Revolutionary Journalist Jailed

Court jails C. Clark Kissinger, a leader in battle to stop execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal.

By Debbie Lang

Revolutionary Worker #1083, December 17, 2000, posted at

December 6 was a Day to Support Resisters who had been attacked by the government for supporting Mumia and part of Mumia Awareness Week--a concentrated nationwide effort to spread the word to millions about Mumia Abu-Jamal. I was at the Philadelphia federal courthouse for C. Clark Kissinger's probation violation hearing. Clark was charged with violating an order not to travel to Philadelphia on August 1 to give a political speech against the death penalty and in support of Mumia at the Republican National Convention. By the end of the day Clark had been sentenced to 90 days in jail.

Inside the federal building, the atmosphere was tense from the start. As Clark's supporters entered the building and lined up at the metal detector, I overheard one court officer tell another visitor, "These are the people for Mumia Abu-Jamal." Barely 20 people could fit into the seats squeezed tightly together in the tiny courtroom assigned to this hearing--obviously the authorities didn't want many people to watch the proceedings.

Throughout the hearing it was clear this was an attempt to silence Clark and send a message to those who would speak out in support of Mumia Abu-Jamal and against this system. Judge Rapoport was openly hostile to the defense and supportive of the prosecutor. An appeal of Clark's conviction--on the grounds that his political rights were violated--is pending in District Court. And the very first thing Rapoport said was: "The only subject is violation of terms of probation. All other issues are part of the pending appeal. Any attempt to disrupt this courtroom is going to result in your immediate removal by the U.S. Marshall Service." Judge Rapoport claimed he had no jurisdiction to deal with the First Amendment questions--but insisted he did have jurisdiction to sentence Clark. And, over and over again, the judge continued the blatant political persecution that has marked this case from the beginning.


As a condition of his probation, Clark was restricted to the New York City area and required to ask his probation officer for permission to travel. Clark asked six times for permission to travel. Three times it was granted--when he wanted to see his mother in Massachusetts. Three times it was denied--in each instance when Clark wanted to travel to give a speech in support of Mumia Abu-Jamal. He was denied permission to travel to speak at a commemoration of the MOVE bombing in Philadelphia; at a conference against the death penalty in San Francisco; and to give a speech at a legal rally in a plaza at the Republican National Convention on August 1 in Philadelphia.

On August 1, to the surprise and delight of hundreds of us on the plaza, Clark appeared and spoke. It was the most intense day of protest at the RNC. Thousands of youth faced police in the streets and shut the city down. The day's themes were resistance to the death penalty, the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal, police brutality and the injustices of the prison system. More than 350 people were arrested and many were subjected to brutal conditions inside the city's jails. Because he went to Philadelphia to make this speech, Clark was accused of violating the terms of his probation and ordered to appear in court on December 6.

The week before his probation hearing, one of Clark's attorneys, Ron Kuby, spoke about his case at a celebration of Clark's 60th birthday in New York City: "Clark Kissinger is, to my knowledge, the very first person at least in modern American history--post-World War II American history--to face imprisonment specifically for traveling to the cradle of liberty--Philadelphia--and giving a speech at one of the premier events in American history, the Republican National Convention. It is an absolute outrage to put a man in prison for giving a legal speech at a public event in the city of Philadelphia."

All during the hearing, the judge and prosecutor claimed that the only subject of the hearing was whether or not Clark violated his probation, but the first words out of the prosecutor's mouth were a quote from the speech Clark made on August 1: "George W. Bush is a smirking frat rat, son of a former head of the CIA, who went on to become a speculator oil man, and went on from there to be a blood-stained executioner, and now wants to be the ruler of the world." The prosecutor noted that Clark called the Republican National Convention the "Executioners Ball" and that he promised to continue to defend Mumia Abu-Jamal.

The defense argued that Clark was justified in going to Philadelphia because the terms of his probation and how they have been applied are unjust restrictions on political speech and therefore unconstitutional violations of Clark's First Amendment rights. Attorney Ron Kuby told the court that Governor Bush, the man responsible for sending 135 people to death, and Tom Ridge, the man who had signed Mumia Abu-Jamal's death warrants, were in Philadelphia and Clark felt it a "necessary act of conscience" and that he had a moral responsibility to speak out against the death penalty and the attempt to execute Mumia Abu-Jamal.

The prosecution tried to claim that this was not a restriction on speech since Clark could "speak in the Eastern District of New York freely." But Attorney Kuby said there was a link between the speech and its location--that the place to be to speak about the death penalty and Mumia on August 1 was Philadelphia, where Bush and Ridge were.

Attorney Kuby asked the judge why he had denied Clark permission to travel to Philadelphia on August 1. At first he responded, "Fortunately I don't have to explain that and I don't intend to." When Attorney Anthony Urba pointed out a court decision that said that a judge does have to provide evidence of the reasons for a sentence in case of a probation violation, the judge said: "Past behavior shows that his speech ends in civil disobedience. You want to know why? There's your answer. Do you want to know anything else?... He wants to come back here to deal with the same subject... He did it before. Am I to assume he won't do it again?"

Attorney Ron Kuby noted the judge's answer didn't explain why the judge prevented him from speaking at the MOVE commemoration or traveling to San Francisco for a conference against the death penalty. Kuby told the judge: "This is the only case I've ever had where I've been in a courtroom seriously considering incarcerating a person for coming to Philadelphia, the cradle of liberty, and giving a speech about one of the most important issues of the day, the death penalty.... It was vitally important to be here in Philadelphia to give that speech. This was the Republican National Convention. The eyes of the world were here. Mumia Abu-Jamal was sentenced to death here."


As a leading organizer in the fight to stop the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal and a contributing writer for the RW, C. Clark Kissinger has played a pivotal role at every juncture of the battle to stop Mumia's execution--working with great heart to unite all who can be united and bringing a revolutionary perspective to the fight. The issue of the rights of revolutionaries to speak their views has been at the heart of Mumia's case in many ways--from the attempts to silence Mumia's revolutionary journalism to the imposition of the death penalty based on a statement made by Mumia when he was a member of the Black Panther Party that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. Mumia's case has also brought to light a whole pattern of deep injustice in Philadelphia--from the police to the city and state officials to the state and federal courts. And Clark's case has continued the pattern.

The prosecution argued that Clark's August 1 speech was "not lawful speech." He claimed tourists at the Liberty Bell considered themselves in danger--from people who had linked arms to block the doors to a building! He cited a "disturbance" at the probation office, when Clark showed up with a demonstration of 30 people, and he claimed Clark was a "danger to society." In response to arguments from the defense, the judge erupted: "Mr. Kissinger created a riot the first time he showed up at probation, did he not?" The prosecutor openly spoke of punishing Clark and making an example of him: "Maybe he will learn that obeying the law is a better idea than breaking it, in which case the court's sentence will have worked." The prosecutor went on to speak about "general deterrence"--the idea that punishing Clark would also deter others from defiant political action.

Unfolding before us was an attempt to set a dangerous precedent--to outlaw political protest and speech--with serious implications for everyone. And I think it drove home even more the importance of Clark's determination to speak at the RNC protests. The judge and the prosecutor repeatedly labeled political protests and speeches as "dangerous to the public" --including Clark's August 1 speech, the actions at the Liberty Bell and the so-called "disruption" of the probation office when Clark first reported last June. What were people doing in that probation office? In the words of the probation officer himself-- "protesting, chanting, handing out literature...taking pictures." The prosecutor and judge called this a "pattern of conduct." And the prosecutor requested that Clark be imprisoned for the remainder of his probation (six months) to "reflect the seriousness of the offense and promote respect for the law."


During the sentencing phase I was constantly reminded of the infamous Judge Sabo, who presided over Mumia's original "trial" and his PCRA appeal in the summer of 1995. When the defense argued that since the First Amendment issues were on appeal the sentence should wait until the appeal was heard, the prosecutor said: "I don't know why they're still talking about the First Amendment." And the judge responded, "Neither do I."

When Clark rose to address the court, the judge was livid.

Judge Rapoport: "This is not a political forum and we are not going to turn it into one!"

Clark: "What's really involved in this case is the attempt to kill Mumia Abu-Jamal."

Judge Rapoport: "This is not what's involved in this case and you are not going to bring it up here!"

Clark: "This is an attempt to put a brake on a political movement the government does not like."

Judge Rapoport: "Sit down! Sit down unless you're going to address whether or not you violated the terms of your probation!"

Clark: "I'm going to tell you what's involved here."

Judge Rapoport: "You're going to tell me? I don't think so!"

Clark: "I don't even have a right to speak in this court? I'm not allowed to speak at a major event in this city's history and not allowed to speak in this courtroom?...General deterrence is involved here. The government explictly saw grounding me as one way to put a brake on a political movement the government does not like."

Judge Rapoport: "That's not true! It's not relevant! Stop that!"

The judge's attempt to silence Clark outraged people in the audience and some spoke out in protest. They were thrown out of the courtroom by U.S. Marshals.

Clark spoke about the death penalty and why it was necessary for him to speak at the protests against the Republican National Convention: "A new generation [came to protest in Philadelphia]. Could I have done anything less? Could I have remained at home when they were willing to put themselves on the line?...The eyes of the world were on Philadelphia...The moment I wanted to open my mouth and criticize this government I wasn't allowed to...the issue of free speech is that the intended audience be allowed to hear it."

Clark again told the judge that he would not be turning over the names of financial contributors and people he associates with.

The judge announced he found the "defendant clearly violated probation in a knowing and understanding fashion.... [The defendant has raised] a series of events that were not made the subject of this hearing...continuing a pattern of disruptive behavior." Then he angrily declared, "My office has been inundated with letters, phone calls and faxes," accused Clark's "followers" of threatening him, and said to the defense attorneys, "There is a trail of disruption wherever your client goes."

People in the audience had grown increasingly outraged by the judge's openly hostile conduct, and at this point somebody laughed at the judge. Rapoport ordered the courtroom cleared. U.S. Marshals attacked the audience. People were grabbed and dragged out of the courtroom.

When I stepped into the hallway outside the courtroom there was chaos. U.S. Marshals attacked anyone within their reach who spoke out against what was happening. One person was put in a chokehold. Others were beaten to the floor. Two members of the Refuse & Resist! Youth Network were cuffed and arrested. Other people were shoved all the way out the hall to the elevators, forced inside and pinned against the walls. When I stepped out of the elevator into the lobby a group of about 50 people stood and chanted "Shame!" in the faces of the Marshals and "Mumia is fearless/Clark is fearless--so are we! We won't stop until he's free!" The Marshals eventually forced everyone outside. Ernst Ford, a Haitian activist with International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal--whose own life was recently threatened by the Philadelphia police because of his support for Mumia--told me that the scene reminded him of the Ton Ton Macoutes in Haiti.

Upstairs with only Clark's family, lawyers and a few journalists left in the courtroom, the judge sentenced Clark to 90 days and guards took him away. And the judge added something the prosecution never even asked for--when Clark finishes his jail time he will have to finish the rest of his six months probation.


The first time I went to a hearing at the federal courthouse in Philadelphia, Mumia Abu-Jamal was challenging efforts by the government to silence his voice by obstructing the publication of his book Live From Death Row. Mumia is facing the ultimate state censorship--execution by lethal injection. Yet he has not been silenced. His voice has made its way out of the prison walls in the form of books, tapes, CDs, radio broadcasts, newspaper columns and Internet postings. He has defied every attempt the government has made to suppress his voice. And on the outside, literally millions of people have helped make this happen.

When I saw Clark before his hearing, he had a toothbrush in his suit pocket. Smiling, he told me this was something he had learned from people's lawyer Bill Kunstler--who always brought a toothbrush to court in case the judge jailed him for contempt. When it became clear the judge was going to send him to jail, Clark told the court: "What should I be remorseful for? Contrite for fighting for justice for Mumia Abu-Jamal? I will never show remorse for that.... The day is going to come when Mumia Abu-Jamal will be free. And on that day, the prison doors will swing open and the people will be able to throw their arms around Mumia and he will walk with us.... This court and the government as a whole should understand that every attack on us only makes us stronger. There is absolutely nothing that is going to stop this worldwide movement to provide justice for Mumia Abu-Jamal."

As we go to press, C. Clark Kissinger is being held at the Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia. Word of his case hit the news on the "Democracy Now" show, Pacifica radio; WBAI, New York; KPFA, Berkeley; and the Independent Media Center. Updates on Clark's situation are being posted on the Refuse & Resist! website: http// Calls demanding Clark's release can be addressed to:

Warden Vanyur: 215.521.7210,
FAX 215.521.7220

Mayor John Street: 215.686.2181

Congressman Chaka Fatah:

U.S. Marshalls' Office: 215.597.7273

Judge Arnold C. Rapoport:
610.776.0369, FAX 610.776.0370

Judge Bruce Kaufman:
FAX 215.580.2281

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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