The Mumia Transcripts:
The Making of a Political Railroad

Sentenced to Death for Being a Revolutionary

Revolutionary Worker #1031, November 21, 1999

Mumia Abu-Jamal's habeas corpus appeal is now being considered by the federal district court in Philadelphia. After the habeas petition was filed on October 15, Leonard Weinglass, Mumia's lead attorney, said: "The petition is over 160 pages long. It has over 600 paragraphs of allegations of wrongdoing in the state process. And we particularize 29 separate violations of federal constitutional law, any one of which would qualify Mumia for a new trial. So this is a mammoth record which could not conceivably justify an execution of anyone, at this or at any other time." Dan Williams, another member of Mumia's legal team, said, "What our petition shows is that this is a case of injustice in the highest degree."

One of the 29 claims of constitutional violations in the habeas petition states: "Jamal's constitutional rights were violated by the prosecution's use of his teenage affiliation with the Black Panther Party to argue for the death penalty."

The sentencing hearing in Mumia's trial took place on July 3, 1982--after a trial that unjustly convicted him for the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. The railroad continued in the sentencing hearing, where prosecutor Joseph McGill pointed to Mumia's membership in the Black Panther Party and political comments he made at the time--12 years earlier when he was 15 years old--as a key argument for giving Mumia the death penalty.

At the start of the sentencing hearing, Mumia made a statement protesting his conviction. He declared to the jury, "I am innocent despite what you 12 people think and the truth shall set me free."

Over defense objection, Judge Sabo then allowed the prosecutor to cross-examine Mumia about political slogans he quoted in a 1970 interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer. The particular slogans were: "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun"; "All power to the people"; "The Panther Party is an uncompromising party, it faces reality."

Mumia's habeas corpus petition points out: "It was the prosecutor who injected these political views and associations into the case. Indeed, the prosecutor had sought to raise Jamal's past Black Panther Party affiliation during the bail phase and throughout the trial."

The following exchange between prosecutor McGill and Mumia is taken from the court transcripts:

Q. Mr. Jamal, let me ask you if you can recall saying something some time ago and perhaps it might ring a bell as to whether or not you are an executioner or endorse such actions. "Black brothers and sisters--and organizations--which wouldn't commit themselves before are relating to us black people that they are facing--we are facing the reality that the Black Panther Party has been facing, which is --" Now, listen to this quote. You've often been quoted saying this: "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun." Do you remember saying that, sir?...

A. That was a quotation from Mao Tsetung of the People's Republic of China. It's very clear that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun or else America wouldn't be here today. It is America who has seized political power from the Indian race, not by God, not by Christianity, not by goodness, but by the barrel of a gun.

Q. Do you recall making that quote, Mr. Jamal, to Acel Moore [writer of the Philadelphia Inquirer article--RW]?

A. I recall quoting Mao Tsetung to Acel Moore about 12 to 15 years ago.

Q. Do you recall saying: "All power to the people"? Do you recall that?

A. "All power to the people"?

Q. Yes.

A. Yes. (Nods head affirmatively.)

Q. Do you believe that your actions as well as your philosophy are consistent with the quote: "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun"?

A. I believe that America has proven that quote to be true.

Q. Do you recall saying that: "The Panther Party is an uncompromising party, it faces reality"?

A. (Nods head affirmatively.) Yes. Why don't you let me look at the article so I can look at it in its full context, as long as you're quoting?

Mumia's habeas petition notes, "There was nothing in these quotes to suggest anything more than Jamal's abstract political views (quoted when he was a teenager)." The petition further points out, "The real meaning of the `barrel of a gun' quote characterize the government's political repression of the Black Panther Party, i.e., the government's political power grew out of its armed repression of blacks and dissidents. This is evident from what the article further said."

On the stand at the sentencing hearing, Mumia read this Inquirer article, which reports on the Philadelphia Panther chapter at a time when it was leading community protests against murders by police. The article said in part:

"The walls in the storefront headquarters at 1928 Columbia Ave. are painted black and plastered with revolutionary posters. The faces are dark and determined. Black men and women bundled in coats and jackets against the cold of the unheated interior are busy with telephones, paperwork, or huddling in earnest conferences and barely take time to acknowledge new arrivals or departures. When they do, the standard salutation is a slogan, `All power to the people.'

"It was busy before at the Philadelphia Chapter Headquarters of the Black Panther Party. It's busier now. `Since the murders,' says West Cook [Mumia's former name], Chapter Communications Secretary, `Black brothers and sisters and organizations which wouldn't commit themselves before are relating to us. Black people are facing the reality that the Black Panther Party has been facing, political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.'

"Murders, a calculated design of genocide, and a national plot to destroy the party leadership is what the Panthers and their supporters call a bloody two-year history of police raids and shootouts. The Panthers say 28 party members have died in police gunfire during that period, two last month...

"...[T]he gun battles and arrests of Panther leaders have convinced the Black Panthers that it is a party under siege. Although there have been no shootouts between Philadelphia Panthers and police, Cook, who ranks behind defense Capt. Reggie Schell and Sister Love, a young woman who is field lieutenant in the Philadelphia leadership, says there could have been. On September the 28th, the FBI arrested Schell on a charge of possession of a stolen government weapon after alleging finding a loaded Marine M-14 rifle in his room and City police raided the Party Headquarters confiscating some office equipment. They would have shot us then, Cook recently told a visitor to the Headquarters, speaking with deliberate conviction, `Except we were all out in the community working at the time.'...

"Referring frequently to the Party's newspaper, the Black Panther, West stressed the aim of the Black Panther Party of helping black Americans gain a sense of dignity and of the Party's insistence on self-defense... `Genocide is coming to the forefront under the Nixon, Agnew and Mitchell regime,' says West, `and that's exactly what it is. The Panther party is an uncompromising party. It faces reality.'..."

Mumia's habeas petition states, "Viewed in its proper context the decade-old comments in the newspaper did not in any way provide a motive for the shooting of a police officer, or suggest a plan or design to do so. Yet the prosecution was able to wrench the slogan out of context and consciously sought to create exactly that false and prejudicial impression to the predominantly white jury in his penalty phase summation..."

The transcripts of the 1983 sentencing hearing and the complete text of Mumia's writ of habeas corpus are available online at:

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
(The RW Online does not currently communicate via email.)