Voices in Harlem Speak Out for Mumia

Revolutionary Worker #1084, December 24, 2000, posted at http://rwor.org

On December 9, 250 people marched through Harlem and over 500 people attended a program in Harlem as part of the International Day of Solidarity with Mumia Abu-Jamal. The audience was multinational with a large percentage of African Americans, including many people who live in Harlem.

The program, emceed by Elombe Brath and Rosemari Mealy, was held at Mother African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church --a church that has a long history of struggle against the oppression of Black people. Beautiful paintings of Mumia lined the front of the stage done by Rickie Jason, an artist who was a friend of Shaka Sankofa--unjustly executed earlier this year in Texas.

The list of speakers captures the growing breadth and diversity of support for Mumia:

Rev. Dr. Alvin Durant welcomed people: "We will ensure through our voices, through our protests--like this protest today, this march on behalf of Mumia-- that voices will rise from this place to say to the country that enough is enough! This will end--and free Mumia!"

Former New York City Mayor David Dinkins addressed the crowd, saying: "Much is at stake and time is of the essence... Mumia is one of some 3,000 or more who sit on the death rows of maximum security prisons of this nation awaiting their executions--many of whom have steadfastly declared their innocence of the crimes with which they were charged and subsequently convicted and many of whom have been effectively denied the right to offer evidence of that innocence to a jury of their peers, before an impartial judge and with the assistance of a competent lawyer.... Too often young Black men enter the criminal justice system in one door as victims of their race and poverty and exit on the other as dead men walking. And we're here today to demand the doors of state-sponsored execution be closed forever."

Actor Ossie Davis stressed that "the struggle has to ultimately be determined by the people themselves." Sam Jordan, former director of the program to abolish the death penalty at Amnesty International, read portions of AI's report on Mumia's case and spoke as a representative of Congresswoman Maxine Waters, saying: "The fight against the death penalty is at the lead in the fight against the class use of the criminal justice system."

There was wild applause and shouts of "Free Mumia!" from the audience when Mumia's lead attorney Leonard Weinglass said that after 20 years in prison Mumia is in "remarkable strength." Weinglass challenged the audience: "[Mumia's] been held for 19 years in a state which is called sensory deprivation. You cannot touch Mumia. There's a thick glass between the visitor and Mumia, including myself. He sits behind the thick glass chained hand and foot. The best his children and grandchildren can do is put their hands on the glass, and he puts his hands on the glass behind them..... I ask you at this critical period of time to redouble your efforts and to stay in and to stand with Mumia."

An international delegation from France and Britain reflected how the struggle to save Mumia is international. Julia Wright, a Mumia activist in Paris who is the daughter of author Richard Wright, read a statement from former French First Lady Danielle Mitterand: "The 9th of December commemorates the 19th anniversary of Mumia Abu-Jamal's arrest--19 years during which Mumia has struggled, still is struggling to obtain a new trial. Our efforts must be unceasing. Together--I believe it from the depths of my heart--we will save Mumia." Mereille Mendes, daughter of Franz Fanon, talked about the importance of the fight against racism and said, "Mumia Abu-Jamal is very symbolic for us--he's an example for us, for our life."

Saifya Bukhari, speaking for the New York Coalition, called the struggle "a contest of wills...between the people who want justice and freedom for political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal and the state--who wants him dead" and talked about the importance of Mumia's case for all political prisoners.

Leslie Jones of International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal noted that the amicus brief from the Chicano and Chicana Studies Foundation refers to Mumia as "a symbol and representative of the oppressed minority communities in this country" and said: "It's crucially important to us because of racial profiling, the police brutality and racism which we face on a daily basis in this country."

Many people at the program spoke in support of C. Clark Kissinger--who was recently put in jail for giving a political speech in support of Mumia at the Republican National Convention. Sam Jordan said he had called the warden to demand Clark be taken out of solitary confinement, allowed visitors and moved from Philadelphia to Manhattan. Julia Wright noted that activists in Holland, France and Italy have also been arrested and jailed for supporting Mumia and said, "There are legions of Clark Kissingers rising. We must pay attention to them all."

Larry Holmes of the International Action Center said: "It's outrageous, its ridiculous, but mostly its dangerous that an activist, a leader who's giving a speech for Mumia in Philadelphia should go to jail for 90 days or 90 seconds. We gotta get Clark out!" Attorney Leonard Weinglass called on people to stand with Clark, "one of the principal spokespersons for Mumia." Earlier, Clark had been scheduled to speak at the program. Instead, Mark Taylor of Academics for Mumia Abu-Jamal read a message from Clark--which consisted of two short quotes from his "outlawed" speech at the RNC.

There was a powerful performance by members of the Rod Rogers Dance Company. Will Calhoun did a drum solo. Video clips told the story of the injustices in Mumia's case. Many other people spoke including Dhoruba Bin Wahad; New York State Assemblyman Roger Green; Amiri Baraka; Ernst Ford from International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia; a representative of the Nation of Islam on behalf of Minister Kevin Muhammad; Roland Biozah, Chair of the People of Color Caucus of the British Labor Party; and Leslie Feinberg from Rainbow Flags for Mumia.

Many speakers drew links between the struggles to save Mumia, to free Leonard Peltier and the fight against police brutality. Actress Ruby Dee read a message Mumia had written in 1999 in support of political prisoner Leonard Peltier. Jean Day, national spokesperson for the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee called on people to join the protest to demand freedom for Leonard Peltier, scheduled for the next day. Nicholas Heyward, Sr., whose son was killed by the NYPD for having a toy gun, read a statement in support of Mumia written by parents whose children had been murdered by police. Richie Perez of National Congress of Puerto Rican Rights spoke about how families who struggle for justice for their children who have been murdered by the police are treated by the authorities.

A statement by Yuri Kochiyama on behalf of Asians for Mumia in New York and California was read, which said: "The case of Mumia Abu-Jamal is fraught with prosecutorial misconduct, police intimidation of witnesses, perjury, a biased and hostile judge, false confession, abuse of preemptory challenges, an incomplete ballistics report, a defense attorney in complicity with both judge and prosecutor and the defendant often barred from his own trial... We must fight for Mumia with heart and soul because he is our heart and soul. We must spread the seeds of truth. In fighting for Mumia we are fighting for all political prisoners. But time is running out. It is a matter of life or death. Freeing Mumia must be more than a slogan, more than a wish, more than a dream--we must make it a reality! Mumia must be free!"

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