The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal and
the Case for Revolution
Revolutionary Worker #1054, May 14, 2000
Mumia Abu-Jamal has fought for the people his whole life. He joined the Black Panther Party at the age of 15, organizing in the streets and working on its newspaper during the late '60s and early '70s. Later he became a rare kind of journalist--one who insisted on telling the truth and giving voice to the voiceless.
In a politically motivated railroad, the justice system put him on death row--charged with the murder of a Philadelphia cop. There, Mumia not only stood firm but found ways to project his voice far beyond the prison walls. He has used his hard-won platform to fight, not just for himself, but for the thousands of others on death row. More than that, he exposed the causes that put him there.
Through all that time Mumia has supported the people's struggles around the world. He has listened to and defended the youth. He has never given up on his principles nor turned his back on the right of the people to make revolution. In other words, he has put the people first and showed his love for them in practice. He is, in sum, a revolutionary; in the words of our Party's Chairman, Bob Avakian, Mumia "embodies the highest interests of the people and inspires the masses in fighting for those interests."
The fact that someone like Mumia now sits on death row, the victim of a travesty of a trial, is itself an indictment of this system.
Mumia is not the first revolutionary to sit on death row. From the slave revolts of the 1800s to the fierce battles of workers that followed, from the Black liberation struggle of the 1960s and early '70s to the ongoing battles since then: America has always sought to silence, imprison and even kill those who defy its injustices, especially those who take up the cause of revolution. But the people have never just laid down for that, and the struggle to defend revolutionaries has run like a red vein through American history.
As in those past cases, many of those now coming forward to defend Mumia are youth. Many youth from the middle class learn about Mumia's case, or read his book, and in the process they begin to learn about the two million people in prison and the massively expanding death rows, for which the main qualifications are a dark skin, an empty wallet, or both.
Youth from the inner city come to this battle from a situation where they themselves are treated like criminals, where prison and police murder are facts of daily life. Through this battle and others, many of these youth come to see that this is not their fault, or the fault of their parents or their people, but it comes from an unjust system--the same system that is determined to silence forever a rare voice that recognizes their humanity: Mumia.
The more that people get involved, they come to learn that there have been Mumias before and there will be Mumias tomorrow-- beautiful revolutionary brothers and sisters who are hounded and persecuted--so long as this system continues to exist. They learn that the conditions that conspired to put Mumia on death row have long endured in America and are growing even more intense as we enter a new millennium.
Up Against the Capitalist Dictatorship
All this poses a sharp contradiction to what people are taught and told in school and by the media.
We're supposed to have "liberty and justice for all"...but Mumia sits on death row, and the cells of the prisons are a majority minority. Everyone's supposed to be "accountable before the law"...but the cops who killed Amadou Diallo, like thousands of killer cops before them, walked away. There's supposed to be "freedom of speech"...but Mumia's words were used to put him on death row, his radio commentaries were censored, and today the Fraternal Order of Police attempts to silence anyone who publicly questions Mumia's trial. What's going on here?
What's going on here is a lot of terrible injustice, but behind that injustice is something deeper--the reality of capitalist dictatorship in action. Dictatorship means that one class uses the power of the state (that is, the police, the army, the prisons, courts and so on) to protect their interests and to dominate other classes. Whether this takes the form of different leaders rotating through elections isn't the heart of the matter. It's about which CLASS wields the state machinery. And in this society, we live under a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.
Through this dictatorship the monopoly capitalist/imperialist class dominates every major decision--from how the resources of society are developed and used, to how the U.S. enforces its domination all over the world, to what the terms of public debate will be in the media. And the police are one of the key enforcers of that dictatorship.
So how does this relate to understanding Mumia's situation?
Let's go back to December 1981 and the cold Philadelphia street where police officer Daniel Faulkner stopped Billy Cook, a young Black man, for the crime of supposedly having a dangling license plate. In other words, for what is known today as "driving while Black." Let's go back to the instant when this cop--according to some of the prosecution's own witnesses--had Billy Cook spread-eagled on his car, beating him in the head with a weighted police flashlight.
Let's remember that this same sort of incident--a cop beating a Black man over bullshit--happens thousands of times a day in America. Let's remember the instances, documented in the Stolen Lives book, where these beatings have escalated into torture and even murder. Let's remember Johnny Gammage and Anthony Baez and LaTanya Haggerty and Danny Garcia and now Patrick Dorismond--all of whom lost their lives in similar encounters with the cops. And let's remember Philadelphia's own Moises DeJesus, an unarmed Puerto Rican man killed by the police in 1994--beaten to death with police flashlights and batons.
Who and what was Daniel Faulkner serving and protecting when he beat the unarmed Billy Cook? Was he serving the people by beating on a man who had done nothing to harm anyone? Was he protecting the people from the terrible menace of "dangling license plates"? Or was he protecting a system which has, since day one, used different kinds of socially sanctioned violence to keep the Black masses, as well as other oppressed nationalities, in a suppressed and subordinate position--right down to today, when African-American people are overwhelmingly proletarians, exploited by the capitalists?
The Philadelphia Enforcers
Let's not forget that Daniel Faulkner had for five years been part of a bigger institution--the Philadelphia police force, notorious for their racism and brutality.
Who and what was this police force serving and protecting in 1967, when they launched an unprovoked bloody assault on Black students demanding that the school board include courses in Black history? This was an assault so sadistic that even members of the school board felt compelled to disassociate themselves from it.
Who and what were the police serving and protecting when they raided the Black Panther Party in 1970--stripping them naked in front of the press--with the aim of preventing a national gathering called by the BPP for Philadelphia?
Who and what were they protecting in 1985, when they dropped a bomb on members of MOVE who refused to be evicted, killing 13 people and burning down an entire neighborhood in the process?
In every case, this police department used their sticks, their guns and even their bombs to crush political resistance and to protect the interests of the powers-that-be.
This is dictatorship, capitalist dictatorship, not just in theory but in bloody practice. And ALL of these cops, including Daniel Faulkner, were and are the willing and enthusiastic instruments of that dictatorship.
And let's not forget that on that night in 1981, Mumia Abu-Jamal was well known to the police as a revolutionary opponent of the system in Philadelphia for years. Who and what was Daniel Faulkner protecting when he shot Mumia Abu-Jamal in the chest for coming to the aid of his brother? And who and what were the prosecutor and the judge at Mumia's trial defending when they railroaded Mumia to death row?
Another Reason to Make Revolution
These examples don't even take into account the "everyday" brutality of the Philadelphia police. During the 1970s, according to long-time Philadelphia journalist Linn Washington, Jr., the Philadelphia police shot to death at least 162 people, most of whom were not involved in a violent felony and were running away when shot dead.
Who and what was being protected by this diet of wholesale terror and murder? Who was being protected in the early '90s, when the Philadelphia police falsified evidence to put at least 137 innocent people in jail, including an African-America grandmother?
This is a police force that got so over-the-top that even the federal government had to make a show of pretending to step in back in the 1970s and tell them to rein it in a bit. (The results of this "federal intervention" could be seen a few years later, when the FBI assisted the Philly police in the 1985 MOVE bombing!)
This is why proletarian people, in Philly and elsewhere, call these cops what they are--PIGS.
Or to put it more scientifically, if you really study the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, you will come to understand that the police are instruments of brutality and intimidation used to prop up the capitalist system.
If people seriously look at Mumia's case, and all the circumstances surrounding it, they will begin to see the way in which the so-called criminal justice system is intimately linked to the oppression of Black people.
And if people can take a hard look at these cops on the one hand, and all their dirty deeds, and Mumia on the other--courageously continuing to fight from death row--they will be moved to see that there is a lot at stake for the future in stopping the execution of Mumia.
When the Revolutionary Communist Party looks at Mumia's case, we see one more reason why this system has to be swept away. We see one more reason for revolution--armed proletarian revolution, to be specific, in which the proletariat leads all the others who can be united to overthrow this system.
Who's Scared of Whom?
The Philly cops have organized a national campaign to not only KILL Mumia, but to suppress resistance from the people to stop the execution. They're so brazen they've even got a website listing the names of anyone who's dared to question Mumia's conviction and/or sentence, singling people out for boycotts and other forms of intimidation. They've mobilized cops across the country, like the ones in Massachusetts who arrested dozens of people at a Rage Against the Machine concert for the "crime" of refusing their nasty leaflets. And recently, when students at Antioch College invited Mumia to send a taped message to their graduation, according to the college president, the college received "e-mail and letters...filled with threats and intimidation on the part of law enforcement officers."
But all of this intimidation raises a question: Just what are these police afraid of here? Why are they so frantic? Why won't they even publicly debate? And more important, what is the U.S. power structure afraid of?
Are they afraid that more people will learn how the cops made up stories of a false confession in order to frame Mumia--how they threatened and bribed witnesses to change their stories in order to convict him? Does the power structure worry that this will further damage the credibility of their enforcers in society?
Are they afraid that more people will learn that Mumia's political views were twisted around and brought out in his sentencing hearing in order to convince the jury to sentence him to death? Do they worry that this will expose the political nature of their courts?
Are they worried that people will find out that Mumia's judge has sentenced 26 other people of color to death row--and begin to wonder why? Do they worry that the whole sickening travesty--the outrage of 18 years on death row with no justice, will make millions of people in the middle classes take a different view of the courts and lead many white people to question how African-Americans are treated in the criminal justice system?
Are they scared that those on the bottom, the proletariat, will learn Mumia's story and see a kindred soul and a champion for the poor sitting on death row? Do they worry that the proletarian people will become aroused and angry and bring their daring and determination onto the political stage and galvanize society--as they did in the '60s and in the 1992 Los Angeles Rebellion?
Are they afraid that the youth will rise up and turn the schools and campuses and streets into bastions of struggle to stop the execution--and that tens of thousands of youth will get politicized toward revolution in the process?
Do they worry that the more the truth gets out and the more that people take this on, the more people will not only begin resisting the entire reactionary agenda of today, but also start to target the system itself?
In fact, the power structure is concerned about how this case could reverberate throughout society. They are vicious--and that top to bottom viciousness is one big reason why we say that nothing short of proletarian revolution can deal with the problems of the people. But vicious as they are, they are also VULNERABLE: in fact the two go together. They oppress a lot of people in a lot of different ways--and they can't afford to let people see the real source of their problems--and the real solution to them--lest a revolutionary movement begin to spread.
And it is now up to the people to make the power structure sorry they ever put Mumia Abu-Jamal on death row--and to make them sorry enough that they back up off this execution and admit that he did not receive a fair trial.
The Fight for Mumia and Preparing for Revolution
We did not choose this battle ground--the ruling class threw down a challenge to the people when they railroaded Mumia Abu-Jamal to death row. But in many ways the struggle to stop the execution of Mumia concentrates some really crucial questions for the revolution.
This case brings people face to face with some hard realities about the system: that there is no justice in this society; that the police and the justice system are corrupt and brutal instruments of a class society that needs to keep Black people down in order to function; that the death penalty is part of enforcing the dictatorship of a class of global exploiters.
And through this battle, millions of people, including many people in the middle class, can open their eyes to these injustices and take a stand--and even begin to question the whole system.
This process is not only crucial to saving the life of Mumia Abu-Jamal, but we Maoists see it as part of preparing the ground for revolution--to create more favorable conditions and new alliances--and build up the revolutionary forces.
We Maoists have a basic stand towards the enemy's viciousness: DARE TO STRUGGLE, DARE TO WIN.
In terms of what they're going to throw at Mumia and the people who support the fight for justice, you could say, "We ain't seen nothin' yet." But the enemy is also vulnerable, and "they ain't seen nothin' yet" in terms of the power of the people. In one sense, this fight has gone on a long time, for years; in another and more profound sense, we're just now getting to the crucial rounds.
Mumia is not a revolutionary communist, but he does believe in revolution against the system, and, from his standpoint, he has stood with the people consistently. He has awakened youth to question the world as it is and to dream of a new one. For all these reasons, Mumia is precious to the people.
We have defended Mumia, we have learned from Mumia, and we do not intend to let the executioner's hand stop that! As far as we're concerned, this execution CANNOT happen. We're going to continue to fight in this movement, uniting with others who have very different viewpoints to increase its broadness, diversity and determination. We are going to continue to help the people escalate the struggle and do what is needed. And we vow to make every outrage in this battle another nail in the coffin of the imperialists.
To make revolution you have to have a vision. We can see this vision in the Maoist people's wars in Nepal and Peru and other places where the people are taking up arms against imperialism. And we can catch glimpses of that vision in the battle around Mumia.
When people of all nationalities put it on the line in this battle--whether getting arrested or fighting the police or risking their position by just speaking out--we can start to see a new world where people join together to concretely battle racism in all its forms.
When students demand of their teachers to learn about Mumia's case, or when college students demand that Mumia speak at their graduation, we can imagine a society where the youth critically examine everything and go into action to change whatever is unjust.
When major bands and artists put out songs or create art that enlightens us and inspires us to struggle, you can envision a culture that really serves the people in their quest to know and change the world.
When students in Mexico get arrested at the U.S. embassy raising a demand for Mumia, as happened in December, we sense the outlines of a world where the people of every nation transcend borders and boundaries in a common cause.
These are all embryos of a better world--and the stepping stones to seize that future when the time is ripe to bring that better world to birth.
So when we unite with people--from many different points of view to stop the execution of Mumia--we are coming from this revolutionary place. We see the fight to stop the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal as part of a struggle against the whole system that puts such fine revolutionary people on death row and brings untold suffering around the planet.
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.)