Enemy of the State
From Panther to Voice of the Voiceless
by Mike Ely
Revolutionary Worker #1076, October 29, 2000, rwor.org
"They don't just want my death, they want my silence."
On August 8, 1978, Mayor Frank Rizzo was in a combative mood at a special afternoon press conference in Philadelphia's City Hall. Just hours before, Rizzo's police had staged a massive raid on the home of the radical MOVE organization on Powelton Avenue. After attacking the house with intense gunfire, tear gas and a flood of water, police arrested the MOVE members and publicly beat Delbert Africa as he surrendered.
At City Hall, Rizzo was blunt with the press: he expected them to close ranks in support of police actions. Then, from the crowded pack of reporters, a young Black journalist spoke out in the resonant tones of a radio broadcaster. He raised pointed questions about the official police story Rizzo had just laid out.
Mayor Rizzo exploded in fury and spat out a thinly veiled threat: "They believe what you write, and what you say, and it's got to stop. And one day--and I hope it's in my career--that you're going to have to be held responsible and accountable for what you do."2
The journalist who challenged Rizzo that day was Mumia Abu-Jamal. He had spent a decade exposing the racism of Philadelphia's police and legal system.
On December 9, 1981, three years after this press conference, at the age of 27, Mumia Abu-Jamal fell into the hands of the police. He was shot, almost killed by a police bullet, arrested, and repeatedly brutalized in custody. And then, in a trial borrowed from Kafka or Alice's Wonderland, he was condemned to death for the shooting of policeman Daniel Faulkner.
Mumia Abu-Jamal has not spent a day in freedom since. He is now on Death Row--defying the sterile isolation of the SCI Greene prison: writing, speaking out, and opening the eyes of a new generation to the injustices of the system.
Prominent political figures in Pennsylvania's political and legal establishment made their start in the machine of Philadelphia's notorious Mayor Frank Rizzo. They built their careers on the suppression of radical forces within the city's Black community. Among them are Ed Rendell, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and Ron Castille who now sits on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The 1981 imprisonment of Mumia Abu-Jamal is a skeleton in their closet. And they have worked, at every turn, to keep their cover-ups intact and put him to death.3
The story of Mumia Abu-Jamal is the story of a young revolutionary journalist who dared to challenge the notorious brutality and corruption of Philadelphia's power structure--and who was railroaded onto death row in a stark exercise of political persecution.
This is a story of profound injustice. And there is the danger of an ultimate injustice: the execution of this political prisoner. With Mumia's case at a critical point in the legal appeal process, what people say and do about this case is a matter of life and death.
Most media discussion of Mumia repeats the official version of events, as crafted by Philadelphia prosecutors and promoted by the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). Mumia is described as a "convicted cop-killer" who was caught red-handed, sentenced with due process, given elaborate chance to appeal, and now faces a deserved execution.4 Every part of this official story defies the facts.
A crucial argument in this official version is the claim Mumia could not have been a victim of political repression-- that he was not seen as a significant threat to the system--when he was arrested in 1981.
But the life and work of Mumia Abu-Jamal in the years before 1981 tell a different story.
The City of Brotherly Love
During the great African American migrations of the twentieth century, hundreds of thousands of Black people moved north from the Deep South to the sprawling industrial city of Philadelphia. They came looking for factory jobs and a new life. They found themselves locked into ghettos in this aging city's most rundown districts. Whole parts of town were off limits. A Black person who dared go there, especially after dark, faced beatings and even murder from white gangs and the police.
Mumia Abu-Jamal was born in 1954 and grew up in the Black projects of North Philadelphia. By the time Wesley Cook (as Mumia was then called) was old enough to study the world around him, Black people in the U.S. were engaged in an historic confrontation with segregation and the brutality that enforced it. A restless wind blew into Philadelphia where Black people were a quarter of the city's two million people.
In August 1964, police tried to arrest a Black motorist and the crowd of onlookers militantly came to her defense. For three days, rebellion ruled in Philadelphia's Black community. The Police Commissioner pulled the police back on the first night. His second in command, an ambitious cop named Frank Rizzo, denounced the Commissioner for cowardice. Rizzo insisted that cops should have been sent into the Black community with explicit permission to kill.5
The city authorities agreed, and Frank Rizzo was tapped to prepare the police for future unrest. He rapidly expanded the department's "Civil Defense" political spying unit. He turned the small anti-robbery "Stake-out Squad" into a militarized sniper unit with 115 members.6 Over and over, he sent his police to attack centers of activism and resistance.
In 1966, Rizzo led heavily armed raids on four offices in North Philadelphia associated with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. In 1967, newly appointed as Police Commissioner, Rizzo personally ordered club-wielding cops to attack a peaceful demonstration of 3,500 Black high school students. Many were severely beaten.7
Taking a Stand
At the other pole of this polarized city, the teenager Wesley Cook threw himself into the movement with fearless enthusiasm. When segregationist Governor George Wallace brought his 1968 presidential campaign to Philadelphia, Mumia and his friends decided to protest at the rally in a whites-only area of South Philly. They stood in their seats there and raised clenched fists. They were spat on by the racist crowd and forced out by helmeted police.
Mumia writes: "We gathered at the bus station to get on the 'C' for North Philly. But before we could board, we were attacked by a group of white men. One of them had a lead and leather slapjack. Out armed and out numbered, we fought back, but four teens were no match for eight to ten grown men. I was grabbed by two of them, one kicking my skull while the other kicked me in the balls. Then I looked up and saw the two-toned, gold-trimmed pant leg of a Philly cop. Without thinking, and reacting from years of brainwashing, I yelled, 'Help, police!' The cop saw me on the ground being beaten to a pulp, marched over briskly--and kicked me in the face. I have been thankful to that faceless cop ever since, for he kicked me straight into the Black Panther Party."8
In 1969, when Mumia joined the campaign to rename his school Malcolm X High, the FBI and the Philadelphia political police squad started keeping records on him, using informants and wiretaps. In the following years, their file would grow to over 800 pages.9
Minister of Information
"That for me was a definite psychological hook, to see a group of young Black men fighting to defend themselves and their communities from police aggression. Knowing as I did precisely what police brutality was, I was sensitized, open, to hear their appeal. A group of young guys got together and we began writing out to California to get copies of the Panther paper, and rented a office in the heart of North Philadelphia..."
Fifteen-year-old Wesley Cook helped found the Philadelphia chapter of the Black Panther Party. His new adopted name, Mumia, soon appeared on articles in the Black Panther newspaper.
Impatient with cosmetic reforms, the Panthers demanded a revolutionary change in the conditions of Black people. They accused the police of acting as an "occupying army" in Black communities and advocated resistance to police attacks, including armed self-defense when necessary.
In 1969, Philadelphia police killed a mentally retarded Black youth. Rosemari Mealy, one of Mumia's Panther comrades, remembers the impact of Mumia's words, "He spoke to the murdered youth's family and began to write in a prolific manner of this and other wrongdoings of the Philadelphia police (having himself been a victim of their brutality). When flyers and posters appeared overnight in every Black neighborhood all over the city, Black folks responded to the Party's agitation and organizing around the youth's death.... His writings conveyed an interpretation of the daily reality of an entire community under siege and terrorized by a racist police force and a police chief who condoned their actions and openly advocated `white power.'"11
Years later, on Pennsylvania's death row, Mumia wrote: "I learned the craft quite well, except for one thing: I never learned how to kowtow to state power. I wrote and reported, not from the perspective of the privileged, not from the position of the established, but from the consciousness of oppression and from the awareness of resistance."12 The FBI took note, and added Mumia's name to the ADEX index of those persons to be rounded up and interned in a national emergency.
Mumia writes, "At the risk of sounding obvious, the information that was put out by our office was less than glowing reports on the Philadelphia Police Department. In fact, they dealt with the real clear campaign of historical repression that had been happening against Black people and poor people in Philadelphia for years, and years, and years. I had been threatened as a Panther years ago. I had been arrested several times. Our offices had been raided. So I was not a nonentity--I was a known quantity even in my youth, in my teenage years."13
In Philadelphia, police raided the three Panther offices a week before the local chapter was scheduled to host a national conference. They used a recent, unrelated killing of two cops as their pretext. Rizzo's Stake-Out Unit lined Panthers up against a wall at gunpoint and forced them to strip naked in the street. The next day, this deliberate humiliation was replayed on the front pages of Philadelphia's press.
Shortly afterward, 16-year-old Mumia gave an interview to the Philadelphia Inquirer in which he said: "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."14
Twelve years later, during Mumia's 1982 sentencing hearing, prosecutor Joseph McGill would offer this quote, "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun," to the jury--as evidence that Mumia had a motive and a premeditated intention to kill Daniel Faulkner in December 1981 and that Mumia therefore deserved the maximum penalty: execution.15
On the Air in Rizzo's Philadelphia
"As I see it, other cities could use Rizzo's ideas."
President Richard Nixon16
"I brought my old skills to the new job, and learned some new skills while there. From the old job, I learned perspective; from the new job, I learned phrasing, brevity, clarity and formatting. From the old job came writing skills that captured the voice of the downtrodden, and from the new job came a knowledge of the power and potential of radio."
"Mumia was, and is, a very sensitive, committed and thorough journalist. And his journalistic focus in large part was issues involving the inner city, involving the conflicts and tensions between those on the bottom of our society and those running it, and pretty much the daily affairs of the city."
Linn Washington veteran reporter and Temple University journalism professor18
In the early 1970s, the tide of the Black Liberation struggle receded. And yet, the social injustices of the U.S. remained unresolved. In Philadelphia a harsh counterrevolution reigned.
Frank Rizzo became Mayor in 1972, after a campaign of small "off the record" meetings where he called for "law and order" against "wild animals loose on the streets." According to former mayor Richardson Dilworth, "Every slogan--all the off-the-record talks--they're all based on one thing. Really, he says at all these off-the-record meetings, 'I know how to keep the blacks in their place.' "19
The power structure of Philadelphia embraced this program. It is no exaggeration to say that during the 1970s, Philadelphia was consolidated as a sordid police state.
In this hostile climate, Mumia was determined to continue his activism, even if the Black Panther Party had broken apart. Now 20 years old, Mumia became a reporter on the city's radio stations, starting in 1974 with a community affairs talk show at Temple University's WRTI-FM. For Mumia Abu-Jamal, radio journalism was to be a new "radical ministry of ideas, a ministry of information."20
His skills as a writer, his trained resonant voice, and his deep ties to the people of the city soon brought him a series of offers from larger radio stations. He moved on to reporting the news on the Black radio stations WDAS and working as news director at WHAT-AM.
To make a living, Mumia later decided to cross over to top-40 radio, joining WPEN News. Mumia notes that this new job paid more for a weekend midnight-to-six skeleton shift than Black radio paid for a five-day work week. His new boss found the name Mumia Abu-Jamal "a bit too ethnic for our audience," and insisted that Mumia adopt a new professional name. So, on the air, Mumia became "William Wellington Cole." Even so, Mumia says, "I used my white voice, but kept my black soul."21
With Mumia at the microphone, listeners got mind-opening reports about oppression and resistance in Philadelphia and around the world. He writes: "Through numerous contacts in the progressive and radical movements, it was possible to cover press conferences or demonstrations from a wide range of social change communities. These voices too would enrich the usually bland 'from city hall today' approach to my news coverage. This required a bottom-up, as opposed to a top-down, perspective on the news."22
Mumia exposed the efforts to remove Black people from Whitman Park, one of the few integrated communities in South Philadelphia. His broadcasts reported on grassroots challenges to Rizzo's grip on the city government and the local Democratic party machine. When Rizzo tried to change the city charter so he could run for a third term, Mumia reported on the opposition.23 Mumia's radio news included coverage of the liberation struggles in Palestine and southern Africa.24 He interviewed Alex Haley and Puerto Rican independence fighters.
Mumia's whole life had prepared him for the dangerous job of using the radio news to expose Philadelphia's uncontrolled epidemic of police brutality. During Mumia's years on the radio, fatal shootings by Philadelphia police increased by about 20 percent annually. Individual Philadelphia cops were thirty-seven times more likely than New York cops to shoot unarmed people who were running away from them.25 Frame-ups were routine and often based on beaten confessions, planted evidence, coerced witnesses, and a complicit judiciary. As this came to light, in the stories of ordinary people and then increasingly in the reports of federal inquiries, Mumia wove the evidence into his radio news reports.
At the grassroots, Mumia started to be called "The Voice of the Voiceless."
Mumia's work as a reporter emerged as an issue when an article in Vanity Fair magazine suggested that Mumia played no visible role opposing police brutality in Philadelphia and therefore could not have faced political persecution in 1981.26 That article, "The Famous and the Dead," quotes William Marimow, a reporter who wrote a 1978 series on police misconduct for The Philadelphia Inquirer. "'I was very attuned to everyone who wrote about Philadelphia police violence,' says Marimow, now the managing editor of the Baltimore Sun. 'This guy [meaning Mumia] didn't register a blip on my radar screen.'"
This statement reveals less about Mumia than it does about the insulation and separations of a highly segregated U.S. city. Linn Washington, a veteran investigative reporter in Philadelphia who knew Mumia since 1974, responded to Marimow: "His comment is reflective of that philosophical parlor game, 'If a tree falls in the forest when no one's around, is there sound?' Well, of course there's sound. Mumia covered police brutality. Marimow just didn't hear it. At that time, this period of 76-77, Mumia won awards from community groups for his coverage of police brutalities. I know because I won one too, and was at the program with him."
Linn continued, "People in the Black community and in the Hispanic community -- those two communities that were being most directly impacted on a daily basis -- were very familiar with Mumia's coverage of police brutality, were very familiar with Mumia's coverage of housing issues, housing policy issues, the discriminatory use of federal housing resources by the Rizzo administration."27
Police Raid on Powelton Avenue
"When MOVE people said anything, if you looked in the Daily News or the Inquirer or the leading newspapers of the day, or the Bulletin or the Journal of those times, you would find that MOVE members said 'a mouthful of rhetoric.' That was always the pat phrase they would use when they were describing allegedly what MOVE people said. They wouldn't quote what MOVE people said. And I thought that not only was it politically dangerous, but it was 'journalistically inappropriate' to do so. I mean, politicians live and die by rhetoric, however you can't open up a newspaper without getting an exact quote of what a given politician, be he president, mayor, police chief, or judge, says every day. So it was important from a radical journalistic liberation perspective to hear what they had to say and to report what they said in their own words."
"When them cops did crazy stuff, and Mumia was around, he wasn't 'a journalist' walking with you. You knew you had somebody there with you -- without it even being said."
Pam Africa, International Concerned29
Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal
In Philadelphia in the mid-1970s, Mumia's work brought him into contact with the MOVE organization. MOVE, a radical utopian largely-Black organization, was formed the year Rizzo took over City Hall. Its members lived together in communal homes as an extended family, adopting the common surname Africa, and wore their hair natural, in dreadlocks. In 1974, from their base in West Philadelphia's Powelton Village, MOVE started speaking out at political forums and organizing community demonstrations against police brutality.
In 1974 two pregnant women from MOVE were man-handled by cops until they miscarried. MOVE's demonstrations intensified. The police responded with a campaign of "arrest on sight." Between 1974 and 1976, there were 400 arrests of MOVE members, resulting in bail and fines of more than half a million dollars. Life Africa, a three-week-old baby, was killed during one violent police attack.30
By March 1978, these confrontations came to a head when Philadelphia police clamped a siege on MOVE's home on West Philadelphia's Powelton Avenue. Police cut off water and electricity. They set up barricades to prevent food from entering.
Armed with his tape recorder, Mumia stepped into the middle of this mounting conflict. He later said that he gave voice to the members of the MOVE organization at a time when most Black reporters ignored them, and the mainstream press simply slandered them.
Mumia describes those days: "While working a full shift on Saturday, I took my lunch break to jump on my ten-speed, pedaled up to the site of the continuing police-MOVE confrontation, and obtained some audio from MOVE member Chuckie Africa, raging at the armed presence of hundreds of cops arrayed for imminent attack on his home and family. As soon as I got back to the station, I cut several pieces of audio from our brief interview, and listeners to the station would hear not only the voices of then-mayor Frank Rizzo and ex-police commissioner James O'Neill, but also the angry voice of Chuck Africa, railing at the de facto occupation of his neighborhood by the armed forces of the state."31
This confrontation became a rallying point for the Black community and progressive forces in Philadelphia. There were mass attempts, organized by Black ministers, to break the barricades. On April 4, thousands marched through Philadelphia to denounce the police blockade. The standoff even became an international embarrassment for the Carter administration which was trying to portray the United States as a force for human rights.32
Pressure built on the Philadelphia establishment, Mumia's inclusion of "both sides" in his coverage was considered irresponsible and disloyal. Mumia writes, "Instead of rewarding me for my drive and initiative, I received a call from my rather irate boss, who berated me for my story selection.... When the mayor called a press conference to announce some new scheme, this wasn't political grandstanding but news--real news. When people organized in staunch and principled resistance to state measures that wasn't news."33
Unimpressed, Mumia continued to include statements from MOVE members in his radio reports--while the whole situation was putting intense pressures on Philadelphia's establishment. He writes: "My bosses called me into the office and said, 'Look, Jamal, you've got great pipes. I mean, Christ, we don't know why you're not at CBS by now. You do good work.' 'So what did you call me down for?' 'Well, we're going to have to let you go because we don't think you have the necessary commitment to the station.'"34
That was how "William Wellington Cole" left the air at WPEN.
By May 1978, the pressure of public protest caused the authorities to lift their siege on the Powelton Village house. For several months the struggle seemed to shift to the courts. Behind the scenes, George Fencl, head of Philadelphia's red squad, the Civil Affairs unit, laid plans for an armed police raid.35
On August 8, city officials launched a predawn raid of 600 heavily armed police on the MOVE home. A police bulldozer tore down MOVE's fence. A crane took out their windows. Police lobbed in gas grenades. Gunfire erupted and a withering police barrage raked the MOVE house. Water hoses pumped water in, forcing MOVE members from the basement where they had taken refuge. As television cameras rolled, four cops from Rizzo's Stake-out Squad viciously beat MOVE member Delbert Africa--snapping his head back and forth with their kicks.36
Officer James Ramp died from a single gunshot, most likely from a police rifle. Linn Washington told the RW: "The police know who shot Officer Ramp. And they know it was one of their guys. I have had a source in the Police Department tell me this." Still, as so often happened in Philadelphia, the death of a policeman was used to demand ruthless punishment of everyone arrested at the scene.
Within an hour after MOVE members had been taken away, police at the scene started to systematically destroy the place, and the evidence. Weapons taken from the MOVE house were cleaned up and put on display at the Rizzo press conference an hour later--destroying any forensic evidence. Two hours after the raid, demolition crews tore down the whole house-- before homicide detectives, reporters, and (more important) MOVE's attorneys could gather evidence.37
That afternoon, across town, Mayor Rizzo held his press conference. He was pumped up. When asked if this was the end of MOVE, Rizzo answered, "The only way we're going to end them is--get that death penalty back in, put them in the electric chair and I'll pull the switch."38
Mumia Abu-Jamal spoke out from the crowd of journalists, sharply raising questions about the way police had destroyed evidence after the raid.
Rizzo was already on edge over the increasing coverage of police brutality spreading into the mainstream press. He could feel his long-standing support in the city's media eroding and it bothered him.39
But to be publicly challenged in his own press conference by a Black journalist the same day a cop had just died in a raid--that made him livid. Rizzo's answer to Mumia's question was a now-famous threat: "They believe what you write, and what you say, and it's got to stop. And one day--and I hope it's in my career--that you're going to have to be held responsible and accountable for what you do."
In the mentality of the police and their mayor, there was little need for evidence when there was a dead cop on the ground. In their minds this was a dangerous challenge to their authority and somebody had to pay. It is a mentality and a method that Mumia himself would face three years later, after he was found badly wounded near a dead cop.
In the aftermath of this raid, the 12 MOVE members were accused of the killing of Officer James Ramp. Ultimately, nine were put through a trial. On May 8, 1980, in a climate of press hysteria, nine MOVE members were convicted of killing James Ramp. Judge Malmed sentenced each one to 30 to 100 years. Mumia writes: "It is impossible to say what my feelings were at that time. Sitting in a courtroom, watching that kind of naked injustice, it rankled me to the core.... Sitting in the trial, in an official capacity of objective journalist, and seeing that the law really didn't matter. That it didn't matter if they were innocent or guilty. It didn't matter what the law says your rights were."40
Mumia publicly raised the central absurdity of the case. "Nine people can't kill one man," he pointed out. The whole affair was a case of collective punishment.
The day after the sentencing, Judge Malmed was defending that verdict on local talk radio. Mumia called in and succeeded in bluntly asking Malmed, "Who shot James Ramp?" Startled, the Judge admitted, "I have no idea." In that one moment, Mumia publicly exposed the injustice of the trial and imprisonment of the MOVE 9.
A Person to Watch
Mumia continued his work in radio journalism. He broadcast for the classical music station WUH-FM. He did an occasional stint at his old station WDAS. In 1979, he got a full-time job at WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia, and was part of the staff putting together 911, the local version of All Things Considered. As a reporter for Channel 12, WHYY-TV he interviewed Julius Erving as the 76ers fought for the NBA championship.41
In 1980, at the age of 26, Mumia was elected president of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists. The following year, he was named one of the city's "People to Watch" by Philadelphia magazine. The article spoke of his "eloquent, often passionate and always insightful interviews."
At the same time, Mumia found it increasingly difficult in Philadelphia's polarized climate to work in the mainstream media and remain true to his mission as the "Voice of the Voiceless." In his book, All Things Censored, Mumia describes how at WHYY he was assigned to the "police beat," not the coverage of police brutality, but what he calls "positive puff pieces"--like interviewing the police commissioner, covering an alleged "cop hero," and reporting on a city hall protest of several thousand cops. The police demo report was carried on National Public Radio nationally. But to Mumia, the whole thing smelled of "soft censorship" and racism. He was the only Black person at that station, other than the secretary and the staff in the mail room. Mumia writes, "Implicit within the assignment lay the assumption that I, as a reporter and as an urban African American, somehow needed teaching about the 'real' nature of police."42
In 1981 Mumia left WHYY and found other ways to carry on his work. And he started driving a cab part-time to help support his family. It was a time when two major trials coincided in the courtrooms of Philadelphia. In July 1981 three of the cops who brutalized Delbert Africa were acquitted of any wrongdoing. In a nearby courtroom, MOVE founder John Africa successfully defended himself against federal charges.
Once these cases ended, the city authorities again increased the pressure on MOVE. Pam Africa remembers, "In 1981, from November to December, under Mayor Greene's administration, the decision was made to wipe out MOVE--on the streets and in the prisons. We faced lots of beatings and trials. And Mumia was right there. Everything that happened, he was getting it into print--real fast-- even though there was a news blackout, and even though he had lost his radio job and was a freelance journalist."43
It is during those days that Mumia suddenly found himself in the hands of the police.
In Their Hands
"I think, when you are involved in the game of politics, that you have friends and you have enemies. Survival of the fittest."
Mayor Frank Rizzo discussing44
his approach toward radical forces
"They are trying to kill me."
Mumia Abu-Jamal, speaking45
to his sister the day he was shot
"It is nightmarish that my brother and I should be in this foul predicament, particularly since my main accuser, the police, were my attackers as well. My true crime seems to have been my survival of their assaults, but we were the victims that night."
two months after his arrest
The events of December 9, 1981 started as a typical police stop for "driving while Black." Just before 4 a.m., Mumia's younger brother Billy Cook was driving his Volkswagen Beetle in a seedy part of Philadelphia's Center City--when he was pulled over on Locust Street by Officer Daniel Faulkner.
The official record claims that the reason for this stop was a crooked license plate and a broken bumper. But before Daniel Faulkner even climbed out of his patrol car, he had decided to arrest Billy Cook and called for a police wagon to take Cook away. Faulkner quickly had Billy Cook out of the driver's seat, spread-eagled across his car and was beating him in the head with a weighted police flashlight.47
Mumia was driving his cab that night and came upon this scene. Moments later, when police backup arrived, Mumia was on the ground, shot in the chest. Faulkner was dead from two gunshot wounds and Billy Cook was standing against a wall bleeding. Anyone else involved in the incident had fled.
A cop was dead and from that moment on--true to the methods, mentality and traditions of the police--Mumia was responsible and deserved to die, no matter what the evidence (or lack of evidence) might actually say.
Mumia was already near death. The police bullet had entered his lung, passed through his abdomen, his liver and come to rest near his spinal cord. What the cops did that night in central Philadelphia was try to finish the job. Mumia said in his 1994 interview with the Revolutionary Worker, "According to a witness that testified at the trial, I arrived at the hospital, maybe two or three blocks from the scene, about 40 to 45 minutes afterward. So not only was I beaten at the scene, and beaten in the paddy wagon, they were driving me around the city of Philadelphia waiting for me to die." At the hospital, the police dumped him on the lobby floor and kicked him as he lay with his arms handcuffed behind his back.
Mumia woke up after surgery with his belly ripped from top to bottom, large staples clamping the wound shut and tubes in his nose. Mumia recalls, "What I felt was a pronounced real strong pressure, kind of swelling me up. I felt swollen, full. This was my first sensation of consciousness coming out of the operation. Despite the real sense of tiredness and fatigue, I forced myself to open my eyes. And I saw a policeman just standing over me, looking down in my face. About 35ish, brown-blond hair, mustache. I didn't understand what was happening at first. I saw him looking down at me smiling a cold, grim, deadly smile.
"Then, after what seemed like minutes but might have just been 15 or 20 seconds, he moved out of my range of vision and I felt a sense of relief as if a balloon had deflated in my abdomen. And he did this two, three, four times. Perhaps more. And even though I was handcuffed on this hospital bed, I was able to swerve my neck around and look and see that he was stepping on a urine bag, a clear plastic receptacle for urine, forcing that urine back up a plastic tubing and into my bladder. He was trying to burst my bladder, while I was laying in a hospital just a half-hour or so after I had gotten out of surgery. Here I was, tied down, handcuffed in a hospital bed, in a hospital. Not in a prison hospital, but in a civilian community hospital, with a Philadelphia policeman with an Uzi submachine gun trying to kill me early that morning.
"He continued and I couldn't do anything. I couldn't say anything because I had an esophagus tube stuck down my throat, I had tubes up my nose and other body orifices. All I could do was look at him. And he smiled, and he did it and he did it and he did it. I just laid back and watched."48
Later, at Mumia's trial, the prosecution would claim that Mumia confessed in the hospital that he killed Faulkner. The record tells a different story: Officer Wakshul, the policeman guarding Mumia through all these, events wrote in his notes, "the negro male made no comment."49
Mumia's sister Lydia Wallace tells of the horror of learning that one brother was in the police station, and the other under police guard at the hospital. When she rushed to Mumia's side, she did not at first recognize him--he was so beaten, swollen and covered with dried blood. She remembers that when he briefly regained consciousness he whispered to her that he was innocent.50
The Making of a Railroad
The first cops to arrive at the scene were Robert Shoemaker and James Forbes--members of the notorious Stakeout Unit. The highest ranking member to arrive on that scene was Inspector Alfonse Gordano, himself a former Stakeout commander.51 This is the same Stakeout unit created by Rizzo to target Black radicals. It had been involved in all the confrontations and court cases with the Black Panthers and MOVE. Mumia had been a participant for a decade, on the other side, in those same events.
A police report later that night shows that Civil Affairs inspector Fencl was quickly called into this investigation. Fencl was the same police official who gave the order to strip Black Panthers in the street in 1970, who planned the raid on MOVE's Powelton home and who headed the political police unit that had spied on Mumia since he was 15.52
Finding a Black man in dreadlocks lying wounded near a dead cop would have been enough for the police to bend every rule to have Mumia put to death. But it is hard to imagine that the police did not know who was in their hands that night in December 1981.
Certainly the whole city knew by the next day. Every newspaper in Philly ran the death of officer Faulkner on page one, and every newspaper drew links to Mumia's political activities and beliefs. The Philadelphia Inquirer headline read, "The Suspect--Jamal: An eloquent activist not afraid to raise his voice." The article called Mumia a "gadfly among journalists and easily recognizable because of his dreadlock hairstyle, revolutionary politics, and deep baritone voice."
In the months that followed Mumia's arrest, the machinery of Philadelphia's notorious Homicide Squad went into motion--and systematically manufactured a case against Mumia Abu-Jamal. Evidence was suppressed. False evidence was created. Witnesses were coerced. And a notorious hanging judge was rolled out to ram this railroad through the trial process.
Mumia had been the dogged opponent of a brutal power structure for 12 intense and explosive years. He had exposed their crimes, upheld their victims, given voice to their accusers. Now he was in their hands--a political prisoner headed for death row.
1 "Revolutionary on Death Row: The Story of Mumia Abu-Jamal," Revolutionary Worker #1003, April 25, 1999. All RW articles cited here are available at rwor.org
2 Kissinger, C. Clark, "A Myth Repeated: A Reply to Vanity Fair and the F.O.P.--The Real Myth in the Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal," Revolutionary Worker #1015, July 25, 1999, also footage in Death Row Notebook, video by Lamar Williams and Chris Bratton
3 Kissinger, C. Clark, "Philly's Killer Elite," www.refuseandresist.org
4 See for example "Hollywood's Unlikely Hero," on ABC's 20/20, Dec. 9, 1998.
5 Hamilton, Fred, Rizzo--From Cop to Mayor of Philadelphia, Viking Press, New York, 1973, p. 67
6 Hamilton, p. 73-75
7 Hamilton, p. 79
8 Abu-Jamal, Mumia, All Things Censored, Seven Stories Press, 2000, p. 104
9 "Revolutionary on Death Row: The Story of Mumia Abu-Jamal"
10 Abu-Jamal, Mumia, interview with C. Clark Kissing-er, Revolutionary Worker #784 and 785, Dec. 1994; see www.refuseandresist.org/mumia/interview.html
11 Mealy, Rosemari, testimony at People's International Tribunal for Justice for Mumia Abu-Jamal, December 6, 1997, Philadelphia; cited in "Philly Cops: A History of Brutality in Blue, Part 1," Revolutionary Worker #1013, July 4, 1999
12 All Things Censored, p. 106
13 Abu-Jamal, Mumia, interview with C. Clark Kissinger
14 Abu-Jamal, Mumia, Interview with Acel Moore, Philadelphia Inquirer, 1970
15 Weinglass, Leonard, Race for Justice -- Mumia Abu-Jamal's Fight Against the Death Penalty, Common Courage Press, Monroe, Maine 1995, p.115-117; also Mumia's 1983 sentencing hearing transcripts: www.refuseandresist.org/mumia/court.html
16 Daughen, Joseph R. and Binzen, Peter, The Cop Who Would Be King--The Honorable Frank Rizzo, Little, Brown and Company, 1977, p. 140
17 All Things Censored, p. 106
18 Washington, Linn, unpublished interview with Mike Ely, September 2000
19 Harry, Margot, "Attention, MOVE! This is America!", Banner Press, 1987, p. 96
20 Abu-Jamal, Mumia, interview with C. Clark Kissinger
21 All Things Censored, p. 106
22 All Things Censored, p. 107
23 Washington, interview with Mike Ely
24 All Things Censored, p. 107
25 Skolnick, Jerome H. and Fyfe, James J., Above the Law, cited in "Philly Cops: A History of Brutality in Blue--Part 2: Enforcers of Injustice," Revolutionary Worker #1016, Aug. 1, 1999
26 Bissinger, Buzz, "The Famous and the Dead," Vanity Fair, August 1999, p. 73. Also, for ways used by those demanding Mumia's execution, see: www.danielfaulkner.com/Pages/CaseFacts.html
27 Washington, interview with Mike Ely
28 Abu-Jamal, Mumia, interview with C. Clark Kissinger
29 RW interview with Pam Africa , "Ona Move! To Free Mumia," Revolutionary Worker, Issue 855 , May 5, 1996
30 Harry, p. 96
31 All Things Censored, p. 107
32 25 Years on the Move, pamphlet, May 1996
33 All Things Censored, p. 108
34 Abu-Jamal, Mumia, interview with C. Clark Kissinger
35 Paolantonio, S.A., Frank Rizzo--The Last Big Man in Big City America, Camino Books, Philadelphia, 1993, p. 224
36 Harry, p. 100, also footage shown in Death Row Notebook
37 Washington, interview with Mike Ely
38 Harry, p. 101
39 Paolantonio, p. 218-222
40 Abu-Jamal, Mumia, prison interview with Chris Bratton, Death Row Notebook
41 All Things Censored, p. 110-111; also Washington interview
42 All Things Censored, p. 111-112
43 Africa, Pam, interview with Revolutionary Worker
44 Death Row Notebooks
45 Death Row Notebooks
46 "Revolutionary on Death Row: The Story of Mumia Abu-Jamal"
47 Weinglass, p. 24-26
48 Abu-Jamal, Mumia, interview with C. Clark Kissinger
49 Weinglass, p. 50
50 Death Row Notebooks
51 Records of Mumia's trial, June 19, 1982, p. 116
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.)