New York Emergency Conference
Mumia Must Live!
Revolutionary Worker #1048, March 26, 2000
February 19, New York City. The deep voice of actor Ossie Davis resonated through the crowded hall at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, as he read a message to the Emergency National Conference to Save Mumia Abu-Jamal. The message was from death row, from Mumia himself:
"An obvious, apparent truth screams at us: We're ona move! Every conflict, every confrontation, every clash leaves us stronger. We are growing! Every attack, every assault, every angry outburst rebounds to our favor. We are growing! We are broadening and deepening our movement, reaching a widening class and range of people. A movement, like life itself, moves. It doesn't stand still. We are trading punches; taking some shots for sure, but also giving them back. We are growing! And we shall win!"
Called at a crucial time--as Mumia's case enters the federal courts--this first broad national strategy meeting was, in the words of conference organizers, "marked by a spirit of unity and commitment to stop the execution of Mumia, an enthusiasm to tell Mumia's story, and a renewed sense of urgency to get Mumia's conviction overturned in federal district court."
More than 650 people attended the one-day conference--surpassing expectations of conference organizers--with some delegates stranded at airports as storms pounded the east coast and midwest. International participants arrived from Canada, England, France, Germany, Japan and Norway. Students arrived from NYU, Columbia, Barnard, Staten Island College, Kent State, Case Western Reserve, Swarthmore, Smith, Hampshire, Rutgers, Amherst, Temple, Wayne State, Howard Law, and high schools in Boston, Cincinnati, Oregon, Vermont, Maine, New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia.
With the filing of the habeas corpus appeal in federal court--under the shadow of a temporarily stayed death warrant--the struggle to stop the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal has entered an important new stage. Coming out of the conference people had a much better understanding of the significance and urgency around the upcoming federal court session on Mumia's habeas petition. Leonard Weinglass's statement that "the next 90 days will probably be the most critical time" in Mumia's whole struggle to date became the theme of the conference.
Chaired by Safiya Bukari of the Jericho Movement and Steve Wiser of the Bruderhof, the opening session of the conference featured a report from Leonard Weinglass, Mumia's lead attorney, on the status of the legal proceedings and the significance of the pending federal district court action.
With the refusal by the Pennsylvania courts to grant Mumia a new trial, the Federal District Court is now the only place where all the new evidence that the Pennsylvania state courts refused to allow into the record can be admitted--and therefore be available for examination in higher appeals. The higher courts--the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court--can outright refuse to hear appeals, or they can rule on them by affirming or overturning decisions of the Federal District Court. And for these reasons--the last chance to enter new evidence into the record and the fact that the higher courts can refuse to hear the case at all--this first level of the federal appeals process is an extremely important time in the fight to stop Mumia's execution.
"In April, Mumia will be present and we will have a major argument at that court date which will set out the rules which will govern Judge Yohn's review of this case," Weinglass explained. "Will he take on Judge Sabo's findings? Will he agree to have an additional hearing where witnesses could testify? Or will he refuse an additional hearing? Will he stand by Judge Sabo's findings? And this is a very critical juncture. I have to say that in the 18 years that Mumia has been on death row, the next 90 days will probably be the most critical time in that entire period."
Sam Jordan, Director of Amnesty International's Program to Abolish the Death Penalty, spoke to the political moment, placing Mumia's case as pivotal in stopping the death penalty in the U.S. Just two days before the conference Amnesty International released a major new report, "A Life in the Balance: The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal." Based on an exhaustive review of the trial transcripts, the report concluded that the procedures were "in violation of minimum international standards that govern fair trial procedures and the use of the death penalty" and concluded that Mumia should be granted a new trial.
Jordan made an interesting connection between the fight to stop Mumia's execution and the militant actions in Seattle that "bit into the swagger" of the World Trade Organization: "The movement to save the life of Mumia Abu-Jamal is part of this current atmosphere. We are a phenomenon that's shaping the public debate on capital punishment, shaping the public debate on issues of innocence, shaping the public debate on the behavior of the police departments all around the country.... Simply put, the task before us is to win a new trial and/or release for Mumia Abu-Jamal...."
A message to the conference from author Noam Chomsky set Mumia's case in the context of the outrageous abuse of the death penalty in the U.S.: "The case of Mumia Abu-Jamal has come to symbolize these crimes of state, and rightly so. More than ample reason has been presented to call for a new trial in this particular case, and to follow Mumia's honorable and courageous lead in challenging the entire system of judicial murder: the shameful mode of its application, and more deeply, the very principle."
Robert Meeropol, whose parents Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were executed because of their political beliefs in 1953, put a powerful punctuation point on the morning session, reading "A Letter to the Movement: The Next Critical Period in the Battle to Save Mumia Abu-Jamal": "We need to build the broadest movement possible in order to counter an opposition that remains powerful, dangerous, well organized, and poised to kill Mumia.... The next few months, leading up to the Federal District court's decision...must feature our best efforts, our strongest measures, our most creative energies."
With more than 650 people putting their heads together throughout the day, the conference offered a rare chance for people to exchange experience and strategize over how to take this struggle to a new level. From the San Francisco longshore shutdown of the docks for Mumia; to the Evergreen College graduation which grabbed national headlines with a taped address by Mumia; to the Oakland Teach-In where thousands of high school kids first learned about Mumia; to the veterans of Philly Freedom summer; to the radical youth from Germany who brought lessons from their massive mobilizations to stop the trains of nuclear waste in Europe; to the artists who participated in Mumia 911: a wealth of experience, energy and determination came together throughout the day.
Of major concern at this juncture is preparing so that the whole world is watching the upcoming hearings in Philly. As the RW wrote: "Going into these Federal District court hearings, it is crucial that the movement to stop Mumia's execution be `heard' in new ways--and with new scope. Throughout the U.S.--and around the world--we need to reach out so that millions of people believe that this execution should not happen, and there is a powerful and passionate movement of people for whom `this cannot happen.'"
The conference developed a common program of action for the coming months, including an emergency mobilization to Philadelphia for Mumia's appearance in federal court.
At the evening session, chaired by Leslie Jones of International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal and Jana Astrea of R&R! Youth Network, plans for the coming months were presented to the whole conference. Following a welcome to foreign guests by former Black Panther Party leader Kathleen Cleaver, Mark Taylor of Academics for Mumia Abu-Jamal gave a series of short reports from the workshops, presenting their major proposals and plans. Kai Barrow of the Free Mumia Coalition of NY presented plans for the Feb. 28 Civil Disobedience action at the U.S. Supreme Court and the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco--where more than 300 were later arrested in actions that made national news. (See RW No.1046)
Ramona Africa of MOVE and Joan Parkin from the Campaign to End the Death Penalty presented plans for a national mobilization to Philadelphia for the first day of oral arguments in federal district court. Monica Moorehead of the International Action Center presented plans for the May 7 Mobilization at Madison Square Garden for Mumia. Jeff Mackler of the Mobilization to Free Mumia in the San Francisco Bay Area presented plans for a West Coast mobilization on May 13.
Concluding remarks were given by Clark Kissinger of Refuse & Resist!: "We are not in the same place that we were this morning. We now have a deepened understanding of this critical moment in the battle. We are going forth in unity behind a battle plan for the next period, which you have all heard described this evening. And we have met with one another and forged new bonds of trust and understanding and raised the level of our communication and organization and that is no small success."
Throughout the day 19 workshops met, aimed at "developing a common orientation to this critical moment, expanding the range of forces in the struggle, and developing concrete plans to mobilize key constituencies and strategies for strengthening the movement for this next crucial phase of the battle in federal district court." People put their heads together to discuss the moratorium on the death penalty, how to build support for the case among lawyers, and how to break Mumia's story widely in the media.
More than 150 youth packed an auditorium to strategize on how to "make Mumia an issue that can't be ignored" on campuses and high schools across the country. A workshop on the Black Community and People of Color made plans to reach oppressed nationality communities with the urgency of Mumia's case and to involve national organizations to mobilize for the upcoming oral arguments in Philadelphia. Members of the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ and other religious figures mobilized an "inter-religious coalition for Mumia." High school and college professors were joined by others to discuss how to draw other educators into the struggle, with special attention on publishing a full-page "Educators for Mumia" ad in the New York Times. People new to the movement found the "411" at "Mumia 101," where the HBO video "A Case for Reasonable Doubt" was discussed and people were oriented on the issues involved. And artists met between sessions to plan their next move.
The story of Mumia Abu-Jamal is the story of a Black revolutionary and journalist under police surveillance for years; of a police department and court system that stands out for its racism, corruption, and brutality; of a war against Black radicals by powerful forces in the Philadelphia power structure; of a trial so racist and biased that it defiles every standard of fairness and justice; and of a man who refused to bow down or give in--and who, from his cell on death row, made his voice heard against the death penalty, the criminalization of the youth, the inhumanity of the prison system, and the living legacy of white supremacy in this United States of America.
And getting this story out to the people was a major theme of the conference--as people from very different political viewpoints addressed the injustices concentrated in Mumia's case and what are the stakes for the people in this battle.
Brendan Sexton III from the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and Supachai Wilson from the R&R Youth Network hosted as the conference moved to a powerful finale with a "Night for Justice for Mumia."
"Mumia has become a lightning rod, a symbol for all that is wrong with the death penalty in the United States today," Piers Bannister of Amnesty International UK and author of "A Life in the Balance: the Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal" told the audience at the final session of the conference. "I salute you for your tenacity." Bannister urged the delegates to use the Amnesty pamphlet to reach out broadly with this story of deep injustice.
Former death row prisoner Lawrence Hayes brought the power of his own experience to make the connection between Mumia's case and the 3500 death row prisoners in the U.S.A.
Philadelphia-based journalist and Temple University Professor Linn Washington, Jr. described "the killing fields" of Philadelphia during the 1970s when he and Mumia worked as journalists--a time when police brutality against Black people and the MOVE organization was rampant. Washington explained that Mumia was well known to the Philadelphia power structure as one of the few journalists who dared to tell the stories of the victims of the police during that time.
Michael Tarif Warren recalled how Mumia was a target of the FBI's COINTELPRO (Counterintelligence Program). Former Black Panther Party member Rosemari Mealey, who worked with Mumia in the Philadelphia chapter, and Pam Africa of International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal arrived from a visit with Mumia on death row. Pam called on people to prepare for the district hearings when Mumia will be in court. "We've got to be definitely in Philadelphia," Pam said, "And I'm saying we've got to be in the thousands. We have got to close that place down!"
Video scenes put together by the People's Video Network brought Mumia's story to life on the screen and Mumia's own writings came alive as actor Byrd Wilkins read from Live from Death Row. Poets Jessica Care Moore and Sharrif Simmons read original work, and Keith Antar Mason performed "9-1-1," a poem written for Mumia.
Throughout the conference, the trial of the cops who murdered Amadou Diallo was on everyone's mind. And Ramona Africa of MOVE told the audience: "The reason that these people, these cops, think that they can just do these things, the reason why Ridge and the FOP and other officials think that they are going to just kill Mumia is because they don't believe we're going to stop them. But we gonna make believers out of them... Mumia's case symbolizes everything that's wrong not only with the death penalty but with this system period, with the legal system, with police brutality, with racism, all across the board. And that's what we are taking a stand for. It just happens to be the name Mumia Abu-Jamal...."
As the conference came to a close, the amazing music of jazz duo Will Connell and Wilbur Morris hung in the air--like a heartbeat--as Will's words wove between the deep rhythms of his bass and the sweet sad notes of Wilbur's flute: "Mumia must live...Mumia must live...Mumia must live"
For more information about the conference, upcoming plans, and how to connect with the working groups and planning committees contact: www.j4mumia.org
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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