Exposing Time

Some Thoughts on the New Media Attacks on Mumia

By C. Clark Kissinger

Revolutionary Worker #1069, September 3, 2000

In the week of the Republican National Convention, three major media attacks on Mumia appeared. The most significant was the essay in Time magazine (7/31/00) by Steve Lopez. But there was also a column in the Chicago Tribune by Eric Zorn (7/31/00) and the editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer (8/1/00).

The first thing to note about these attacks is that they are a tribute to the progress that we have made in the movement for justice for Mumia. These writers all felt the need to inoculate their readership against the growing Mumia movement. If Mumia had not become an issue in society, and such a major issue in the new debate on the death penalty, there would be no need for these attacks to appear.

The second thing to note is that all three attacks were framed in terms designed to split, rather than attack head on, the rising movement against the death penalty. "Wrong Guy, Good Cause" says Lopez in Time. "The wrong emblem," says the Inquirer. Zorn says the effort should be going to "one of the genuinely innocent residents of Death Row," not to Mumia.

And, all three complain about the Republican Convention being called the "Executioners' Ball"! It seems that truth really stung them, since there is no ignoring the fact that three Republican governors alone, the Bush brothers plus host governor Tom Ridge, preside over 30% of the death row inmates in the United States.

Let's take a look at the Lopez essay in Time, since it is in many ways the most representative. Lopez puts forward what the prosecution side has now settled on as their strongest public arguments:

1) The factual evidence is conclusive.
2) Mumia had a good lawyer, but he deliberately sabotaged his own trial.
3) If Mumia is really innocent, why doesn't he just tell us what happened that night?

All this is topped off with a generous serving of Maureen Faulkner.

Here we should point out once again that Maureen Faulkner is not a party to this case. Why doesn't Lopez pose Mumia against Judge Sabo, whose bias set the tone of the whole fraudulent trial in 1982? Why doesn't Lopez set Mumia against Ed Rendell, who was the District Attorney not only when Mumia was tried, but when the MOVE house was bombed by police in 1985, killing eleven people and burning down 61 homes? The answer is that Maureen provides an emotional sop-- someone to sympathize with--since people can hardly sympathize with the ugly records of Sabo and Rendell.

Let's look at Lopez's second point first. Here Lopez got a thorough briefing from the DA's office. A major issue in Mumia's current appeal in federal court is the ineffectiveness of his court-appointed lawyer. This lawyer (Anthony Jackson) was totally unprepared for trial by his own admission, failed to interview a single witness before putting them on the stand, failed to bring potentially exculpatory evidence before the jury, failed to call any witnesses in mitigation during the penalty phase, engaged in totally improper discussions with the judge and prosecutor in the judge's chambers, and was subsequently disbarred. These facts provide a powerful argument for why Mumia is entitled to a new trial.

The only response that the state has to the total malfeasance of the defense attorney and the court's refusal to allow Mumia to defend himself is to claim that it's all Mumia's fault! According to the prosecution's feeble argument, Mumia had an outstanding attorney who did his best to represent Mumia's wishes, but was crippled by Mumia's insistence on making it into a political trial.

According to Lopez, Mumia's court-appointed attorney (now an ex-attorney) was a regular Clarence Darrow. "I went to see the attorney, who told me that he had handled about 20 homicides but that Abu-Jamal demanded a political rather than legal defense."

Let's take a look at this. First Lopez scales down the usual claim a little. The prosecution and their hired pens have been claiming for years that Tony Jackson had been the defense attorney in 20 capital cases. Now it's scaled down to 20 homicides, but the fact remains that nobody has been able to name a single one of them. Not even Tony Jackson. Let's take a look at what Jackson had to say about his seven years as a lawyer before Mumia's trial. Jackson testified under oath in 1995:

Q. And in the seven years since you graduated law school and were admitted in 1974 and the time that you started the defense of Mr. Jamal, as I understand your answers to Mr. Grant, you worked for the District Attorney's Office for a brief period of time, for a Federal monitor, and for a public interest office: is that correct?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. And in those seven years when you held those positions, do you recall how many death penalty hearings you were involved in?

A. One as co-counsel and I believe -- excuse me-- two others as counsel.

(July 31, 1995, page 76)

When asked to name one of the three cases, Jackson couldn't remember and went on to admit that for the three years prior to being on Mumia's case he was working for a public interest law office that handled civil suits. There is simply no way that Tony Jackson could have defended 20 homicide cases in this period, nor did he dare make that claim under oath.

Further, in the 1995 hearings, the points that Jackson stressed were that he was unprepared for the trial, that he asked for more time and was denied it, and that he was not given enough money by the court to hire the necessary experts. These are the reasons that Jackson gave under oath for his less than adequate performance at trial.

So what about Lopez's claim that Mumia wanted to pursue a political strategy? That's true. It was a political case from the beginning. Both the prosecution and Mumia wanted to pursue political strategies, but only the prosecution got the chance to do so. Mumia was effectively prevented from pursuing any strategy at all. He was prevented from representing himself. He was saddled with a defense attorney that he did not trust for good reasons (see the amicus brief filed by the Chicana/Chicano Studies Foundation for details). He was prevented from having a lay advisor whom he did trust at the defense table with him. And he was regularly removed from the courtroom whenever he attempted to cross-examine witnesses.

According to Lopez, "He made political speeches, was removed from the courtroom." Here is a typical "political speech" -- in this scene Mumia is attempting to cross-examine Priscilla Durham, a security guard at the hospital who testified that she heard Mumia shout out a confession:

THE DEFENDANT: Miss Durham, why did you wait until February the 2nd to make your statement?

THE COURT: Okay. Mr. Jamal, it is obvious to the Court that you intend to disrupt the proceedings in front of the jury.

THE DEFENDANT: I am not disrupting. It's obvious I intend to defend myself.

THE COURT: And once again I am removing you from the courtroom.

(June 24, 1982, page 89)

In contrast to Mumia's attempts to cross-examine witnesses and his demands that he be allowed to conduct his own defense, it was the prosecution who quoted from political statements made by Mumia 12 years earlier in its argument to the jury that Mumia should receive the death sentence.

Next let's look at Lopez's third point, that "no one can dispute this crowning absurdity: the only two people who know exactly what happened on Dec. 9, 1981, have refused to utter a single word of explanation." Well I can dispute it.

First, Mumia refused to testify in his original trial for very good reasons. On the last day of the guilt phase of the trial, he was brought back into the courtroom and told that he had the "right" to take the stand and testify. This was his response:

THE DEFENDANT: My answer is that I have been told from the duration of this trial, the beginning of the trial, the inception of the trial, that I had a number of constitutional rights. Chiefly among them the right to represent myself. The right to select a jury of my peers. The right to face witnesses and examine them based on information they have given. Those rights were taken from me. It seems the only right that this judge and the members of the court want to confer is my right to take the stand, which is no right at all. I want all of my rights, not some of them. I don't want it piecemeal, I want my right to represent myself and I want my right to make closing argument. I want my rights in this courtroom because my life is on the line and I don't want no gift.

(July 1, 1982 p. 41)

Here Mumia was absolutely correct. The "right" to speak and be cross-examined, in the absence of his other supposedly guaranteed rights, is a sham and hollow mockery of justice.

In the sentencing phase, on the last day of the trial, Mumia summed it up:

"Every so-called "right" was deceitfully stolen from me by Sabo. My demand that the defense assistance of my choice, John Africa, be allowed to sit at the defense table was repeatedly denied. While, meanwhile, in a City Hall courtroom just four floors directly above, a man charged with murder sits with his lawyer, and his father, who just happens to be a Philadelphia policeman. The man, white, was charged with beating a black man to death, and came to court to have his bail revoked, after being free for several weeks. His bail was revoked after a public outcry in the black community about the granting of bail at all. Of course, my bail, a ransom of $250,000.00, was revoked one day after it was issued. For one defendant everything is granted. For another, everything is denied. . . .

"I am innocent of these charges that I have been charged of and convicted of, and despite the connivance of Sabo, McGill and Jackson to deny me my so-called rights to represent myself, to assistance of my choice, to personally select a jury who's totally of my peers, to cross-examine witnesses, and to make both opening and closing arguments, I am still innocent of these charges."

(July 3, 1982, page 13-16)

The prosecution and their hired pens think it is very clever to demand now that Mumia give a public accounting of what happened on the night that both Mumia and Officer Faulkner were shot. This is nothing but a demand that the prosecution be given a free preview of the defense case as a condition for (maybe) getting a new trial! Not even a first-year law student would fall for that. If you want to hear Mumia's testimony, then give him a fair trial with all his procedural rights.

And does anyone think for a minute that if Mumia did give the details of his testimony in advance of a trial, that all these journalists attacking Mumia would suddenly say, "Well, that sure does put a new light on things. I can certainly see now why he deserves a new trial"? Of course not. They would simply brand anything that Mumia said as self-serving propaganda that was not made under oath in a court of law!

And what about the testimony of Billy Cook, Mumia's brother. Billy indeed did not testify in the 1982 sham trial. The reason is pretty obvious. He was one of two Black men involved in a physical altercation with a white police officer who was killed. Billy had every reason to fear that if he came forward to testify for the defense, he would also be charged in the killing of Officer Faulkner. If the state was so hot to get his testimony, why didn't they subpoena him and put him on the stand?

In 1996 Billy approached Mumia's new defense team about testifying in the hearings for a new trial for Mumia. But then the state announced that if he did come into court he would be arrested on an old warrant. This was no idle threat, since Veronica Jones was arrested as she stepped off the witness stand after testifying for Mumia.

Billy backed out at the last minute, fearing what might happen to him if he testified for Mumia and was then taken into police custody. Our pen-for-hire Lopez might not think that is a very good reason, but young Black males in Philadelphia may have a different assessment.

As to Lopez's first claim, that the facts are conclusive, he simply repeats the well-known prosecution claims as if they were fact (ignoring the mountains of evidence that contradict the "official story"), with one interesting exception. The claim that Mumia confessed is now totally missing! Missing from Lopez, missing from the Inquirer editorial, missing from Eric Zorn's column. Can it be that the phony confession story has finally become too absurd for even those who accept the prosecution's story to repeat with a straight face?

Lopez winds down with the now ritual attack on the various prominent people who have come forward to demand justice for Mumia ("a parade of celebrities"). He talks about everyone from masked Danish protesters to the Beastie Boys, but he studiously avoids the detailed report published by Amnesty International. Entitled "A Life in the Balance: The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal," the report examines the gross improprieties in Mumia's 1982 trial, and concludes that he deserves a new and fair trial.

This is the same Amnesty International that the U.S. government regularly cites when criticizing other governments around the world. Have they suddenly lost all credibility when they point out abuses in the United States? Or is this just too embarrassing for Lopez to mention?

Finally, what about Lopez's claim that the prominence of Mumia's case will only hurt the struggle against the death penalty? In responding to Marc Cooper earlier this year I wrote:

"How would the execution of Jamal--and Jamal will be executed without a continuing and intensified movement--help to end the death penalty and promote social justice? Wouldn't a victory in the case of Jamal save an advocate for those on death row and the oppressed more generally, wouldn't it energize the movement for social justice, wouldn't it provide hope for the hopeless, and wouldn't it be a big defeat for the entire agenda and machinery of punishment and death that sets the terms in this country? It's not the war, but it's a hell of an important battle and it's one we'd better go all out to win."

The truth of the matter is that Mumia Abu-Jamal is not only an eloquent critic of the death penalty, but a spokesperson for a whole new generation of critics, many of whom have been brought into the battle through his case. The death penalty is never fought in the abstract, but in the actual cases that are thrown up by history and which come to concentrate the issues before society.

The danger to the death penalty movement is NOT that millions of people worldwide have become awakened to the reality of state-sponsored death in the United States through the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. The danger lies in those who would, in the name of opposing the death penalty in a more pristine manner, lend their voices to the ugly forces intent on strapping Mumia to a gurney and silencing his voice forever.

(August 21, 2000)

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