Philadelphia : 1st Amendment Free Zone!

By Mumia Abu-Jamal

Revolutionary Worker #1085, January 7, 2001, posted at

A mere mention of the place-name "Philadelphia" is sufficient to evoke a host of images upon the mind, a mix of myth and mayhem; the differences between what one is taught, and what one has learned from the lessons of life.

To many, Philadelphia means the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and the staging ground for what came to be called the American Revolution. To others, Philadelphia means the MOVE bombing, unbridled police repression, the flames of Osage Avenue, marking signs of a Revolution to come. Philadelphia, in fact, was the first capital of the fledgling United States. It was also, in the eyes of those most deprived of freedom, ex-slaves like Frederick Douglass, a city remarkable for its racism, and a dangerous city, that spawned mobs who burned buildings which were centers of abolitionism.

More recently, in 1999 and the year 2000, it has been the place where the New Abolitionists--opponents of the death penalty--have found the hard face of police and judicial oppression turned against them. Demonstrators who have dared to exercise their alleged first amendment rights at the Liberty Bell have learned that such an exercise is a crime, punished by judicially-imposed silence, and banishment from the environs where the so-called "constitutional guarantee" was written! Those bold youth who dared to practice those alleged "constitutional guarantees" at the recent Republican National Convention in Philadelphia found Philadelphia's real face: the dungeons of Holmesburg Prison, the vomit-strewn holding tanks of the Roundhouse, and the malevolent repression of the DA's Office, which sought, and obtained, million dollar ransoms, for those who got the legal equivalent of traffic tickets. Welcome to Philadelphia, y'all.

Revolutionary journalist C. Clark Kissinger has been but the latest to taste the tender mercies of the local judiciary. Banned from the city for daring to act as if the Liberty Bell represented liberty, Clark was recently hauled before a magistrate for--get this--speaking in Philadelphia during the Convention. For speaking, without first getting judicial permission (that is, for practicing free speech!) Clark was sentenced to 90 days in federal prison.

What was Clark's "crime"? The government claimed it was simply a violation of probation. Sure. But does anyone think he would be in stir, if he quietly came to Philly, because he wanted to see the Rocky statue, or The Thinker by Rodin, at the Art Museum? What if he suddenly got religion, and wanted to pray at Bishop John Neumann's Shrine? The prosecutor leaves little doubt about why Clark was there. His words: "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!"

This was the State's Exhibit #1, and this was the magistrate's incredible justification for this violation hearing. In Rappoport's words, "Past behavior shows that his speech ends in civil disobedience." This is the same guy who claims that Clark's case has absolutely "nothing" to do with the First Amendment! Is that not incredible?

As Clark aptly put it when first faced with jail: "If I were an executive of Firestone who killed people with defective tires, I wouldn't have to fear a single day in jail. If I were one of the cops who fired 41 bullets at Amadou Diallo, I wouldn't have to worry about going to jail. If I were an army officer instructing death squad leaders at the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia, I certainly wouldn't be threatened with any jail time."

Welcome to Philadelphia, y'all. Where the First Amendment doesn't matter. Where both the media and the government conspire to punish you for protest. Where you can be beaten, jailed, threatened, and insulted by a judge, and jailed again! Philly--First Amendment Free Zone!

©MAJ 2000

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