A Call to Justice for Mumia Abu-Jamal
Mumia Awareness Week,
Revolutionary Worker #1021, September 5, 1999
The "Call to Justice" proposing Mumia Awareness Week, September 19-25, went out with an introductory letter that began with the words: "This is the year of decision for Mumia Abu-Jamal." That sense of urgency is felt in the many plans that are taking shape.
The Call itself envisions a week packed with "a wide variety of national and local initiatives around Mumia's case, culminating in a day of activities in 100 cities."
C. Clark Kissinger has argued that the campaign to save Mumia needs to be raised to a "higher level." And during September 19-25, many different forces in many different places will be fighting for such a leap. In the words of the Call, one of the goals of the Mumia Awareness week will be fighting to help make Mumia's case and the issues bound up with it "into a household word and a political dividing line in the United States and internationally."
The days of September 19-25 will be helping to set the stage and mobilize the forces for this "decisive year." Shortly after this Mumia Awareness Week, Mumia's legal team is planning to file his main federal filing for habeas--which will initiate the crucial and final rounds of the legal battle.
With each passing day, new plans for this Mumia Awareness Week are being made--and the hard work of carrying them out is pressing ahead. As we go to press, posters and ribbons are being printed and shipped--for wide display during the week. Organizer kits are going out. A website of events and news is online. Students are meeting to prepare for the reopening of school. Resolutions are being introduced within trade unions. The Northern California Coalition for Immigrants Rights is organizing the translation of Mumia Awareness Week materials into Spanish and Chinese. Organizations like Amnesty International, the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, and the Pennsylvania Abolitionists are sending out national mailings to their membership urging active participation in the Mumia Awareness Week.
The last school year ended with the Fraternal Order of Police fuming over events at Evergreen State College--where Mumia was chosen as the commencement speaker. And this new school year will kick off with students fighting to make Mumia's name and case a dividing line issue. Tuesday, September 21, has been chosen as International Student/Youth Day for Mumia. Preparations got under way during the summer--as teams of organizers went out widely at the Woodstock festival to get out the word. Now in the weeks ahead, students will be returning to school--to the banners and leafleting of orientation week, to the actions on September 21 itself and the other important mobilizations of Mumia Awareness Week.
Herman Ferguson of the New African Liberation Front (NALF) described to the RW some of the activities envisioned for Black communities by the NALF, the Jericho movement and the youth organization The Code.
"Sunday, September 19," Ferguson said, "will be a day for churches and ministers to take a stand for Mumia--including discussing Mumia's case in sermons. Sunday is also the day of the African American Day parade in New York--which we hope will be a big kickoff for Mumia Awareness Week here in New York. Wednesday, September 22 is scheduled for a day of mobilization in housing projects. And Friday, September 24, we have called on high school and college students to walk out of school--and go out in the community to do mass leafleting for Mumia, and for the events of the next day, Saturday September 25, when there will be actions for Mumia across the country."
100 Cities for Mumia
On Saturday, September 25, the week of outreach and action will culminate in actions held in cities across the country (and in several places around the world). The website for the Mumia Awareness Week has a growing list--including dozens of cities where people and organizations are planning marches and rallies for September 25.
In Paris, France (where the week-long campaign is called Cent villes pour Mumia) plans include an evening of poetry, an art exposition, a program against the death penalty, a Pan African event--culminating on Saturday, September 25 in a march to the U.S. consulate--in solidarity with similar actions taking place on that day.
In Bloemfontein, South Africa on September 24-25, statements and actions for Mumia are being planned by delegates who will be meeting at a joint national congress of the Azanian Peoples Organization, Azanian Students Convention and Azanian Youth Organization.
These actions and plans are taking place in the context of renewed attacks on the Mumia movement from forces who are determined to see the execution of this political prisoner carried out. In the summer of 1999, a combined media attack--involving the AP wire services, the television show 20/20, and an article by Buzz Bissinger, a former aide to Philadelphia Mayor Rendel, in Vanity Fair magazine--spread the false story that Mumia had "confessed" to a man named Phillip Bloch when Bloch worked with an organization that visits prisoners. Then the national Fraternal Order of Police called for a boycott of "businesses and individuals" who demand justice for Mumia--threatening to list their names on the Internet.
At the very moment when Mumia's case is being prepared to go to federal court, this disinformation and police-state tactics--a method used over and over by the U.S. power structure to malign revolutionaries and "warn off" their supporters--was intended to spread confusion and to intimidate prominent people from using their public voice to support Mumia. Hiding behind the bogus tale of the lonely police widow Maureen Faulkner up against Mumia's "celebrity machine," the corrupt Philadelphia police and the Philadelphia power structure (who have built their careers on persecuting Mumia and other Black radicals) are working overtime to create negative public opinion about Mumia and threaten people who speak out for justice. So it is ever more urgent for all those who do understand the importance of stopping the execution of Mumia--and who know that the people have `right on our side' in this battle--to reach with great determination to bring the truth about this case to millions of people and enlist them in the fight on many different levels. The enemy is powerful--they have the police and control of the mass media--but they do not have Justice and they do not have a case against Mumia Abu-Jamal that could stand the light of day.
The Call for Mumia Awareness Week for September 19-25 went out earlier this year, with an introductory letter signed by Pam Africa (International Concerned Family and Friends), Ossie Davis, Martin Duberman, Steve Hawkins (of the National Conference of Black Lawyers), Sam Jordan (Amnesty International USA), Barbara Kingsolver, Robert Meeropol, Frances Fox Piven and Adrienne Rich.
The Revolutionary Worker talked with three of these signatories--to ask them how they saw the importance of Mumia's case and this moment. Here are excerpts from their remarks:
Pam Africa, International Concerned Family
and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal:
"The governmental plot to ensure the murder of Mumia is an attempt to send a very loud clear message that our resistance to the wrongs of this government will be crushed. And when they went after Mumia and people stood up in resistance to that, then those people have also been targeted.
"That's clearly shown by the recent call from the Fraternal Order of Police to boycott any person or business that expresses support for Mumia.... All people need to do is see the way they are attempting to virtually cripple the Black United Fund. Philadelphia's mayor got involved in this and took $100,000 from the Black United Fund for daring to help a group that's calling for a trial for Mumia. If we allow them to get away with these McCarthy tactics that they're using, it's going to be hell on other people.
"Through the work that has been done by the movement over the years we have made it very clear that Mumia did not receive a fair trial....This gives people a chance--and I'm talking about all people from all walks of life--a chance to stand up for what is right.
"Too many times people have said, if I only knew what was happening in the case of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King or the May 13th bombing of MOVE in Philadelphia, if we only knew what was happening, we would have stopped it. Or if we could have stopped the killing of Amadou Diallo, the 41 shots, if we knew that would have happened, we would have done something. But here, social justice organizations have a chance, because they know what's going on in the government's attempt to execute Mumia.
"The week of Mumia Awareness is a chance for people to act on this. And it's designed to make more people really aware of what's going on. It's clear that the government is stepping up pressures to try to justify the murder of Mumia and they're doing it through a misinformation campaign. They're actually getting ready, they're laying the groundwork for the murder which will happen within the next year or two years--if we allow it. There's no way in the world that these people should be allowed to get away with it."
Rosenberg Fund for Children:
"There are really many reasons to take a stand on Mumia's case--and I'm just going to articulate one of them, that I, as the child of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and as an expert on their case, am, I think, particularly qualified to address.
"Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were charged, convicted and ultimately executed for conspiracy to commit espionage--and in particular the object of that conspiracy was the secret of the atomic bomb. The government said that they gave the greatest secrets known to mankind to the Soviet Union and this happened during the McCarthy period. They were arrested in 1950 and executed in 1953. I was three to begin with and six at the end. So I want to focus on what I'm particularly qualified to respond to.
"The army general in charge of the Los Alamos project where the bomb was built at Los Alamos, New Mexico during W.W.II, his name was Lesley Groves. And Groves wrote in his private diary--that wasn't released to the public until after he died, which was some 20 years after my parents' execution--that he felt the material that went out in the Rosenberg case was of minor value. You know, he assumed that they were guilty. But he wrote in this thing that the material that went out in their case was of minor value, but that this should be kept very quiet. He wouldn't want people saying that he said this, because he felt that, regardless of the minor value, they still deserved to hang. Okay?
"Now, the question that immediately jumps up is why did my parents deserve to die if what they had done was of minor value? And the answer to that is that they resisted and in the process of resisting they became powerful and dangerous to those in power. I mean: They were non-entities. Nobody had ever heard of them. But they stood up and said no and galvanized a movement and then in the process of doing that they became very dangerous.
"And look at Mumia's case. Mumia didn't bargain and he didn't give up. He's fighting back in a principled political manner that makes this struggle one with all political prisoners, with all victims of racism and injustice within the justice system, and with all prisoners on death row. So taking a stand on Mumia's case is taking a stand for all of these people. And that's why the stakes are so high.
"The stakes are high for those of us seeking justice and for the forces of repression because it's about all of these things. And Mumia has made it so.
"You know, I'm not one of those who proclaim Mumia's innocence. He may very well be innocent but I can't know that. But I do know from reading portions of the trial transcript that he didn't receive a fair trial.
"I'm not only my parents' child, I'm also an attorney. I don't practice in the criminal area, but when I graduated law school I worked for an appellate judge as a law clerk and one of my jobs was reading trial transcripts. So I may not practice in this area but I have `professional experience' at doing exactly that--looking at a trial transcript and making a judgment on whether a trial was fair. This trial epitomizes an unfair trial. I mean it just screams at you. And that I know.
"And the right of all accused--regardless of economic status, regardless of race, of political beliefs and the charge against them--the right of all these types of people to a fair trial is a basic question of social justice...
"The importance of having a large number of actions all over the place is to get as many people as possible thinking and talking about this case. We want to have a situation where you can't turn around without having to deal with Mumia in some way or another. That may be a little grandiose, but we want to approach that if we can. And if we succeed in doing this, the movement to save Mumia's life will take a giant stride forward."
Sam Jordan, Director of the Program to Abolish
the Death Penalty, Amnesty International USA:
"Mumia's case brings directly, without adornment, without elaboration, the fundamental pattern of injustice that characterizes the criminal justice system....
"First of all, there should be no question that Mumia should not be executed. We can't entertain the notion of a loss here.... Mumia Abu-Jamal, a young Black intellectual, writer, a conveyor of ideas, ideologue, a crusader for social justice who defies the political back seat of the bus that he's been told to get into and who refuses to go to the political back seat of the bus in this country. And he means to demonstrate to the world that we don't have to continue this particularly mindless pursuit of punishment without any regard for what it's cost the society generally and without any regard to the merit of human rights....
"Mumia's case, in addition to its political significance and broad issues that it impacts, must also be looked at as a case of the wrongfully convicted. The pattern that Mumia's case fits is a pattern that includes, and I want to name some factors, conflicts in identification, falsely reported or uncorroborated confessions, prosecutorial misconduct, official mishandling of evidence from the crime scene, perjured police testimony, a so-called prison snitch. These are the six elements that are present in almost every case of the 82 men and women who have been released from death row due to wrongful conviction. They're present in Mumia's case. It isn't coincidental that Mumia needs a new trial. Mumia is most likely a wrongfully convicted person.
"So we have to address not only the broad political questions, but the technical due process fairness issues that are present in his trial, in his case as an individual case, as a case in itself. And each of these levels of the case itself, due process and fairness, the broad political issues involved, the need to counter a punitive criminal justice system that has been used against people of color, the need to have the U.S. comply with international standards of fairness in trials and in the procedures facing those accused of capital punishment. These all converge in Mumia's case. There has been no other case on death row like this one."
What's It Gonna Take?
The following is an excerpt from the article "What's It Gonna Take to Save Mumia" by C. Clark Kissinger which, we believe, speaks sharply to the challenges and demands of this moment:
"We face a real challenge: how to get things to a level--a higher level--where we can actually compel the political establishment to back off their murderous plot?....Let's be clear: we have a long way to go on the road to justice, and a very short time to get there. The people CAN win this--we can prevent Mumia's execution and we can ultimately win his freedom. We CAN do this--but it's going to take an effort not seen in generations. That effort needs three things: broadness, diversity and determination, all on a higher level than ever before. And it needs them pretty damn quick.....
Every organization that is opposed to the execution will be challenged--and empowered--to both do things that involve and activate their own constituencies in their own ways, as well as to reach out broadly in society. By doing all these diverse and decentralized activities in a single week in response to a unified call, the effect of each will be greatly multiplied and the cumulative impact of all together can be massive.
Justice--and the people--demand nothing less from us.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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