Illinois Lawyers Call for New Trial
for Mumia Abu-Jamal

Revolutionary Worker #1106, June 10, 2001, posted at

In March, over 60 lawyers in Illinois stepped out for Mumia Abu-Jamal, sponsoring a press conference and publishing a statement in the Chicago Law Bulletin demanding a new trial for Mumia. The statement rips the injustices of Mumia's trial and conviction and exposes the use of the federal Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act as a weapon against the rights of death row inmates. At the press conference, lawyers decried the "politically corrupt use of Abu-Jamal's history as a Black Panther to create bias and fear on the part of the jury" and the racism that ran through Mumia's arrest, trial, and conviction.

A diverse group of attorneys joined in this effort, spearheaded by the National Lawyers Guild (Chicago chapter), the Chicago Conference of Black Lawyers, and the union local representing assistant public defenders in Cook County. They were joined by prominent lawyers in Illinois who have stood with the people in opposing the intense criminalization of the oppressed, including the wrongful conviction of many on death row. The whole Cook County Bar Association (an organization of Black attorneys), progressive members of the criminal bar, and prominent death penalty lawyers signed.

Among the lawyers who signed the statement were: Lawrence Marshall, professor at Northwestern University School of Law and key organizer of the "Wrongful Convictions" conference held in Chicago in November 1998; Theodore Gottfried, head of the Illinois State Appellate Defenders Office and member of a special commission appointed by the state supreme court to investigate capital cases in Illinois; Locke Bowman, director of the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Chicago; Marshall Hartman, head of the Capital Litigation division at the Illinois State Appellate Defenders Office; Michael Deutsch from the People's Law Office.

The statement was put together through a process of unity-struggle-unity with the many forces who potentially could unite to stop the execution of Mumia. Many lawyers came forward because of their direct knowledge of the injustice faced by the poor and oppressed people they defend. And many Black attorneys immediately signed because they are keenly aware of the racism at the heart of Mumia's case.

But signing the statement was also controversial for many. People at the core of this effort were determined to bring out how Mumia "embodies the highest interests of the people and inspires the masses in fighting for those interests," as RCP Chairman Bob Avakian says. The lawyers spearheading this work would not let stand the response that said in effect, "Yes, but really Mumia is not a great 'poster child' for the anti-death penalty movement." Countering all the arguments of the FOP and the mainstream press, and putting out clearly the links between Mumia's case and the cases of all the prisoners facing the death penalty, was critical to winning many more lawyers to sign on to the statement.

The work to publish this statement underscores the potential for the movement to free Mumia to become even broader, more diverse, and more determined.

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