New Legal Action is a Path to Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Freedom
A Re-ignited International Mobilization is Critical for VictorY
by Rachel Wolkenstein
February 27, 2018
For over three decades thousands of organizations and hundreds of thousands of individuals around the globe have mobilized to save Mumia Abu-Jamal from execution, to overturn his conviction, to demand his freedom. Without these international mobilizations, crucially including the organized labor movement, we would not have saved Mumia from two warrants of execution and compelled the state to concede defeat in trying to execute him. Mumia is now off death row and out of solitary confinement in prison general population.
Mumia remains on “slow death row,” life imprisonment without parole. During the past two years an international campaign of call-ins, protests at the prison and at the Pa. Department of Corrections (DOC), and letters including labor resolutions won medical treatment for his hepatitis-C. Medical malfeasance has left Mumia with cirrhosis of the liver and the secondary symptoms of his decades-long hepatitis-C, including a painful skin condition. Quality medical care in prison is an oxymoron.
Now, unfolding in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas is the latest legal battle for Mumia’s freedom. It is a constitutional challenge to his conviction, pursuant to a precedent-setting U.S. Supreme Court case, Williams v. Pennsylvania (2016), based on the due process right to an impartial appeal process which is violated if a prosecutor who had a significant personal involvement is later a judge in the same case.
The prosecutor who aggressively fought and prevailed in getting the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to uphold Mumia’s conviction and death sentence in 1989 and to prevent the U.S. Supreme Court from considering Mumia’s case was District Attorney Ronald D. Castille. Then as a justice in the Pa. Supreme Court, Castille participated in the Pa. Supreme Court’s deliberations, agreed with the arguments he had made as District Attorney (DA), and denied those and numerous new legal challenges made in Mumia’s appeals from 1998-2012.
If Mumia wins this court action the Pennsylvania state court appeal denials from 1998-2012 upholding his conviction are vacated and appeal rights restored; his conviction is open to be reversed in new appeals. This is now the legal path to Mumia’s freedom.
All last year the District Attorney’s Office (DAO) insisted documents evidencing DA Castille’s personal involvement in Mumia Abu-Jamal’s appeal process and death sentence did not exist.
Since January 2, 2018 Mumia’s case and fourteen other similar cases have been in the hands of District Attorney Larry Krasner, newly elected on a “progressive program.” Notably, retired Justice Castille was appointed to DA Krasner’s post-election advisory board. In court on January 17 and again on February 26 Krasner’s DAO continued the stonewalling. The DAO requested time for “further investigation” and “to “formulate an office policy for their approach to these cases.”
At the conclusion of the court hearing on February 26, 2018 Judge Leon Tucker once again ordered the DAO to produce a critical document and curtailed the requested time for the next court proceedings. Another status report conference is set for March 27, 2017. A full court hearing will be April 30, 2018.
In fact, Judge Tucker already has in his hands—released from the DAO files—the evidence that District Attorney Castille was pushing to ensure that capital cases, including Mumia Abu-Jamal’s, were expedited and that death warrants signed by the governor. This is the proof required under Williams v. Pa.
April 30, 2018 is set to be decisive point in Mumia’s legal fight for his freedom.
An international campaign is being re-ignited to free Mumia. To win this legal action and the victory of Mumia’s freedom the activity of the recent months must grow and deepen, making it clear that we will not rest until Mumia walks out of prison a free man.
The San Francisco Labor Council (SFLC), comprised of 150 unions, with more than 100,000 union members and family, unanimously adopted a “Resolution to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal” on February 12, 2018. It is powerful support, stating that Mumia’s new legal action “is an opening toward Mumia’s freedom that again requires a massive campaign of workers’ organizations worldwide.”
The SFLC follows International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 and the actions of Doro-Chiba (Japanese Railway Workers Union); the International Dockworkers Council, an association of 100,000 dockworkers over the world; the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, the largest trade union in South Africa; the Maritime Union of Australia (Queensland), UNITE, the largest union in Great Britain with 1.4 million members; Oakland Educators Association, United Steelworkers, Local 8751, School Bus Drivers Union (Boston) and others in calling for Mumia’s freedom.
The International Offensive to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal is underway in coordination with a demonstration in Philadelphia on April 30. This follows the outpouring of international solidarity toward Mumia shown by over 500 organizations and individuals from every continent except Antarctica who responded to the December 9, 2017 International Call to Release the District Attorney and Police Files Relevant to Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Case and to Free Him (International Call). Signatories included long-time advocates for Mumia—Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Angela Davis, Edward Asner, Danny Glover, Dr. Cornel West, Alice Walker, Chris Hedges, and Tariq Ali. The International Call was initiated by Mireille Fanon- Mendes-France, President, Franz Fanon Foundation and Dr. Suzanne Ross, International Spokesperson for International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal (ICFFMAJ).
Fighting and winning Mumia’s freedom is not the struggle for just one man. Using his voice and pen, having written eight books and recorded over 3000 commentaries, Mumia Abu-Jamal inspires and educates millions around the globe who identify with his fight against “the system” and for justice for all humanity.
Mumia: “Fighting to Create Revolution”
In a 1989 interview on death row Mumia stated he is “fighting to create revolution in America. Revolution means total change.” Mumia continues to be steadfast in his political views. He has not been intimidated into silence despite the decades on death row or now serving life imprisonment without parole. Mumia continues opposition to the policies of the American imperialist state, at home and abroad: the political repression, racial oppression and class exploitation, imperialist war and colonial depredations.
To the American capitalist state, governed through both the Democratic and Republican parties, Mumia represents the specter of black revolt, of defiant opposition to their system of racist oppression. All elements of the criminal injustice system, with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) in the forefront, colluded to kill this innocent man and have never stopped in their attempts to silence him.
Mumia Abu-Jamal is in his 37th year of imprisonment, innocent and framed for a murder he did not commit and sentenced to death for being a former spokesman for the Black Panther Party, a MOVE supporter and a radical journalist, known as the “voice of the voiceless.”
No court, not the Pennsylvania state courts nor the federal courts, have taken account of the evidence of Mumia’s factual innocence in the 1981 murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner, or the total denial of due process at his trial or post-conviction hearings, including that Judge Albert Sabo was exposed and admitted that he was biased in favor of the prosecution and police, and a racist determined to see Mumia convicted and executed. At the time of Mumia’s trial, Judge Sabo remarked to another judge, “Yeah, and I’m going to help them fry the n----r.”
If Mumia’s petition is granted he can re-appeal all the Pa. Supreme Court denials from 1998-2012. This could result in a new trial or dismissal of the charges based on Mumia’s actual innocence and the police, prosecutorial and judicial misconduct that resulted in his frame-up conviction and death sentence. A new appeal by Mumia could strike down his conviction because of the racial bias of judge Albert Sabo who presided over both Mumia’s trial and post-conviction hearings from 1995-1997.
Ronald D. Castille, Philadelphia District Attorney, then Pa. Supreme Court Justice
Ronald Castille was elected Philadelphia District Attorney in 1986, after years as a senior assistant district attorney under District Attorney Edward Rendell during the time of Mumia’s trial. The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) Lodge No. 5 named Castille its “Man of the Year” in 1986 and in 1989 supported him for re-election. As DA, Castille prosecuted Ramona Africa, the lone adult survivor of the incendiary bombing of the MOVE commune by Philadelphia city officials, the police and FBI. Eleven Black people, including 5 children were burned alive. This was a racist act of state terror against MOVE. Castille convened a grand jury to consider criminal charges against the Mayor, chiefs of the police and fire departments, and others. After two years, no charges were brought.
To ensure that Mumia’s conviction and death sentence were not reversed on appeal, Castille’s prosecutors argued that Pa. Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court precedents should not apply to Mumia’s case and suppressed evidence of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s policy and practice to exclude Black people from serving as jurors. That required answering not only the arguments made by Mumia’s lawyer, but also the amici curiae briefs filed by the ACLU of Philadelphia and the National Conference of Black Lawyers.
The March 1989 Pa. Supreme Court denial of Mumia’s appeal that rubber-stamped the prosecution arguments was not the end of Castille’s involvement. Mumia made motions for re-argument, and filed two petitions in the U.S. Supreme Court. Mumia’s supplemental pro se petition to the U.S. Supreme Court in May 1990 emphasized the issue of the pattern and practices of excluding Black people from serving on a jury. Castille assigned his Deputy District Attorney Gayle Barthold McLaughlin to oppose Mumia’s petition in the U.S. Supreme Court, substituting her for a more junior prosecutor.
In 1994 Ronald Castille won a seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme court as a “law and order” candidate, endorsed by 36,000 police officers of the FOP. Castille bragged that his office had secured 45 death sentences and that he prosecuted some of the city’s most “notorious criminals.”
After Castille was elected as a justice to the Pa. Supreme Court Mumia’s lawyers made repeated motions to Castille to recuse himself from participating in the appeals to the Pa. Supreme Court because of his pro-death penalty, pro-police bias. Castille denied these motions, asserting he had no personal knowledge of Mumia’s case and no bias against him. Castille made the argument that he was not the only justice on the Pa Supreme Court who was elected with the political and financial support of the Fraternal Order of Police, but shared that distinction with four other justices. In fact it is a norm that elected judges are routinely former prosecutors and solicit financial and political support from law enforcement.
In Williams v. Pennsylvania, for the first time in American judicial history the Supreme Court established an “objective test” in criminal cases that the “due process right to an impartial tribunal free of judicial bias” is violated where the judge previously had “significant personal involvement in a critical prosecutorial decision” in the same case. Mumia’s new petition is based on the precedent set in Williams and was filed on August 7, 2016. Fourteen other men, also prosecuted by Castille and who received death sentences, filed “Williams” petitions.
In Williams the U.S. Supreme Court deliberately did not rule it is automatically a conflict of interest and due process violation if a prosecutor in a case became a judge in that same case; or that political and financial support from the FOP is evidence of bias. Such a ruling would have been an unacceptable strike at the ideological core of the U.S. criminal injustice system, the claim the judicial system is neutral and fair and that its operational components—police, prosecution and courts— are duty bound to act to protect the populace, to seek justice, not convictions. The reality is a legal system that protects the interests of the capitalist class, defending the profit system against the working people, particularly Black people and other minorities, immigrants; against any and all perceived opponents of this government’s policies.
To establish bias, Williams requires evidence that as a prosecutor, Castille had significant personal involvement in a critical prosecutorial decision in Mumia’s case. And the “proof” of that personal involvement is being interpreted as locating a specific document or other evidence of Castille’s personal involvement in Mumia’s case. This procedure poses an apparent conflict of interest. Prosecutors are tasked to produce evidence of judicial misconduct committed by a former District Attorney.
The FOP, DA Ronald Castille and the early Campaign to Save Mumia’s Life
It is inconceivable and ludicrous to suggest District Attorney Castille was not personally involved in the oversight and preparation of the prosecution’s case against Mumia to the PA Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court.
Castille could be deemed negligent if he hadn’t done so, since Mumia’s case was the high-profile murder conviction for killing a police officer; the FBI and Philadelphia police had targeted Mumia for his political activity, including opposition to police brutality; and the FOP vigorously demanded Mumia’s execution. In addition there is the issue of Ronald Castille’s political and financial indebtedness to the FOP and his braggadocio about the number of death sentences he secured while he was District Attorney.
While DA Castille was defending Mumia’s conviction and death sentence in the Pa. Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court, a campaign calling to “Save Mumia Abu-Jamal! Abolish the Racist Death Penalty!” initiated by the Partisan Defense Committee (PDC), was gaining support of trade unions, civil rights and civil liberties organizations, death penalty abolitionists, elected officials, leftist and other political organizations. Mumia’s written commentaries were published in Philadelphia and across the U.S.
Letters and petitions demanding “Mumia Abu-Jamal Must Not Die” were delivered to Pa Governor Robert Casey, including from former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark, national publications such as the Nation and the Black Scholar, and representatives of Amnesty International in New York, the National Campaign Against the Death Penalty, the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and many others.
Labor Federations internationally, including the Metro Toronto Labour Council; the CGT, France’s largest labor federation; the British National Union of Railwaymen; the Australian Firemen and Deckhands’ Union, national journalists associations; union locals, including AFSCME (public sector workers), CWA (communications workers), SEIU (service workers), ILA and ILWU (longshore workers), the Amalgamated Transit Union, the United Auto Workers, and others supported the campaign.
On November 5, 1988, Mumia’s voice boomed over loudspeakers in Independence Mall against the Ku Klux Klan, which had planned a “White Pride” rally at the Liberty Bell. Mumia endorsed the mobilization to stop the Klan. A publicized demand was made to Governor Casey for Mumia to be “specially paroled to speak at the rally.” Over 1000 protesters and the hundreds of Philadelphia and federal police surrounding the rally site heard Mumia’s recorded message.
In Philadelphia on October 14, 1989, a rally to “Save Mumia Abu-Jamal! Abolish the Racist Death Penalty!” was held, co-sponsored by the late David Richardson, President, National Black Caucus of State Legislators and Pa. State Representative with the PDC. Over two hundred trade unionists, educators, prison activists and death penalty abolitionists participated. Wadiya Jamal, Mumia’s wife, spoke of the state’s intent “to kill Mumia to silence him.” MOVE supporter I Abdul John emphasized Mumia’s truthful reporting on MOVE and the consequences for him. Rep. Richardson attacked the prosecution as political and stated that Mumia is innocent. The event was prominently covered on TV.
A Bastille Day rally was held for Mumia in Philadelphia, July 14, 1990. The FOP organized a counter-rally. The head of the Philly FOP, Richard Costello, declared that all Mumia’s supporters were part of a “misfit terrorist group” who should be put on an “electric couch.” This was big news in Philadelphia, covered on TV and in the print media.
The video From Death Row, This is Mumia Abu-Jamal was shown in Philadelphia, as it had in other cities around the world, including New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, Sydney. Mumia sets forth his political history, the police murderous violence against MOVE and attacks his conviction and death sentence. Each of these rallies included trade union representatives, spokesmen for other defense cases, civil liberties and civil rights organizations, leftist and socialist groups. The first pamphlet by Mumia, Survival is Still a Crime, was published by Friends and Family of Mumia Abu-Jamal Press in August 1990.
This campaign for Mumia and the FOP counter-attacks were a political reality while Castille was prosecuting Mumia’s appeal to the Pa. Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court. This history adds to the lie that DA Castille had no knowledge of Mumia’s case and no reason for personal involvement as a prosecutor.
Law is Politics by Other Means
On March 6, 1989, the Pa. Supreme Court upheld Mumia Abu-Jamal’s conviction and death sentence. It adopted DA Castille’s legal arguments not to apply recent precedent-setting rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court on jury selection and prosecutorial misconduct in jury summations to Mumia..
Just days later Mumia penned “Law is Simply Politics by Other Means.” (March 19, 1989)
Of all peoples, Africans have the least reason to look to America’s courts for even a semblance of justice. The record of overt injustice echoes down the ages, and the heirs of Justice Taney, of Dred Scott infamy, still sit upon courts, proving his dictum, ‘A black man has no rights, that a white man is bound to respect,’ has continuing relevance to today. The ideal is, of course, that all defendants are to be treated equally in American courts. The reality, of course, is something else again. …. This [appeal denial] was not a legal decision; it was a political decision. “Law is simply politics by other means.”
In deciding against Mumia, the Pa. Supreme court decision did not even maintain a pretense of upholding the established law. Rather, the denial of legal precedent to Mumia became the new precedent, “Mumia rules,” applied to other Pennsylvania cases.
Mumia’s historical reference to Dred Scott is that slavery and its legacy is intrinsic to the American state. It took the Civil War to end slavery, won by the participation of over 200,000 Black troops. The U.S. Civil War remains unfinished, as seen in the post-Reconstruction convict leasing and debt peonage, de jure and de facto segregation, the oppression of Black people at the bottom of the economy, and mass incarceration. Black oppression is the bedrock of American capitalism.
Thirty years later, the legal battles for Mumia freedom continue, each an instance of the relevance of Dred Scott, an object lesson in the class nature of the capitalist state; that class and race bias are integral to what is a frame-up system. The injustices of Mumia’s prosecution, death sentence and life imprisonment are those meted out every day, disparately suffered by Black people.
At the same time the Pa. Supreme Court decision made crystal clear that Abu-Jamal’s case is a special case of political persecution, intended to be a lesson for any who dare to speak out in opposition to racist oppression, bias and other inequities of American capitalism. This “special case of political persecution” is shared with other imprisoned former Black Panther Party members and Leonard Peltier targeted by the FBI’s Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) and the MOVE 9. Today, Black activists are targeted as “Black Identity Extremists.”
Mumia’s Pending Legal Proceedings
Mumia’s legal action was filed on August 7, 2016, but the first court date was not until April 24, 2017. The DAO opposed Mumia’s action, arguing for dismissal and that reinstating Mumia’s appeal rights would be “too much justice.” Instead, Judge Tucker issued six discovery orders to the DAO, each in response to DAO filings that there are no documents related to former Philadelphia District Attorney Ronald Castille’s personal involvement in Mumia Abu-Jamal’s appeals from 1986-1991.
The prosecution position that there is no documentary evidence of Castille’s involvement is outrageous, but expected; it constitutes a cover-up of the continuing frame-up of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Nonetheless, the DAO released a March 27, 1990 report on the status of pending capital cases, including Mumia’s, requested by Castille. Several times Judge Tucker ordered the DAO to produce DA Castille’s letter requesting that report. The DAO twice answered that it “cannot locate” Castille’s instructions.
On November 27, 2017 Judge Tucker ordered a court hearing for January 17, 2018 for the DAO to “produce former Deputy District Attorney Gayle Barthold McLaughlin to present testimony regarding the content of the [Castille] documents the DA’s office cannot locate.” (McLaughlin is the signatory on the March 27, 1990 memo and the attorney assigned by DA Castille to represent the DAO in Mumia’s U.S. Supreme Court proceedings.) Judge Tucker threatened sanctions against the DAO, but there is no order that Ronald Castille testify, although he is living in the Philadelphia area.
Prior to the January 17, 2018 court hearing the International Call with signatories was delivered to DA Krasner as well as a letter from Pam Africa, ICFFMAJ and Joe Piette of Mobilization 4 Mumia. That letter requested they and international representatives meet with DA Larry Krasner to discuss the public release of all police and prosecution files related to Mumia’s prosecution and obtaining Mumia’s freedom. DA Krasner was also told he should immediately withdraw the prosecution’s objection to Mumia’s legal action and restore his rights to appeal, based on documentary evidence already released by the DAO.
The courtroom on January 17, 2018 was filled to overflow with over 100 Mumia supporters, including an international delegation of Mireille Fanon-Mendes-France and Jacqui Hortaut (LIBERONS MUMIA!). Outside a large group of demonstrators demanded “Public Release of All Police and Prosecution Files on Mumia Abu-Jamal” and “Free Mumia Now.”
DA Krasner’s new team did not acknowledge Judge Tucker’s standing order to the DAO to produce evidence. Instead, based on a meeting with DA Krasner, Judge Tucker was asked to give a 60-day continuance for the DAO to “formulate an office policy.” Mumia’s attorneys Sam Spital of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Judith Ritter agreed. Judge Tucker granted the 60 days, but required a status report in 30 days, and instructed the DAO to provide the information ordered.
On February 26, the process was repeated. The DAO said they still couldn’t locate Castille’s instructions to prepare the status report on pending 70 capital cases as of March 1990. This time they asked for 90 days to review the boxes of files of those cases. Judge Tucker instead ordered another status report on March 27 and a hearing on April 30. Per the request of Mumia’s counsel, the DAO agreed that if there is no new documentation from the files, there will be a deposition of former Deputy DA McLaughlin.
Not mentioned in court was another document: a June 15, 1990 letter from DA Castille to then-governor Robert Casey. This letter urged the governor to issue death warrants in 16 Philadelphia capital cases where the appeals process was completed. DA Castille’s letter states: “I urge you to send a clear and dramatic message to all police killers that the death penalty actually means something.”
This letter was disclosed by the DAO with the caveat that it does not apply to Mumia because he is not specifically named. But Mumia’s appeals were still pending in the U.S. Supreme Court, so a death warrant could not be requested for him. The “all police killers” was an unmistakable reference to Mumia Abu-Jamal.
As Mumia’s attorneys argued to Judge Tucker in an October 19, 2017 letter: “The [June 15, 1990] letter makes clear that Mr. Castille made a policy decision—which would include Mr. Abu-Jamal’s case— to expedite litigation in capital cases so they would ‘move forward to their ultimate conclusion.’ Indeed, under the Commonwealth’s own reasoning, Mr. Castille actively tracked Mr. Abu-Jamal’s case … Those facts, in and of themselves, show Mr. Castille’s ‘significant, personal involvement…in a critical decision regarding Mr. Abu-Jamal’s case.”
In other words, the March 27, 1990 status report on capital cases and Castille’s June 15, 1990 letter to Gov. Casey meet the standard required by Williams that Justice Castille’s participation as a justice in Mumia’s appeals deprived Mumia of a fair and impartial tribunal. Mumia’s appeal denials from 1998-2012 should be vacated and his appeal rights restored.
The International Offensive to Free Mumia is organized to make it clear to District Attorney Krasner and Judge Leon Tucker there is an international movement that will not stop until Mumia is free.
The District Attorney serves a specific repressive function in the criminal injustice system. It cannot be fundamentally changed, any more than racist, brutal policing can be ended without overturning the entirety of the capitalist injustice system. The progressive aura of Larry Krasner, a defense attorney for 30 years, whose campaign promises included to help end mass incarceration and to “review past convictions and free the wrongfully convicted” and “never to seek a death sentence” is already dimmed.
Not surprisingly, Krasner now says, “never say never” on capital punishment. When Krasner put Ronald Castille on his post-election advisory board it served to quell some opposition from prosecutors and the FOP. Castille is a known zealot in favor of executions; he excoriated defense attorneys who aggressively represented defendants in capital cases. In addition, the Williams Supreme Court decision was national news, and Castille publicly disagreed. DA Krasner had to have known of the 14 pending Williams v. Pennsylvania cases, including Mumia’s.
No less political pressure, in the form of protest and publicity, should be exerted on DA Larry Krasner than was previously directed at district attorneys Edward Rendell, Ronald Castille, Lynne Abraham or Seth Williams. Rather, precisely because Bernie Sanders-supported Larry Krasner is a self-defined “progressive” more demands need to be made on him.
Judge Tucker has repeatedly ordered the DAO to search its files for any document evidencing Castille’s personal involvement in Mumia’s case, but he has not responded to Mumia’s lawyers’ requests to order the DAO to specifically account for its search and to allow a full evidentiary hearing.
There is no basis to assume Judge Tucker will go beyond the prosecution’s narrowest interpretation of Williams: that evidence of Castille’s personal involvement in prosecuting Mumia requires a document in which Castille specifically references Mumia Abu-Jamal, his appeal and/or his death sentence. And Judge Tucker could accept the DAO’s statement that there is no such document, despite the released documents decisively demonstrating Castille’s tracking of Mumia’s case to insure an execution warrant as soon as possible.
And if that is the case, Judge Tucker has the authority to rule against Mumia. And if so, this would not be the first time a court ruled against Mumia, carving out an exception or distinguishing element to deny the application of a constitutional principle or court precedent.
Judge Tucker has political ambitions of his own. He attempted to get on the ballot as the Republican candidate for DA after Larry Krasner won the Democratic primary for district attorney. Reportedly Judge Tucker is seeking a federal judgeship. How Judge Tucker handles these “Williams’ cases,” especially the result in Mumia’s case, is being closely watched.
Additionally, Judge Tucker has his own legal bias in cases challenging prosecutorial misconduct as shown in the dismissal of the post-conviction petition of Major Tillery without even an evidentiary hearing. Judge Tucker struck down witnesses’ recantation of lying testimony as “untimely,” blaming Tillery for waiting “too long” to get the proof that the police and prosecution coerced the witnesses with threats and promised plea deals.
Judge Tucker’s courtroom will be packed and there will be protest demonstrations outside the courthouse for the March 27 status hearing and the April 30, 2018 evidentiary hearing.
For Class-Struggle Defense To Free Mumia
The almost 40 years of legal proceedings against Mumia in the state and federal courts, aided by the concerted FOP-led propaganda campaign against him, have shown again and again there is no way to dodge the central truth that Mumia is directly up against a state machine that is united in its determination to kill him, to imprison him for life, to silence him—for who he is, and what he continues to fight for.
There is pressure that can be brought to bear on the courts, which do not sit in judgment and rule in isolation. But it will take international mobilization of the masses, centrally labor and its allies, minorities, immigrants and youth to turn the tide and win Mumia’s freedom.
Organizing on the basis of class struggle, non-sectarian defense is our key strategy to win Mumia’s freedom. While utilizing all possible legal proceedings and allying with all those who support the cause of Mumia’s freedom, class struggle defense recognizes the social force of mass mobilization, and most decisively organized labor. In countries and cities in the U.S. and around the globe, mass organizations and numbers of people are needed for agitation, publicity, organizing protest on a national and international scale as well as rallies, community meetings and leafleting and petitions to the Pa. Governor and Philadelphia DA, from any and all organizations who share in the commitment to free Mumia.
At the same time we need to act on the understanding of the nature of the capitalist state, that the courts are not neutral and that there can be no illusions in the courts, prosecutors, or capitalist politicians, whether they are white or black, Democratic, Republican or Green; but place instead our reliance on the power of the working class and its allies.
This is not a rejection of support from elected officials in the U.S. including the late Pa. State Rep. David Richardson, congressmen Barbara Lee, John Conyers and Ron Dellums, or internationally including Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn. Dozens of elected members of parliaments and elected bodies around the world have signed on to the International Call, including Labour MP John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, members of the European Parliament, 15 Danish Parliament members. Elected officials from France, Germany, Britain, South Africa Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Senegal, Australia, Haiti, Mexico, Canada, the U.S. and other countries added their names and positions.
Class struggle defense is the recognition that the strategy to free Mumia lies in the streets and in the actions of the masses.
Historically, in the United States class struggle defense was codified in the principled work of the International Labor Defense (ILD), formed by the early Communist Party. That work is still honored today in the San Francisco longshore union hall in a proudly displayed mural of the “Red Angel,” ILD Secretary Elaine Black Yoneda, the only woman on the San Francisco 1934 General Strike Committee.
Labor and trade-union organizations are strategic for class-struggle defense. That understanding has two components. One is based on the social power of the working class—social power that can bring production, transport and communications to a halt. Imagine what it would mean if the Philadelphia transit workers and sanitation workers, postal workers and others went out on strike, fighting not only for job security, higher pay, medical and better work conditions but to demand Mumia’s freedom.
While on death row Mumia has stood for labor solidarity with workers in struggle. He is a proud member of the National Writers Union (UAW). In 1996, when ABC-TV sent a strike breaking “20/20” crew to interview Mumia, during a recent CWA-NABET strike, Mumia said “No,” that he’d rather die than cross a picket line. He spoke in support of the Liverpool dockers struggle (1997), the striking Charleston, South Carolina longshore union (2000), locked out West Coast longshore workers of the ILWU (2002), and striking NYC transit workers (2005), and others.
From the beginning of the fight for Mumia, labor organizations internationally have stood up for him with resolutions and signatures on petitions. The International Call is signed by over 50 trade unions and union leaders from around the globe including from Britain, Spain, Portugal, India, Pakistan, Japan, Australia, Argentina, U.S and Canada.
Crucial to winning Mumia’s freedom is turning this support into concrete militant labor action, up to and including strike action.
In early January 1999 the Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal (LAC), Oakland, California, was formed “dedicated to educating workers about Jamal’s case, and to promoting a class-struggle movement, including strikes and other job actions wherever possible, to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!”
Oakland Teachers for Mumia, supported by the LAC, initiated the January 1999 Oakland Education Association (OEA) high school teach-ins on “The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal and the Death Penalty.” The OEA teach-in which took place despite a crescendo in the media against a “convicted cop killer” in the wake of a killing of an Oakland cop.
The 1999 one-day action of the ILWU on the West Coast, initiated by supporters of the LAC, on the basis of “Free Mumia!” and “An Injury To One Is An Injury To All” is a concrete example of the labor strike action needed. Members of the LAC worked within ILWU Local 10 to win a coast wide vote that the ILWU would shut down all West Coast ports on April 24,1999 to express their solidarity with Mumia Abu-Jamal. The eight-hour “stop-work meetings” approved by the delegates halted all shipping from Bellingham, Washington to San Diego, California.
The adopted demands of the ILWU were “Stop the Execution!” and “Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!” Although the 1972 ILWU Convention voted to free Angela Davis, this was the first time the ILWU shut down all West Coast ports in support of a political prisoner.
This powerful labor action helped mobilize 25,000 people in the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal demonstration initiated by the Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal and was led by the 300-strong contingent of members ILWU from San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles, Port Hueneme, Seattle, and other port cities along the Western seaboard in the streets of San Francisco demanding Mumia’s freedom on April 24. Chanting, “An injury to one is an injury to all! Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!” the West Coast-based ILWU set an historic precedent for the U.S. labor movement and beyond.
Messages of international dockworkers’ solidarity with the ILWU’s action in defense of Mumia came from Liverpool, Sweden, Denmark, Cyprus, Finland, Japan and from the 100,000 member teachers’ union in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil which struck for two hours the day before calling for freedom for Mumia.
The latter demand “An injury to one is an injury to all!” speaks to the other component of why class struggle defense for Mumia is so important. Labor rights go hand in hand with Black rights. The fight to free Mumia Abu-Jamal is part of the need for labor to champion every struggle for Black rights and Black freedom. Karl Marx at the time of the Civil War said: “Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded.” Poisonous white chauvinism is the tool of the American capitalist class, intended to divide workers, cripple immediate struggles and the recognition there is a class enemy that needs to be defeated in united class-struggle.
Teamsters Joint Council 16 representing some 120,000 Teamsters throughout New York City and across Long Island are training to challenge federal immigration agents who show up to search their work sites. Their statement is: union solidarity first, immigration status second. This labor solidarity shows a potential openness to what is needed.
The fight for Mumia’s freedom—and in defense of democratic rights and of all the oppressed—is also part of labor’s own fight, a fight that requires getting rid of the class-collaborationist trade-union leadership that sells out the workers’ interests. By taking up such struggles, workers are fighting not just for themselves as workers pitted against individual employers, but on behalf of the whole working class, which has the power and interest to overturn the rule of capital.
Labor actions, like those in 1999, are needed today and around the world, joining the fight to free Mumia with other struggles. This can become a reality.
The struggle for Mumia’s freedom requires solidarity and unity with those oppressed and exploited across the world. It is of necessity a fight back against capitalist repression, oppression and exploitation. Mumia’s conviction, death sentence, and now life imprisonment without parole embodies all aspects of the legacy of slavery in the criminal injustice system—from racist legal lynching to police terror and shootings on the streets; the denial of legal rights and frame-up prosecutions in the courts; the repression, dehumanization and warehousing of men and woman through mass incarceration; and the inhumane conditions of imprisonment, solitary confinement, life sentences without parole, medical negligence and malfeasance.
We can win Mumia’s freedom with international mass mobilization, with labor action and the strategy of class struggle defense. Mumia’s freedom and the political struggle to win it, is part of the fight for the liberation of us all.
FREE MUMIA ABU-JAMAL!
BUILD THE INTERNATIONAL MARCH 27 OFFENSIVE!
Rachel Wolkenstein is a legal advocate and political activist working with Mumia Abu-Jamal for over 30 years. She was co-counsel for Mumia during his post-conviction proceedings in front of Judge Albert Sabo from 1995-1998. From 1974-2010 she was staff counsel for the Partisan Defense Committee. She was chief legal consultant for the 2013 film Manufacturing Guilt.