" Ashanti Chimurenga, Coordinator of the Gary Graham/Shaka Sankofa Justice Committee, called the death penalty a "racist, genocidal tool of the state."

Former Black Panther leader Geronimo Ji Jaga, who spent 27 years in jail for a murder he did not commit, walked onto the stage with his fist held high. Geronimo brought messages of support for Mumia from other political prisoners. He said: "Don't trip on any kind of jive to get us divided. Support Mumia. He's facing the executioner." Geronimo talked about the government plots against him and the long years he spent in prison: "But I'm here. And I'm here because of you, you see? And I want you to continue to render that kind of support that you gave for me and so many of the others for Mumia... The power of the people is stronger than the pig's technology. We can win. We can free Mumia just like I was freed!"

Rafael Cancel Miranda was imprisoned for over 20 years for the "crime" of fighting to liberate Puerto Rico from U.S. domination. Miranda came on stage with a posse of young Puerto Rican revolutionaries and spoke on behalf of Latinos for Mumia: "You cannot go on killing people and killing people and killing people and get away with it and expect us to throw you flowers.... They've been a hundred years in Puerto Rico. They massacred, but they have not been able to defeat us. They have not been able to defeat us. You saw Mumia's hands in handcuffs. But they could not handcuff his spirit."

Mumia's lead attorney Leonard Weinglass laid out key points of the case that show Mumia is innocent and did not get a fair trial. Weinglass talked about where the struggle to free Mumia is at: "So what lies ahead for all of us in the case and for Mumia in the next 12 to 18 months is a very critical fight, a fight that's going to determine whether or not we lose one of the most incredible voices for freedom and liberty, racial justice, equality in this country. So if we stand together and we fight together and we increase our numbers and we broaden the scope of those who could become involved in this case--hopefully a year, a year and a half from now, we will all gather here again this time for a great victory party!"

The RW would like to thank the Peoples Video Network for use of their raw video footage of the Town Hall event in order to excerpt many of the quotes in this article.

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