Partisan Defense Committee contingent in philly mumia demonstration 2008
the fight to free mumia abu-jamal
A presentation by Rachel Wolkenstein, originally published in The Fight to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal--
Mumia Is Innocent!, Partisan Defense Committee Pamphlet, July 2006.
In the history of the United States, the causes of class-war prisoners have often defined entire political generations. In fact, the key political legal defense cases reflect the social struggles of their times. For instance, the case of the Haymarket martyrs in the late 1880s was part of the fight for trade-union organization in the United States and for the eight-hour day. Sacco and Vanzetti, two anarchists executed in 1927, were framed up for murder as part of the anti-immigrant, anti-Communist hysteria that followed the October 1917 Russian Revolution. The fight to save the Scottsboro Boys from legal lynching in the 1930s became a mobilization against racism in the American South. Those young men were not executed, but they did spend most of their lives in prison. And there’s the case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed as part of the McCarthyite anti-Communist hysteria in the early ’50s, in response to the fact that the USSR had the atom bomb.
I believe that the fight for Mumia Abu-Jamal’s freedom may well define this political generation. This is the post-Soviet period. U.S. imperialism has overwhelming military superiority in the absence of the USSR, which was the military-industrial powerhouse of the non-capitalist world. The bourgeoisie in every capitalist country has increased the attacks on workers, minorities and immigrants. In the U.S. that translates into an impulse toward genocide against the black population, linked to savage attacks on the working class and the poor. It is with this understanding of the import of Mumia’s case that I am giving this talk.
Mumia is a former Black Panther Party (BPP) member, a MOVE supporter, and he’s a working journalist on death row. He’s innocent of the killing of Police Officer Daniel Faulkner, who was shot to death in December 1981 in Philadelphia. Mumia was framed up because of his political beliefs, activities and association. This was a racist, political frame-up of an innocent man, a man who fights with passion and conviction against racial and class bias, who fights for social justice and fights against U.S. imperialism’s wars of colonial depredation. Mumia says, “I am fighting to create revolution in America. Revolution means total change.” For that, he has endured the hatred and concerted effort of the American bourgeois state to see his voice forever silenced. The capitalist rulers want to see Mumia dead because they see in him the spectre of black revolution, of defiant opposition to their system of racist oppression.
We are also here today because his case is in an urgent state. It has been put on what is called the “fast track” by the federal U.S. Court of Appeals in the Third Circuit, which covers the Pennsylvania area among others. In December 2001, the federal district court denied all but one of Mumia’s federal habeas corpus petition claims. But it did overturn the death sentence due to improper jury instructions. That ruling was appealed right away by the Philadelphia district attorney. Since then Mumia has been kept on death row, in his cell some 23 hours a day. Mumia appealed also, seeking to overturn the frame-up conviction and win his freedom.
Effectively, this is the real last appeal that Mumia will have, except for the U.S. Supreme Court, and I don’t think I need to describe the nature of that court to anybody here. It is my understanding, and Mumia concurs, that most likely the U.S. Court of Appeals will rule before the end of the year.
In the first place is the question of Mumia’s death sentence. The federal appeals court granted Mumia the ability to appeal just three other legal issues out of over 25 issues that he has raised in the courts. And out of these three issues, there are several legally possible scenarios, including a new trial or new appeals hearings in the state courts, and then in the federal courts. Alternatively, the appeals court could uphold the reversal of Mumia’s death sentence, leading to a new state court sentencing hearing on whether Mumia will be executed or spend the rest of his life entombed in prison. Finally, the court could find entirely for the prosecution and Mumia would be scheduled for execution.
In an interview with the newspaper of the French Communist Party (PCF), L’Humanité (25 April), Mumia himself said: “I have very little hope in a favorable decision from the Federal Court which has agreed to look at three points of the petition submitted to appeal by my lawyers.”
The latest indication of the national import of Mumia’s case was the execution of Stanley Tookie Williams. In refusing to commute Tookie Williams’ death sentence, California governor Schwarzenegger claimed that Williams did not “redeem” himself—itself a concept we do not agree with. As proof, Schwarzenegger asserted that Tookie praised as role models people who were political prisoners, in particular Mumia Abu-Jamal. And Mumia’s name was repeatedly linked with Tookie Williams in the press. Tookie Williams’ execution was a real signal that the state intends to see Mumia dead. In typically modest fashion, downplaying the connection to his case, Mumia described Tookie’s execution as a warning by the state to all youth who turn away from gang activities to not become involved in social struggles.
We need to examine why Mumia’s case is such an issue for the bourgeoisie. Mumia’s case is a microcosm of American capitalism—its viciousness, its vindictiveness and its racial oppression and class exploitation. And the particulars of the prosecution, conviction and legal appeals demonstrate again and again that this case epitomizes the injustices that exist every day under the capitalist legal system. At the very same time, it is a special case of political persecution, intended by the capitalist rulers to be a lesson for any who dare to speak out against the injustices and inequities of American capitalism.
But the fight for Mumia’s freedom is also a part of the fight for black liberation and part of the broader fight for socialist revolution, and therefore for the liberation of us all. The fight for Mumia must begin with an understanding of the capitalist state and its legal institutions. The state is a machine for the oppression of one class by another. It’s a repressive machine made up of the army, the cops and the courts, which all exist to defend the class rule and profits of the capitalists against those whose labor they exploit. The state exists to prevent those who produce the wealth of society, the working class, from collectively owning it—to keep those who profit from that labor, the bourgeoisie, in power.
The capitalist state, its cops and courts do not serve society as a whole. All the lofty language about “democracy” serves to mask the reality of class exploitation. Thus, it is crucial to understand that law is ultimately the rules governing the defense of private property and its varying social relations. The courts, like the prosecution and police, are part of the machinery to maintain the capitalist system, and therefore there can be no real justice for the working class and the oppressed in the capitalist courts. Class and race bias are inherent in this system. On the question of class bias and the law, I like to cite Anatole France, who made the observation that “the law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges.”
Black oppression, the segregation of the masses of black people at the bottom of this society, is intrinsic to American capitalist rule. And that takes us once again to the fight to free Mumia.
A Life of Fighting Racist Oppression
Mumia’s political history begins at the very young age of 13. In the fall of 1967, he was part of the leadership of some 3,500 high school students fighting to change the name of Benjamin Franklin High School in Philadelphia to Malcolm X High School. Those protests were ended by an attack by police, headed up by a racist demagogue by the name of Frank Rizzo, who was then the police chief and later became the mayor of Philadelphia. His chief assistant was one Alfonzo Giordano, who was the head of the police Stakeout squad, which was the Philadelphia cops’ name for their SWAT team. Mumia was expelled from high school for circulating pamphlets calling for “black revolutionary student power.”
In his book about the Black Panther Party, We Want Freedom [South End Press, 2004], Mumia writes:
“For me, political life began with the Black Panther Party.
“When an older sister named Audrea handed me a copy of The Black Panther newspaper around the spring of 1968 my mind was promptly blown. It was as if my dreams had awakened and strolled into my reality.
“I read and reread the issue, tenderly fingering each page as if it were the onion-skinned, tissue-like leaf of a holy book. My eyes drank in the images of young Black men and women, their slim and splendid bodies clothed in black leather, their breasts bedecked with buttons proclaiming rebellion, resistance, and revolution.
“I almost couldn’t believe my eyes as I scanned photos of armed Black folks proclaiming their determination to fight or die for the Black Revolution. It would be some months before I would formally join something called the Black Panther Party, but, in truth, I joined it months before, when I saw my first Black Panther newspaper.
“I joined it in my heart.
“I was all of 14 years old.”
A few months later, Mumia, still 14 years old, was beaten and arrested by undercover police while he was protesting a presidential candidate by the name of George Wallace. As Alabama governor, Wallace was famous at the time for standing in the schoolhouse door and vowing, “Segregation forever!” In 1968 Wallace took his campaign to South Philly, which at the time was a white racist bastion. Mumia and three friends went to this rally. Mumia writes: “We strolled into the stadium, four lanky dark string beans in a pot of white, steaming limas. The band played ‘Dixie.’ We shouted, ‘Black power, Ungowa, black power!’” The cops kicked them out. Gangs of white racist thugs set upon these youth. Mumia says he saw the cops’ pants legs, while he was down on the ground, and he automatically yelled, “Help, Police!” And so the cop marched over and kicked him in the face. Mumia was beaten so badly that his mother didn’t recognize him. And so Mumia also says that he was beaten into the Black Panther Party.
In that same year, 1968, J. Edgar Hoover, then FBI chief under Democratic president Lyndon Johnson and his attorney general, Ramsey Clark, escalated the state’s war on black youth through a program called COINTELPRO. This FBI “counter-intelligence” program served to set up, frame up, harass, jail and even murder black militants and disrupt their political organizations. COINTELPRO originated in programs to spy on, disrupt and intimidate leftists, particularly the Communist Party and Socialist Workers Party.
The Feds’ concerns about black militants were not new and did not originate in the 1960s, but in the years immediately following the Russian Revolution. In 1919, when Hoover headed the General Intelligence Division of the Bureau of Investigation, forerunner of the FBI, he said, “Special attention” should be given to “the Negro agitation which seems to be prevalent throughout the industrial centers of the country and every effort should be made to ascertain whether or not this agitation is due to the influence of the radical elements such as the IWW [Industrial Workers of the World] and Bolsheviks.”
In 1968 the FBI’s prime target was the Black Panther Party. And Hoover warned: “The Negro youth and moderate[s] must be made to understand that if they succumb to revolutionary teachings, they will be dead revolutionaries.” As a leader of the Black Panther Party, Mumia was a dead man on leave.
FBI Targets Mumia
In 1995 the Partisan Defense Committee obtained from the FBI through the Freedom of Information Act some 900 pages of records on Mumia. This was not all that the FBI had, only what they released to us, and most of it was redacted—blacked out—so you couldn’t read names and other particulars. The files, which were copied to the Philadelphia police, proved that the FBI had begun watching Mumia on a daily basis from the time he was 15 years old and in high school. Now why did they target him? Was it because he had weapons and threatened to kill anyone? No. He did support the right of armed self-defense from state attack, but he himself was not an armed threat to anyone. But the FBI put him under surveillance because of his speaking and writing skills. Here’s a quote from an October 1969 FBI report:
“In spite of the subject’s age (15 years), Philadelphia [FBI] feels that his continued participation in BPP activities in the Philadelphia Division, his position in the Philadelphia branch of the BPP [as lieutenant minister of information], and his past inclination to appear and speak at public gatherings, the subject should be included on the Security Index.”
The Security Index was the secret “terrorist” list of the time. Mumia was also on the ADEX list, which was a list of people who were to be taken into detention and put into concentration camps in the event of a “national emergency.” Mumia was in the gun sights of the FBI, targeted for his ability to speak and write. In my mind, this echoes the punishments—whippings and even death—that were meted out to slaves who violated the slave codes and learned to read. Today, according to the government, some 300,000 names are on its “terrorist” list; not all are U.S. citizens. Anyone who is perceived as an opponent of the government can be deemed an “enemy combatant” and simply disappeared, without charges, without trial.
The FBI files on Mumia included many clippings of articles written by him. And the FBI noted that he “made the BPP look good because his approach was very positive.” The FBI recorded that there was no evidence of a propensity to violence; yet they labeled him “armed and dangerous.” This was a government license to kill.
Indeed, under COINTELPRO, some 38 Panthers were killed nationwide and hundreds railroaded to jail on frame-up charges. In December 1969, the FBI and local cops attacked Black Panther Party offices across the country. In Chicago, the FBI and Chicago police murdered two young Black Panther Party leaders: Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. They were shot dead in their beds.
Mumia traveled to Chicago and viewed Hampton and Clark’s shot-up apartment. He returned to Philadelphia with other Black Panther Party members and, along with prominent members of the Philly black community, spoke out in protest rallies against their murders. Shortly afterward, in January 1970, the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer printed an article on Mumia and the Panthers. Accompanying this article was a picture of Mumia, aged 15, sitting in the Panther office and talking about the role of the Black Panther Party and the government’s attacks on it. This is the same picture that’s on the front of Mumia’s book We Want Freedom.
By that time, the Panthers had made a turn toward community service, and they were very involved in things like breakfast programs for poor kids, reading programs and those kinds of things. In the Inquirer article, Mumia describes these as “doing what the churches are supposed to do.” He also said that the Panthers had to face reality—that the police and FBI were attacking and killing Panthers around the country. He invoked the slogans of Mao Zedong, then the leader of China. These slogans, such as “all power to the people” and “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun,” were used by the Panthers and became more generally used in the New Left. As Mumia explained when these quotes were used to pillory him during his 1982 sentencing hearing, the latter slogan was intended to mean that, in a historic sense, all states come into being through force. Mumia was making reference to the United States and the near-complete eradication of Native Americans. It was force that maintained the institution of slavery, and as well, it was force, culminating in the Union victory in the Civil War, that ended it.
Mumia was also under daily surveillance by the Philadelphia Civil Defense Unit, the Philadelphia version of the Red Squad, which was headed by a cop named George Fencl. The Philly Red Squad was itself a model for COINTELPRO and maintained files on some 18,000 people in Philadelphia at the time.
There were three raids on the Philly Black Panther Party offices in 1970. Fencl’s Civil Defense Unit was in the lead, backed by the armed Stakeout cops directed by Giordano. The cops were furious that their raids did not lead to gun battles and Panthers’ deaths.
Mumia himself was set up as a target and marked for an FBI/police hit as he boarded a plane from Philly to the West Coast. He was going to write for the Black Panther Party newspaper, which was centered in Oakland. The police ploy didn’t get very far, because he had no weapon on him—that’s what the cops were looking for.
The Panthers were the best of that generation of militant black youth. But as a nationalist organization, they rejected the only road leading to the destruction of the racist capitalist order—the revolutionary mobilization of the multiracial working class. The Panthers were destroyed by both police terror from without and internally destructive internecine fighting, which was both fomented and exacerbated by COINTELPRO.
“Voice of the Voiceless”
In the early 1970s, Mumia attended Goddard College in Vermont. At that time the FBI, in yet another attempt to get Mumia, outlandishly tried to frame him up for the murder of the governor of Bermuda and his aide. Fortunately, Mumia was protected by the fact that he had an ironclad alibi. When he returned to Philadelphia in the mid ’70s, Mumia took up a career as a radio journalist. And he quickly acquired a reputation for his coverage of police abuse.
As a journalist, Mumia was called the “Voice of the Voiceless.” He was described as speaking of the “triumphs and tragedies of poor and oppressed Black and Hispanic people with passion and eloquence—in both English and the Spanish language.” He interviewed basketball star Julius Erving, Bob Marley, Puerto Rican independistas, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. He was considered a rising star—his colleagues in the broadcast journalism milieu thought that he was the likely black candidate to get a national spot in TV broadcasting. Philadelphia Magazine (January 1981) declared Mumia one of the “People to Watch in 1981.” He was elected president of the Philadelphia chapter of the Association of Black Journalists.
Beginning in 1977 through the summer of 1978, there was a year-long police siege of the MOVE house in the integrated Powelton Village area of Philadelphia. For those of you who don’t know, MOVE is a back-to-nature, interracial, communal organization, which believes in armed self-defense and has had some ex-Panthers in their membership. They faced animosity and persecution from the cops and the state. The cop in charge of this siege was none other than Alfonzo Giordano. The siege ended with some 600 cops, led by Stakeout police, shooting up the house and with the brutal police beating of a wounded Delbert Africa, a MOVE member who was a former Panther.
The MOVE group believed in verbally confronting the system, and, as I said, was in favor of armed self-defense. However, they had rendered the guns that they were parading with on the porch of their house inoperable. Following the police attack, nine MOVE members were tried and convicted for the murder of a Stakeout police officer by the name of James Ramp, who was actually killed by police crossfire. MOVE members were sentenced to 30 to 100 years in prison. Mumia was outraged by the siege, Delbert’s beating and the frame-up convictions. (They are still in prison today.) At his press conference following the cop assault, Frank Rizzo, then the mayor, looked directly at Mumia and declared that a “new breed of journalism” was to blame for Ramp’s death and that someday those like Mumia were “going to have to be held responsible and accountable.”
The siege of the MOVE house and Delbert Africa’s vicious beating, captured on news video, came atop a wave of coldblooded street executions by police and exposures of systematic frame-up methods used by the Homicide Division in Philadelphia. This was reported in a Pulitzer Prize-winning series in the Philadelphia Inquirer called “The Homicide Files,” upon which a 2001 movie, The Thin Blue Lie, was based. The Inquirer (20 August 1978) editorialized that the “resentments and frustrations” over police violence could take on “dreadful and explosive proportions.”
In 1979 the U.S. Justice Department initiated a civil rights lawsuit to put the Philadelphia Police Department in receivership, citing “widespread, arbitrary, and unreasonable physical abuse.” The response from the police was immediate. Some 400 off-duty police charged into the Philadelphia Inquirer offices protesting the publication of photos of Delbert Africa’s beating. Some 2,000 cops jammed a Fraternal Order of Police (F.O.P.) lodge demanding the ouster of a black cop, Alphonso Deal, who was also head of a North Philadelphia NAACP chapter. When three Stakeout squad members were charged with Delbert Africa’s beating, 500 cops marched on City Hall, and the head of the Philly cops’ “union” ranted, “They should have killed them all.” The Philly police wives’ group protested the Justice Department suit and said that they had been gathering evidence since the ’70s of a “conspiracy among revolutionaries and radicals to assassinate police.” Not surprisingly, the federal civil rights lawsuit was soon dismissed for “lack of jurisdiction.”
Mumia sympathetically reported about the MOVE 9 trial, and he exposed their August 1981 frame-up conviction as well as the acquittal of the cops who beat Delbert Africa. Mumia was also there when John Africa, the MOVE leader, was acquitted of federal charges of conspiracy and weapons possession in July 1981. Through all of this, Mumia uniquely was telling the Africas’ side of the story. It was during this time that Mumia became a MOVE supporter, wearing his hair in dreadlocks. Nobody wore dreadlocks at that time except for MOVE supporters and people who were followers of Rastafarianism. So it was a big deal that he showed up in these dreads. Everyone could see where he stood. As he increased his vocal and written support for MOVE, Mumia lost his steady radio journalist jobs and took up driving a cab part-time to make ends meet.
The 1982 Frame-Up Trial
I want to underscore the point that Mumia’s visible leadership role within the Black Panther Party, his high-profile journalist position and his support for MOVE all took place within the very short period of ten years. Mumia was well known. The same police officers who were focused on the Black Panther Party led the attacks on the MOVE organization. Rizzo was in charge throughout. And it was just a few months after the MOVE 9 conviction, which took place in August 1981, and John Africa’s acquittal that Mumia was shot on the street, beaten and arrested on frame-up murder charges. August to December 1981—that’s the period of time we’re talking about.
The uniqueness of this case is evidenced by the initial newspaper coverage of the shooting of Police Officer Daniel Faulkner. In the early morning hours of 9 December 1981, in the Center City area of Philadelphia, which was the red light district, Mumia was shot and beaten by the cops. He was arrested for the murder of Daniel Faulkner. Yet the headline in the Philadelphia Inquirer was truly amazing: “The Suspect—Jamal: An Eloquent Activist Not Afraid to Raise His Voice.” Now that’s quite a headline for a guy who has just been accused of killing a cop in cold blood. The Inquirer described Mumia in this article as a “gadfly among journalists and easily recognizable because of his dreadlock hairstyle, revolutionary politics and deep baritone voice.”
At the time of Mumia’s trial, no one thought that he could possibly be convicted. The crime he was accused of was so totally out of character for Mumia and what he stood for. During his time in the Black Panther Party, Mumia was known as the guy who understood that the cops were trying to provoke Panthers into a response which would “justify” police beatings, shooting, killing. Mumia was the guy who helped people to stay cool in the face of police provocation.
I learned all of this when we began investigating the case and building support for Mumia. For years after his conviction, the prosecution’s story that they had an airtight case predominated: a confession, three eyewitnesses, ballistics evidence. But it had been a spectacular surprise to the cops and prosecution that they got a conviction of Mumia, as confirmed in a 1986 Philadelphia Magazine interview with Joseph McGill, the D.A. who prosecuted Mumia, where it was reported, “Jamal’s conviction was considered a miracle in law enforcement circles.”
In a remarkably short period, from December 1981 to July 1982, Mumia was tried, convicted and sentenced to death, by a collusion of the state apparatus—the police, the prosecution and the court. Witnesses were bought and terrorized, Mumia’s confession was fabricated and ballistics evidence was invented. At the trial, the D.A. presented a case of lies: Mumia saw a cop beating his brother and shot the cop in the back. Then, as the cop turned and fell, he shot Mumia in the chest. Finally, Mumia supposedly stood over the fallen cop, who was lying prone on the ground, and shot him execution-style several times in the head. The D.A. claims that there were three direct witnesses to the shooting. One was Cynthia White, a prostitute; another was a white cab driver named Robert Chobert; and another was Michael Scanlan, a young man who was driving through the area. According to the D.A., Mumia’s gun was found next to Mumia at the scene, and Mumia confessed at the hospital in front of a cop and security guard. These are all lies, as I’ll lay out a little bit later.
The judge, Albert Sabo, known as a hanging judge or Judge Death, had sent more defendants to death row than any other judge in the entire United States. Some 20 years later, a court reporter had the courage to come forward and say that at the time of the trial, she overheard Sabo say that he would help “fry the n----r.”
Every part of the trial process was corrupted. Every so-called constitutional right to a “fair trial,” to due process, was violated. Mumia was refused money for investigation and experts on ballistics and medical questions. He was denied the information to reach witnesses. He was compelled to have a lawyer who was both inexperienced and forced to stay on the case when he said he couldn’t do it.
The prosecution kicked blacks off the jury. It was a conscious policy of the D.A.’s office to train the prosecutors in how to get rid of blacks from the juries and make it appear that something other than race was the reason. This was an absolute violation of then-recent Supreme Court decisions. The question of the exclusion of blacks from the jury is one of the issues on appeal in Mumia’s case.
The court did not allow Mumia to have the legal representation he wanted or to represent himself, and kicked him out of the courtroom during key testimony. In fact, Mumia was too effective, too intelligent, and presented himself to the jury as totally contrary to the wild-man image that the D.A. and the judge tried to convey.
Judge Sabo and the D.A. did not allow the defense to call as a witness Gary Wakshul, the cop who stayed with Mumia from his arrest through his time at the hospital and whose official report stated that “the negro male made no comments.” This deprived the defense of ammunition against the police fabrication that Mumia confessed. With Sabo’s help, the prosecution obstructed presentation of witnesses who said they saw the shooter run away. The D.A. was also allowed to argue that Mumia’s character witness, a renowned black poet named Sonia Sanchez, was a “friend of cop killers” and should not be listened to. Why? Because she had written a preface to Assata Shakur’s autobiography. (Shakur, now living in exile in Cuba, was a Black Liberation Army member who was falsely charged with killing a New Jersey state trooper.) The prosecution also falsely claimed during summation that there was no reason for the witness Robert Chobert to lie about his identification of Mumia.
The D.A. also argued that Mumia would have “appeal after appeal after appeal,” advising the jury that they did not really have to seriously examine the evidence and hold the state to its burden of proving Mumia guilty beyond a reasonable doubt because his case would be reviewed later by another court. This is another issue on appeal before the Third Circuit.
A Legal Lynching
The death sentence for Mumia in 1982 was based on the District Attorney’s argument that Mumia’s statements as a 15-year-old Panther member—a decade before Faulkner was killed—that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun” and for “all power to the people” were proof that Mumia had always intended to kill a cop. These quotes came from that January 1970 article. They were the sole evidence used to try to show that Mumia had the intention to kill this cop—i.e., that there was premeditation.
As Mumia described it in the PDC video, From Death Row, This Is Mumia Abu-Jamal, “The word Black Panther means different things to different people, depending on their perspective, depending on their history, depending on their political orientation. The prosecutor knew that exceedingly well.... I saw it when it hit the jury; it was like a bolt of electricity. Pow.”
Mumia was convicted on 2 July 1982 and sentenced to death on July 3. The jury then rushed home to celebrate the Fourth of July.
The frame-up conviction was the culmination of nearly 15 years of state efforts. The slogan of Mumia’s defenders at the time of his trial was: “His only crime was he survived.” When we first took up Mumia’s defense, we described the cops’ attempt to kill him and the frame-up conviction as the long arm of COINTELPRO reaching into the courtroom.
After 1982, Mumia’s case just languished. The legal appeals did not really proceed for years because the state did not appoint appeal counsel for Mumia. The only organization that defended him during that period of time, in addition to MOVE, was the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), for which they should get due credit. The Partisan Defense Committee and the Spartacist League did not learn of Mumia’s case until late 1986.
PDC Takes Up Mumia’s Case
We learned about Mumia’s case from MOVE member Ramona Africa. The why and how of this requires me to talk a bit about the Partisan Defense Committee. The Spartacist League initiated the Partisan Defense Committee in 1974. The model was the International Labor Defense (ILD) under James P. Cannon of the early Communist Party. We are a class-struggle, non-sectarian legal and social defense organization. We also stand on the slogan of the IWW: “An injury to one is an injury to all.” We defend cases and causes—regardless of who the organization or individual is—whose successful outcome is in the interests of the whole of the working people. By definition, that means that those we defend do not have to agree with, and often do not agree with, the political views of the Spartacist League.
Now, briefly, some of our history. We defended militant leftists after the 1973 coup against the Allende government in Chile. We defended a Chilean miners leader whose life was at risk in Chile and who was threatened by the junta in Argentina shortly after that. We defended Black Panther Party members who were basically forgotten, like Geronimo ji Jaga (Pratt). We initiated anti-Klan and anti-fascist mobilizations and filed lawsuits against being slandered as “terrorists”—that was against the Moonies and against the FBI, who tried to put the Spartacist League on its domestic terrorist list, a sort of precursor to the USA Patriot Act. And we did win those lawsuits. We gave support to the British miners in their 1984-85 strike against the mass closure of coal pits, and we defended the MOVE organization after the firebombing of their commune on 13 May 1985, in which eleven men, women and children were burned to death. Ramona Africa served every day of a seven-year sentence for the “crime” of being the sole adult survivor.
In 1986, the PDC began a program in the tradition of the ILD of providing monthly stipends to class-war prisoners as acts of solidarity. Among the first class-war prisoners we gave stipends to were Geronimo ji Jaga (Pratt), imprisoned British miners and MOVE prisoners. The MOVE prisoners included Alberta Africa, sentenced to seven years for a May 1977 “guns on the porch” demonstration, the victims of the 1978 Powelton Village attack that Mumia had protested, as well as Ramona Africa. In 1989, the Partisan Defense Committee launched a campaign to raise funds for the civilian victims in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, who, after Soviet troops were criminally withdrawn, were left to face the revenge of the CIA-backed, Islamic fundamentalist mujahedin. Each of these campaigns is a separate story, in which the PDC applied our class-struggle defense policies to crucial historic events in accordance with the political views of the Spartacist League.
It was from Ramona Africa and other MOVE prisoners that we learned of Mumia. They asked us to take up his case. Along with Paul Cooperstein, another attorney working with the PDC, I first met Mumia in August 1987. He was being held in solitary confinement in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, not only confined to death row but further isolated and punished in the disciplinary wing of the prison. The reason: he had very long dreads that he refused to cut because of his religious beliefs as a follower of John Africa. This was viewed as a “security violation” endangering the prison population. Mumia was in total isolation. He was not allowed a contact visit with anybody and was prohibited from receiving books, other than legal or religious materials, or having a TV or radio. Not knowing this, the PDC sent him the Columbia Desk Encyclopedia, which was returned to us.
We learned that the basis for sentencing Mumia to death was simply his Black Panther Party membership. We felt absolutely compelled to take up Mumia’s defense as emblematic of the death penalty, of its inherent racism in its origin and application in the United States. And we took up his defense as part of the broader fight against labeling people “terrorists”—because that’s what the Panthers were considered, the “terrorists” of that time—and against sentencing political activists to death based upon their political beliefs or organizational membership.
We certainly understood that there was a long, bloody history of terror and murder by the government against black people in this country. But what was so striking about Mumia’s case in the post-McCarthy, post-Vietnam War period was the overt use of the legal machinery of state repression to sentence a man to death because of his political beliefs.
The racist death penalty is the most extreme version of state repression there is. And in this country it is the legacy of slavery, what we refer to as “legal lynching.” That terminology has gotten much broader usage since we began making this point.
In 1987, about the same time we took up Mumia’s case, the United States Supreme Court ruled in a case called McCleskey v. Kemp that the overwhelming evidence of racist disparity in the application of the death penalty was irrelevant. The highest court in the land found that it was not relevant, although proven, that if you were black and convicted of killing a white person, you were four times as likely to be sentenced to death than if you were a white person convicted of killing a black person. As of January 2005, according to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, black people make up some 42 percent of inmates on death row—that’s about three times the percentage of blacks in the population of the U.S.
The Supreme Court ruled that all the evidence presented in the McCleskey case was not relevant because the argument, “taken to its logical conclusion, throws into serious question the principles that underlie the entire criminal justice system.” In other words, the court agreed that it is true that blacks are treated differently than whites, and it is true that they are disproportionately sentenced to death. But because this racial disparity is fundamental to the American legal system, the Supreme Court would not overturn McCleskey’s death sentence. The Supreme Court ruled that it was not relevant because, in fact, it was absolutely, totally relevant.
Warren McCleskey was executed on 25 September 1991.
As Marxists, our opposition to the death penalty does not begin or end with racial disparity in its application. We simply do not accord the state the right to determine who will live and who will die. Adherence to the death penalty is not just the position of the Bush administration or the Republican Party or people that you think are ultra-conservatives. The former Democratic Party president, Bill Clinton, signed into law the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which essentially gutted the right of death row prisoners to challenge their death sentences. During the 1992 presidential election campaign, Clinton flew back to Arkansas to oversee the execution of a brain-damaged black man, Ricky Ray Rector, as an election year ploy.
Fighting the Frame-Up System
The PDC campaign for Mumia, begun in 1988, was coupled with the fight to abolish the racist death penalty. From the very beginning, the Partisan Defense Committee and the Spartacist League have fought to win broader forces to the defense of Mumia and in opposition to the racist death penalty, while educating others on the political and racist basis for the frame-up and stressing the need for a class-struggle defense. This means we place no reliance on the state or on bourgeois politicians, whether they are black or white, Democratic, Republican or Green. We have no illusions in the “justice” of the capitalist courts.
We approached the campaign according to the principles of class-struggle, non-sectarian defense. This is what James P. Cannon wrote when Sacco and Vanzetti faced execution:
“One policy is the policy of the class struggle. It puts the center of gravity in the protest movement of the workers of America and the world. It puts all faith in the power of the masses and no faith whatever in the justice of the courts. While favoring all possible legal proceedings, it calls for agitation, publicity, demonstrations—organized protest on a national and international scale. It calls for unity and solidarity of all workers on this burning issue, regardless of conflicting views on other questions. This is what has prevented the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti so far. Its goal is nothing less than their triumphant vindication and liberation.
“The other policy is the policy of ‘respectability,’ of the ‘soft-pedal,’ and of ridiculous illusions about ‘justice’ from the courts of the enemy. It relies mainly on legal proceedings. It seeks to blur the issue of the class struggle. It shrinks from the ‘vulgar and noisy’ demonstrations of the militant workers and throws the mud of slander on them. It tries to represent the martyrdom of Sacco and Vanzetti as an ‘unfortunate’ error which can be rectified by the ‘right’ people proceeding in the ‘right’ way. The objective of this policy is a whitewash of the courts of Massachusetts and ‘clemency’ for Sacco and Vanzetti, in the form of a commutation to life imprisonment for a crime of which the world knows they are innocent.”
—“Who Can Save Sacco and Vanzetti?” Labor Defender, January 1927; reprinted in Notebook of an Agitator (1958)
In 1988, the Partisan Defense Committee initiated a labor/ black mobilization to stop fascists who had announced that they intended to show up in Philadelphia. It was a wide-ranging mobilization—labor organizations, black and community organizations. We also wanted to use this as an opportunity to get further support and publicity for Mumia’s case. Mumia Abu-Jamal became the first name on our list of endorsers on the mobilization leaflet. We solicited a taped commentary from Mumia. This was one of the first audio-recorded commentaries from Mumia in prison. He made the appropriate comparisons between the Klan in white robes and the cops in blue uniforms.
We also thought that in the interests of publicity and propaganda about Mumia’s case, we would petition the Pennsylvania governor, Robert Casey, a Democrat, to let Mumia out of prison that day to address this anti-fascist mobilization. We sent press releases about this to all the press. An indication of the state’s response was that when we got to the demonstration site, we found sharpshooters on every tall building surrounding Independence Mall as well as many, many tens of cops in riot gear and on horses. Of course, the forces of the state were hostile to our purpose of mobilizing to stop the fascists, but our defense of Mumia was clearly a component contributing to their response.
There are numerous lessons in how there is no justice in the capitalist courts. In 1988, Paul Cooperstein and I were present in the courtroom when Mumia’s first appeal in the Pennsylvania state courts was argued. Before the D.A. even began to justify the prosecutor’s trial summation statement to the jury that Mumia would have “appeal after appeal after appeal,” the chief judge, a black man by the name of Nix, stopped her. He told her not to even try to make the legal argument because this language—appeal after appeal after appeal—was used by the same D.A. who prosecuted Mumia, Joseph McGill, in front of the same judge, Albert Sabo, in another murder case, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had ruled that this was an unconstitutional violation of a defendant’s due process rights. By legal precedent, Mumia’s rights were violated in the trial.
I walked out of the courtroom thinking that given the chief judge’s strong rebuke to the D.A. on an issue that would lead to a new trial, it was likely that at a minimum Mumia’s death sentence would be overturned. But you can guess what happened. On 6 March 1989, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rendered its decision in Mumia’s case. It is a decision that is strikingly full of vicious lies. The court denied every single one of Mumia’s claims. Only four of the seven justices on the court participated in that decision. And as for chief judge Nix—he recused himself; he did not participate in the decision. To this day we do not know why.
This became the first example of “Mumia rules”—those changes in law and court procedure that are prompted by his case but that become the new rules for everyone. Mumia’s response to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision was classic Mumia—it was not personal but political. He said: “Law is simply politics by other means.” He invoked the U.S. Supreme Court case that upheld slavery before the Civil War: “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.”
Another example: In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court would not take up the issue of the legality of making Mumia’s membership in the Black Panther Party the basis for Mumia getting the death sentence. But the court did take up and overturn a death sentence of a member of the Aryan Brotherhood, which is a fascist, racist prison gang, based on a comparable legal argument. In that case, the D.A. had told the jury that the man was a member of the Aryan Brotherhood. So the U.S. Supreme Court effectively ruled that it is unconstitutional—as a violation of due process and the First Amendment right of association—to sentence to death someone for being a member of a fascist organization, but it was perfectly fine to give the death sentence to someone because he was a member of the Black Panther Party.
These are some of the early examples following Mumia’s racist frame-up trial. Every subsequent court proceeding was yet another grotesque example of the capitalist injustice system.
PDC Campaign to Save Mumia, Abolish the Racist Death Penalty
By 1989, the PDC had embarked on a worldwide campaign of publicity and protest to bring Mumia’s case to the attention of larger forces—trade unions, national and local chapters of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, civil rights organizations, anti-death penalty gatherings, other political organizations, leftist organizations. Over a period of a few years, we gathered some 37,000 signatures on petitions to Governor Casey. We used the petitions as a means to extend the support for Mumia. I remember the excitement when we first received in the mail petitions signed in Poland and from the Philippines and elsewhere around the globe, where we didn’t know there were any supporters.
We did work with black politicians sympathetic to Mumia’s case. But we did so without changing our political stance—our understanding of the class nature of U.S. capitalism and its systematic racist oppression—or silencing our Marxist criticism of the capitalist parties. One of the most honorable of these politicians was the late David Richardson Jr., who was the former head of the Pennsylvania state Congressional Black Caucus. David Richardson was a witness for Mumia in his bail hearing back in ’82 (as well as at Mumia’s post-conviction appeal hearing in the summer of 1995), and he co-sponsored an early rally for Mumia with the Partisan Defense Committee in 1989. Richardson was one of the first to state unequivocally that Mumia is innocent. His death shortly after the 1995 PCRA [Post Conviction Relief] hearing was a big loss.
Our earliest defense efforts included explaining the numerous legal issues in Mumia’s case. In early 1989, we wrote and distributed a ten-page legal dossier, “The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal: A Handbook of Constitutional Violations.” It was clear that every constitutional right of a defendant that encompasses the right to a “fair trial” was violated in Mumia’s case. Based on what evidence was known at the time, we combatted the D.A.’s lying version of the case.
By the summer of 1990, we had brought Mumia’s case to others worldwide. This included notables like actor Ed Asner, former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark, authors Howard Zinn and Manning Marable, nationally known 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 and many others.
But our key mobilization efforts were directed toward trade-union organizations. This was based on the understanding that labor is 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. Understand what it would have meant if the New York City transit workers and the Philadelphia transit workers, when they went out on strike, were fighting not only for their dignity as workers and for better job conditions but also for freedom for Mumia. Labor has the real power to change society.
We also go to the labor movement as part of our understanding that the working class needs to develop the consciousness that the fight for Mumia’s freedom—and in defense of democratic rights and of all the oppressed—is also part of its 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 entirety of the working class, which has the power and interest to overturn the rule of capital.
We went to unions across the country and got support for Mumia’s defense from various union locals—AFSCME (public sector workers), CWA (communications workers), SEIU (service workers), ILA and ILWU longshore workers, the Amalgamated Transit Union, the United Auto Workers, as well as teachers and others. Our fraternal defense organizations internationally did the same. By the fall of 1990, support for Mumia encompassed hundreds of thousands of trade unionists—for example, the Metro Toronto Labour Council; the CGT, France’s largest labor federation, led historically by the Communist Party; the British National Union of Railwaymen; the Australian Firemen and Deckhands’ Union, as well as national journalists associations. This support included individual letters, resolutions, petition signatures. And when the death warrant was signed in 1995, we and others mobilized masses on the streets in protest.
We also fought to make Mumia known as a working journalist on death row so that he would not be nameless and faceless, to make it harder to execute him. Mumia began writing commentaries on a regular basis. In the first instance, it was the PDC that typed up the commentaries, duplicated and mailed them to the press, primarily the black press, around the country (this was before the days of general usage of e-mail and the Internet), and campaigned for them to regularly print Mumia’s columns. We assisted Mumia with his 1991 article on life on death row printed in the Yale Law Journal and in getting the first national coverage of his case and commentaries, which appeared in the Nation.
A key part of our mobilization was the initiation of united-front rallies called to “Save Mumia Abu-Jamal! Abolish the Racist Death Penalty!” This meant that we united with all those who agreed with the slogans for the rally, under the conditions of freedom of criticism, which meant that any organization or individual who participated was free to express political differences with the program and strategies of the other organizations.
The first part of our international campaign culminated in united-front protests—indoor rallies or other demonstrations—in major cities around the world in June-July 1990. (July 3 is the date that Mumia was sentenced to death in 1982.) In every city where the Spartacist League exists, in every country where the PDC had fraternal organizations, we had a united-front event. Not only did we bring together a wide range of organizations and individuals representing labor, civil rights and civil liberties organizations, but also we shared the platform with people who had been victimized by the state—former death row inmates and political prisoners. You can read more about this in Class-Struggle Defense Notes No. 14 (November 1990) and Workers Vanguard No. 508 (10 August 1990).
Our video, From Death Row, This Is Mumia-Abu Jamal, was first presented during these united-front events. It brought to life Mumia’s case—and the political frame-up—for a generation of workers, youth and political activists. At that time, Mumia was not widely known as a former Black Panther Party member. While representing former BPP member Geronimo ji Jaga (Pratt) in a lawsuit against prison officials, Valerie West (another PDC counsel) and I showed him the pictures of Mumia as a young Panther. Geronimo recognized Mumia as the “little brother” that he met in Oakland and took around to see the ghettos there and in Watts.
Geronimo put the word out among former Panthers, who didn’t recognize or remember Mumia Abu-Jamal. When Mumia wrote for the Panther paper, he signed his name “Mumia X.” But when Emory Douglas, who was the famed cartoonist for the Panther paper, spoke at the PDC Bay Area rally in July 1990 and saw the video with these frames of Mumia as a youth, he burst into tears. Douglas said that he hadn’t realized until then that Mumia was the youth that stayed with him and Judi Douglas, the paper’s former editor, at their home in the summer of 1970. So our video and the support of former Panthers like Geronimo and Emory Douglas as well as others were instrumental in making Mumia’s history and the state’s vendetta against the Black Panther Party a living issue.
Class-Struggle, Non-Sectarian Defense
During this same time period, the summer of 1990, Nelson Mandela—just released after two decades of imprisonment in South Africa—was scheduled to give major presentations in the United States. The PDC sought to reach Mandela in hopes that he would make a statement on behalf of Mumia. To do this, we needed to work through those trade unionists who were assisting in organizing Mandela’s tour. But those labor bureaucrats would not intervene on Mumia’s behalf. They did not want to ask Mandela to do anything they thought would impede Mandela’s working relations with the U.S. government. This was a telling example of their policy of class collaboration at the expense of the fight for black rights, linked to their refusal to wage struggle against the bosses’ attacks on the working class overall.
In the course of building our united-front rallies, we assisted, in a non-sectarian way, the initial efforts of numerous other groups as well as individuals who became involved in the campaign for Mumia: Equal Justice, which is run by the Quixote Center, a liberal Catholic organization; AGIPA-Press (American Counter-Information Press) in Germany, which spread word of Mumia’s case throughout Europe; MRAP, which is a Communist Party-supported organization in France. We assisted others in explaining the legal issues in Mumia’s case and how to arrange visits to see Mumia. These people included Noelle Hanrahan, who has done a superb job of taping and distributing Mumia’s commentaries, now through the organization she formed called Prison Radio.
These efforts spurred others to take up Mumia’s cause, including numerous groups we hadn’t heard about. Early examples included reggae groups in Paris, European Parliament members and electoral candidates from a French ecologist party, and many different national unions of journalists.
The International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, initiated by the MOVE family, and headed up by Pam Africa, began its international campaign in 1991. By the beginning of 1995, Mumia’s cause was known on a worldwide scale among youth, trade unionists and large segments of the liberal intelligentsia, as a result of the varied efforts of many individuals and organizations.
Our policy of non-sectarian defense was not shared by most of the liberal and leftist organizations that took up Mumia’s cause. For example, as part of our attempts to draw other and larger forces into defense of Mumia, we tried to get the PDC’s Mumia video out and around. We were often faced with the outrageous situation of being politically excluded from public showings of our video and even learning that the credits on the film, including contact information for the PDC, had been edited out. For a brief time, we tried including a “statement of intent” along with the sale of the video, which indicated that the video screening would not politically exclude any organization or individual unless it was a fascist organization. To no avail.
Given that, it will not be surprising to hear that other organizations did not pursue joint action on a united-front basis, in which each political tendency has freedom of criticism. Since we believed that united action mandated a debate on the way forward and we fought against illusions in the courts and bourgeois politicians, we were not welcome participants at many Mumia events.
During this time, the PDC also provided very modest legal assistance to Mumia. He was filing pro se [without legal representation] lawsuits about his prison conditions, including the fact that he was not receiving political newspapers—most notably Burning Spear and Revolutionary Worker, and sometimes Workers Vanguard. We helped find a lawyer to bring a lawsuit challenging this First Amendment infringement.
Early on we also helped Mumia prepare to file a PCRA petition, which is the Pennsylvania state habeas corpus procedure, to challenge his conviction and the decision already made in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on his appeal. I obtained copies of the 1982 trial transcript from Mumia’s state appeal lawyer, and we obtained other trial documents from MOVE, which was holding Mumia’s legal papers for him. In fact, those legal papers had originally been held in the MOVE Osage Avenue house but were removed shortly before the 1985 bombing. In 1991 Jonathan Piper, another lawyer working with the PDC, began an enormous task of summarizing the trial transcript and those police reports that were turned over to the defense. I worked to get Mumia lawyers to handle his upcoming PCRA challenge. Piper worked with Leonard Weinglass when he began representing Mumia and continued as part of Mumia’s legal defense team until July 1999. Valerie West and other PDC and Spartacist League supporters were the backbone of the staff for the legal team during all of the PCRA proceedings. The PDC also assisted in the establishment of the initial committee authorized to collect contributions for Mumia’s legal defense, the Committee to Save Mumia Abu-Jamal.
The Class Enemy Mobilizes
In response to the growing support for Mumia, the Fraternal Order of Police mobilized. It is important to understand that the class enemy is relentless and has a long memory and the resources to protect its interests. The F.O.P. organized a counter-rally to the PDC’s 14 July 1990 Bastille Day rally for Mumia in Philly. The head of the Philly F.O.P., Richard Costello, declared that all Mumia’s supporters were part of a “misfit terrorist group” who should be put on an “electric couch.” So we filed—and won—a libel suit challenging that “terrorist” label, which, if it stood, could only harm our ability to defend Mumia.
In 1994, National Public Radio (NPR) agreed to run Mumia’s commentaries weekly on its program “All Things Considered,” largely through the efforts of Noelle Hanrahan. This set off a national counter-campaign by the F.O.P. From the floor of the United States Senate, Republican leader Robert Dole called for cutting NPR’s federal funding. Bowing to this threat and pressure, NPR canceled the commentaries in two days. The PDC, along with the Committee to Save Mumia, initiated a protest in the form of a speakout, which featured a reading of Mumia’s commentaries by several personalities, including the late actor and political activist Ossie Davis, who was co-chair of the Committee to Save Mumia.
In early 1995, to build the campaign in anticipation of filing the PCRA petition in the state courts, we held another series of united-front defense rallies in New York, Chicago, the Bay Area and internationally. We have always understood that the courts will only respond if the pressure of the mass movement, particularly that of the labor movement, is brought to bear.
Mumia’s first book, Live from Death Row—a selection of powerful commentaries about Mumia’s life, prison and death row—had just been published. The bourgeoisie counterattacked with a campaign against the publishing company, which made its money primarily by publishing school textbooks. The publisher lost orders from schools all over the country. A barrage of editorials and pieces against Mumia appeared in such newspapers as the New York Post, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe and the Philadelphia Daily News, as well as on TV, for example, Dan Rather’s Eye on America, a segment of CBS TV news.
As we were preparing to file the PCRA petition, we discovered that Mumia’s legal mail, specifically letters from lead attorney Leonard Weinglass and me, had been opened and read by the Pennsylvania governor’s office, by the state attorney general. By this means, the newly elected governor, Tom Ridge, learned the date we intended to file the petition. Ridge was elected governor on a platform that included the promise that he would see Mumia executed. Tom Ridge is an old friend of George W. Bush and was the first post-September 11 head of the Department of Homeland Security.
The F.O.P. has never let up in its attacks on Mumia and his supporters, engaging in intimidation tactics against individuals as well as performers who have come out for Mumia. That police and prison guard “unions” exist within organized labor has stopped many a labor statement or action in defense of Mumia. Police and prison guards have no place in the union movement.
Mumia’s family has borne the brunt of state harassment. Jamal Hart, Mumia’s older son, was arrested on trumped-up gun possession charges in 1996 and sentenced to 15 years in federal prison with no chance of parole for the “crime” of being a spokesman for his father.
The First Death Warrant Is Signed
Immediately before we filed the PCRA petition, Ridge signed an execution warrant for Mumia, which was served on the morning of June 2 while Mumia was working in the prison library. Mumia was immediately moved off of “just” death row into another part of the prison, where he was subjected to 24-hour guard watch under constant lights and a restriction against visitors, except for attorneys. Mumia’s execution was set for 17 August 1995. And at the same time, the first court date we were given was for the middle of July—about a month before the execution date! This put the entire legal proceedings under the threat of an immediate execution date. On the legal front, we needed to demand a stay of execution even to proceed with Mumia’s legal challenge to his conviction.
The signing of the execution warrant was responded to immediately by waves of protests in at least 40 cities in the U.S. and internationally, bringing into the streets tens of thousands of people. For instance, a demonstration in Rome of some 70,000 workers against austerity cutbacks took up the demand to save Mumia.
To counter the massive campaign of lies and attacks coming from the Philadelphia district attorney and the F.O.P., the PDC issued a pamphlet titled The Frame-Up of Mumia Abu-Jamal. We demanded, “Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!” The pamphlet was a refutation of the lies underlying the “three legs” of Mumia’s conviction, exposing the fabricated confession, lying “eyewitnesses” and nonexistent ballistics evidence. The pamphlet also responded to the attacks on actors Ed Asner and Mike Farrell, who were then in the forefront of the liberals defending Mumia. And we exposed the utter falsity of the assertion of Maureen Faulkner, Daniel Faulkner’s widow, that Mumia had sneered and was gleeful in court when Faulkner’s bloody shirt was shown to the jury—a smear intended to portray Mumia as a cold-hearted killer. Mumia was not even in the courtroom that day, one of the numerous days he was excluded from the courtroom of his own trial.
“Judge Death,” Albert Sabo, was pulled out of retirement to oversee the PCRA hearing. He refused to grant a stay of execution and simultaneously refused to grant the defense time to prepare for the actual hearing. In legal terms, to get a stay, which is an injunction, the courts require a showing of “irreparable harm” if the stay is not granted. The prosecution’s position—agreed to by Sabo—was that execution did not constitute “irreparable injury” to Mumia! The D.A. also argued, “The death penalty...is the highest exercise of the state’s authority, and it should not lightly be disturbed.”
From the outset, the legal team demanded that Sabo recuse himself—take himself off the case—because of his clear bias, which had been demonstrated in numerous ways during Mumia’s 1982 trial. Sabo refused. During the hearing and over time, Mumia and I have discussed our “favorite” Sabo sayings. I’ll give you two. First, in response to a complaint over one of the hundreds of his outrageous rulings, he responded, “Counselor, justice is just an emotional feeling.” Another was Sabo’s rubber-stamp agreement with the D.A. against the defense challenges, expressed as: “Objection is overruled, whatever it was.”
Sabo’s courtroom was an armed camp. I mean literally an armed camp. Mumia’s supporters sat on one side, and Philly cops, carrying their weapons although they were off duty, sat on the other side. I hadn’t realized this until one day, as people were entering the courtroom, there was a provocation by these cops against one of Mumia’s family. So I made a motion to Judge Sabo to order the off-duty cops to disarm prior to entering the courtroom. Needless to say, Sabo rejected this motion.
Sabo prevented Mumia from obtaining evidence that supported our claims of the frame-up conviction. Sabo rejected and quashed our subpoenas for various state authorities to turn over records to the defense and to compel individuals, including cops and former cops, to appear for questioning at the evidentiary hearing. Sabo refused to allow information we already had in our possession to be entered into the court record, including FBI COINTELPRO records showing that Mumia had been targeted by the FBI and the Philly police.
One of the legal issues was the racially discriminatory application of the death sentence in Philadelphia County. To prove our assertion required information that was under the sole control of the court clerk. However, our subpoena for those records was denied by Sabo, in the form of an order that stated that his decision was made “after hearing argument from all counsel.” But we hadn’t even had an opportunity to make any legal argument. My objection to this totally false description and to what was a totally outrageous ruling, which deprived Mumia of the evidence to challenge the racially biased death sentence, began with a simple address: “Judge, your honor....” Sabo would not allow any argument. So he ordered me handcuffed and arrested, taken from the courtroom and put in jail. A week or so later, Sabo found Leonard Weinglass in contempt of court and fined him $1,000 for not quickly enough handing him something he requested.
Despite these restrictions from Sabo and additional problems originating with Mumia’s chief lawyer, which I discuss in full in an affidavit filed in state and federal court in 2001 [included in this pamphlet, p. 23], we actually were able to wrest additional evidence of the frame-up from this hearing. This will be covered a bit later.
The evidentiary hearing proceeded for over three weeks, with the execution warrant hanging over Mumia’s head. There were daily demonstrations, the chants of which could be heard in the courtroom. The court proceedings were attended by all sorts of notables and veterans of the civil rights movement, who generally agreed that the Sabo courtroom was on a par with or worse than a Southern courtroom in the 1960s.
Sabo’s rulings were so blatantly biased and outrageous that his overall courtroom demeanor was denounced in many bourgeois press editorials and by prominent individuals, including Senator Arlen Spector, who then, as now, is the senior U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania. This was not because of any sympathy with Mumia or agreement that he was the victim of a state frame-up. Rather, Sabo besmirched the democratic pretensions of the court. A judge is supposed to have the appearance of being evenhanded. But Sabo’s bias against Mumia was just too grotesque. The issue of judicial bias at that hearing is the third issue that Mumia has in the current appeal. If the federal appeals court were to find that Mumia’s PCRA hearing was biased, the entire appeal proceeding would start anew and Mumia would be able to present the evidence of the frame-up and his innocence in a new hearing.
During the period of the PCRA hearing, we shared news headlines with the exposure of police frame-ups in the 39th District in Philadelphia. Hundreds of drug prosecutions and other cases had to be reversed because it was so clear that the cops had blatantly lied on search warrants and otherwise framed up people.
As I indicated to you, there was a huge mobilization for Mumia with the death warrant. And by this time, of course, unions around the world, which I think represented millions of workers, were on board. One of the things that was really exciting is that we got tremendous support from South Africa. Gene Herson, the labor coordinator of the PDC, and Don Alexander of the Labor Black League for Social Defense, were in South Africa at the time. The work that was done there won support for Mumia’s case from the metal workers union (NUMSA), the Commercial Catering and Allied Workers Union (SACCAWU), the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the National Council of Trade Unions (NACTU) and the Media Workers Association. Shortly after the death warrant, the African National Congress National Secretary and ultimately Nelson Mandela came out in support and defense of Mumia. This was quite important and electrifying.
In early August, with Mumia’s execution date just days away, the PDC and its international fraternal organizations held united-front demonstrations in major cities demanding, “Mumia Abu-Jamal Must Not Die!” The protests brought out key trade unions pledging to continue the struggle for Mumia. For example, in New York City and Oakland, California, contingents marched from SSEU social service locals, AFSCME District Council 37, Local 1199 health and hospital workers, Teamsters and the ILWU, along with speakers from the Alameda County and San Francisco central labor councils.
On August 7, Sabo finally relented on the warrant. The international support was absolutely critical in staying the warrant for Mumia’s execution. Mumia issued a statement, which was a message to all his supporters. He said that Sabo’s ruling was an attempt “to blunt the edge off of a growing and militant anti-death penalty movement.... Let us utilize this precious time to build a stronger and broader movement, to not ‘stay’ one execution, but to halt them all!”
Reformists’ Illusions in the Capitalist Courts
Many, if not most, left organizations did not become active in Mumia’s defense until the spring of 1995, i.e., after his struggle had already won massive international support. And when they began their campaigns for Mumia, they did so in conscious and deliberate counterposition to our demand to “Free Mumia Abu-Jamal.” As more and more evidence of the frame-up and Mumia’s innocence came out, they mobilized around the call for a “new trial,” which was the encapsulation of their program of the reformability of the courts and carried the implication that Mumia’s innocence was questionable or ambiguous.
The 25 years of legal proceedings against Mumia in the state and federal courts, aided by the concerted F.O.P.-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. There is no room for illusions in the neutrality or justice of the courts. Such illusions are an obstacle to conducting a winning fight for Mumia’s freedom. They served to demobilize Mumia’s defense movement, and they served as well the efforts of those opportunist “leftists” who sought to suppress those of us who understand the need for class-struggle defense.
Here are a few early examples. The International Socialist Organization (ISO) was silent about Mumia’s case until early June 1995. When it finally came out with a statement of support for Mumia, the Spartacist League took the ISO to task in a leaflet noting how long it took for them to come on board and stating that their support for Mumia was in contradiction to the ISO’s position that cops could be won to the side of the working class. This led to the ISO attacking SL comrades during an attempt to distribute the leaflet. The ISO then charged that the SL were the attackers. As for racist legal lynching, the ISO and its “Campaign to End the Death Penalty” argued that the reason the death penalty should be opposed is because it is “more expensive” and advocated life without parole as more economical.
Two weeks after Governor Ridge signed an execution warrant, the Wall Street Journal (16 June 1995)—the mouthpiece of U.S. finance capital—ran an article smearing all the organizations that were defending Mumia. Prime place was given to the PDC and the SL, and in this the Wall Street Journal was assisted by the Bolshevik Tendency, picking up the BT’s slanders of the Spartacist League as a deranged “cult” around SL National Chairman James Robertson. The BT is an organization that not only had not a word to say in protest of the cop bombing of MOVE ten years earlier but also vilified the SL for inviting MOVE supporters to speak at a memorial meeting following the May 1985 MOVE massacre. At the time of the Wall Street Journal article, the BT had not written one article in Mumia’s defense. Given the prominence of the PDC and SL in the defense of Mumia, the “cult” slander could only have been intended to undercut the defense of Mumia.
The RCP’s Refuse & Resist sometimes did call to “free Mumia,” but for them it was not counterposed to the “new trial” slogan at all, which they also raised. Their policy of promoting illusions in the state was displayed when Refuse & Resist proposed to debate the cops in Philadelphia that summer.
The Workers World Party and its National People’s Campaign outfit organized a national demonstration in Philadelphia on 12 August 1995 while the PCRA hearing was still going on, right after the warrant was lifted. The mobilization was based on the call for a new trial. This was tailored to what is palatable to the liberals. They attempted to silence the Marxists of the Spartacist League and the PDC, who demanded freedom for Mumia. I had been asked to speak at the rally on behalf of the legal team, but they cut me off. At the last minute, the PDC representative was not allowed to speak. And they attempted to goon our labor contingent that called for “Free Mumia—No Illusions in the Capitalist Courts” during the big demonstration of some 8,000 people there.
Workers World also showed disdain for the survivors of the 1985 MOVE massacre, whom they did not defend at the time. Pam Africa spoke for the International Concerned Family and Friends, Mumia’s organization, at the rally, but they didn’t let Ramona Africa speak for MOVE.
A month or so after the conclusion of the 1995 PCRA hearings, Farrakhan’s Million Man March took place. This did not help matters at all. There was wholesale support by most of the left for Farrakhan, for this pro-capitalist black separatist who blamed black people for racist oppression by demanding that they “atone” for their sins. This made the struggle to win others to the need for united-front defense on a class-struggle basis much more difficult.
Socialist Action (SA) had little to say about Mumia’s case until the 1995 PCRA hearings. In August 1997, they held a rally featuring Geronimo ji Jaga (Pratt), who had been recently freed after 27 years’ imprisonment based on an FBI COINTELPRO frame-up. Its demands to “Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!” and “Abolish the death penalty!” were tellingly linked to the demand “Stop police brutality!” This is delusional. The police will not stop in their brutal attacks on black people, workers and the oppressed until the capitalist state is smashed. Socialist Action’s demand, like the call for “community control of the police,” serves only to spread illusions in the reformability of the capitalist state. Similarly, the political purpose of the “Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal” initiated by SA later that year was to appeal to bourgeois liberals. SA therefore sought to silence and exclude those advocating a class-struggle defense policy.
Over the next several years, despite resistance from Mumia’s lead counsel, Leonard Weinglass, and his assistant, Daniel Williams, I continued to push the investigation for additional evidence of the state frame-up and Mumia’s innocence. And in fact, based on new discoveries there were two additional evidentiary hearings as part of the PCRA proceedings and two other legal challenges filed between 1995 and 1998. But on 29 October 1998, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied Mumia’s PCRA in total, and during the next year the U.S. Supreme Court refused any review. This meant that Mumia was at risk of another warrant of execution being filed. The next legal step was preparation for the filing of Mumia’s habeas corpus petition in the U.S. federal court. This added to the urgency of the continuing defense investigation, and there were heated arguments within Mumia’s legal team on whether and how to present the evidence of Mumia’s innocence and the state frame-up in federal court.
Arnold Beverly Confesses
The most explosive thing that happened is that in the spring of 1999 I located and interviewed a man by the name of Arnold Beverly, whom I had originally met in 1989. He confessed that he and not Mumia shot Daniel Faulkner. And Beverly provided a sworn statement, which says:
“I have personal knowledge that Mumia Abu-Jamal did not shoot police officer Faulkner.
“I was hired, along with another guy, and paid to shoot and kill Faulkner. I had heard that Faulkner was a problem for the mob and corrupt policemen because he interfered with the graft and payoffs made to allow illegal activity including prostitution, gambling, drugs without any prosecution in the center city area.
“Faulkner was shot in the back and then in the face before Jamal came on the scene. Jamal had nothing to do with the shooting.”
Arnold Beverly further stated that there was another hired hitman, who also fled the scene. This is supported by a sworn affidavit by Mumia’s brother, Billy Cook, which states that his friend Kenneth Freeman was a passenger in Cook’s VW at 13th and Locust that night. Freeman later admitted to Cook that he was part of the plan to kill Faulkner and had participated in the shooting and then fled the scene.
The Beverly evidence is much more than Beverly’s confession or the two lie detector tests that Beverly passed. It is actually the totality of the previously contradictory witness testimony and physical evidence, including ballistics, that support Beverly’s version of what happened on 9 December 1981 and is proof of Mumia’s innocence and the state frame-up.
At least five other witnesses who were on the scene the night of the shooting saw, from several different vantage points, one or more black men flee, and provided this information to the police. Police radio “flashes” right after the shooting reported that the shooters had fled the scene with Faulkner’s gun. Even according to the cops’ reports, Mumia was sitting on the curb bleeding profusely from his chest wound, and medically he was in no condition to run anywhere.
Witness William Singletary, testifying at the 1995 hearing, said that Mumia was not the killer. Singletary owned an auto repair and tow company and had friendly working relations with cops. He testified that a man got out of Billy Cook’s car wearing a green army jacket, shot the cop and ran away, and that Mumia came on the scene after Faulkner was shot. Singletary also said that the star prosecution witness, Cynthia White, was not on the scene but in fact came up to him after the shooting and asked what happened. The cops threatened Singletary, warning him that if he were in town and testified to this, he would lose his shop. In fact, he left Philadelphia during the trial. At the PCRA hearing in ’95, Weinglass worked to discredit his own witness, declaring to the court and D.A. that Singletary’s eyewitness account that Mumia did not shoot Faulkner was “inaccurate.” The prosecution used this in its legal arguments, stating: “The PCRA Testimony of William Singletary Was Incredible—Just as Defense Counsel Predicted Before Calling Him as a Witness.”
Another witness, Dessie Hightower, testified at the original trial and again in the ’95 hearing that the shooter ran away. The D.A. attempted to pressure Hightower into changing his testimony. Hightower was the only witness who was given a lie detector test by the D.A. This pressure treatment was not given to the prostitutes or to other prosecution witnesses. Hightower had the courage to maintain at the trial that he saw somebody running from the scene.
In October 1996, there was a supplementary PCRA hearing based on the testimony of Veronica Jones, who admitted that she had been threatened by the police and coerced into lying at the 1982 trial, when she denied that she had seen someone run from the scene. While she was still on the witness stand during the ’96 hearing, the D.A. had her arrested on the basis of a years-old petty theft warrant.
We also learned at the hearing in ’95 that Faulkner was found with someone else’s driver’s license in his hand. Now that is substantial evidence that there was somebody else on the scene besides Mumia and his brother. That was never disclosed to the defense at the 1982 trial.
The Shooter Wore a Green Army Jacket
Beverly’s description of two shooters is also supported by five people, including two cops, who described someone at the scene, thought to be the shooter, wearing a green army jacket. But that could not have been Mumia. Mumia was wearing a red quilted ski jacket with wide vertical blue stripes going down it. Both Beverly and Freeman were wearing green army jackets that night. Singletary specifically said that the shooter wore a green army jacket, not Mumia. Police officers Stephen Trombetta and James Forbes (Forbes was reportedly the first cop on the scene) testified that Mumia was wearing a green army jacket. Michael Scanlan described the person initially stopped by Faulkner as wearing a green army coat. Another prosecution witness, Albert Magilton, told one of our investigators that the person he saw run from the parking lot was wearing a green army jacket. In a statement given to police the morning of the shooting, Robert Pigford, who never testified at trial, described the man standing over Faulkner as 5’6” tall and weighing 145 pounds and wearing an army jacket. Mumia is six feet tall.
The fact that so many people saw someone on the scene wearing a green army jacket means that at least one other person besides Mumia and his brother, Billy, was there. This itself is totally at odds with the prosecution’s scenario. Billy Cook wore a blue Nehru-style jacket with brass buttons. I know this, because I’ve seen his and Mumia’s jackets. There is no green army jacket among the evidence.
Even with the police and prosecution threats and favors, no witnesses testified that they saw Mumia actually shoot Faulkner, and only Cynthia White testified that she thought she saw a gun in Mumia’s hand when he ran to the scene. But as you recall, Singletary said that Cynthia wasn’t even there at the time. Dessie Hightower also said that she wasn’t there at the time. And other prostitutes, Veronica Jones and Pamela Jenkins, have sworn that Cynthia White admitted that she lied because of police threats. Now Yvette Williams, who was in jail with Cynthia White, also has testified to that.
Anatomy of a Frame-Up
What is the meaning of the Beverly evidence? The Beverly evidence demonstrates the unity of purpose of the cops, prosecution and courts to uphold the capitalist rulers’ interests. It makes it clear that the injustice to Mumia was not the action of one rogue cop or prosecutor or judge, but the entire functioning of the capitalist system of injustice.
Key to understanding the development of the frame-up is examining Beverly’s assertion that Faulkner’s killing was a planned hit. Framing up Mumia, who was well known to and hated by the police, for this shooting followed inextricably from Mumia’s appearance on the scene. At the time of Faulkner’s murder in 1981, there were at least three ongoing federal investigations into police corruption, including police-mob connections. FBI informants were victims of hits in the early ’80s. A former federal prosecutor acknowledged that the Feds had had a police informant whose brother was also a cop. In fact, Faulkner had a brother who was a cop. But the U.S. attorney’s office and FBI refused to provide any documentation or official information.
The evening he was killed, Faulkner was using a camera known to be an expensive model used by the FBI. It was in police possession after the shooting. The camera and its film have disappeared. Faulkner was riding without a partner that night and without his bullet-proof vest, both irregularities for him.
Donald Hersing, an FBI informant who ran brothels in the red light district under Philly police protection, confirms that at the time of Faulkner’s shooting the word was out that the Feds had a police informant. John DeBenedetto, the commanding officer of the Central Police Division, which covers the Center City area where the shooting took place, James Carlini, chief of the Homicide Division, and Inspector Alfonzo Giordano were all under investigation on federal corruption charges at the time that Faulkner was killed. Those cops are the chain of command in the frame-up of Mumia.
Giordano was the ranking officer on the scene when Faulkner was killed. He was not only one of the cops under investigation for corruption, but, as I indicated earlier, he was Rizzo’s right-hand man and helped lead the attacks on the Black Panthers and MOVE. Giordano knew just who Mumia was. So did the first two officers on the scene, Robert Shoemaker and James Forbes. They were Stakeout officers, and they were there in the 1978 attack on the MOVE Powelton Village home.
Once Mumia arrived on the scene, the cops tried to kill him. This is important to understand. He was shot in the chest through the lung. He was rammed into a light post and then thrown into the police van and beaten. Witness Singletary reports that while Mumia’s head was being rammed by police on the scene, they were chanting, “Ramp, Ramp, Ramp.” That’s the name of the police officer who was killed in the Powelton Village siege.
Giordano beat Mumia in the police van and reported that Mumia had confessed to both shooting Faulkner and throwing his gun on the ground. However, the other cop who was in the van, Trombetta, did not report any confession. As to finding Mumia’s gun, the official police story is that it was found within a minute, right on the street where he was sitting. But according to the police radio records—the ongoing tape of all the communication between the scene and headquarters—it took some 14 minutes before the gun was found. The police radio reports also state that the shooter ran off with the gun.
Giordano is the same cop who arranged the supposed identification of Mumia by the cab driver, Robert Chobert, who we later learned was promised favors and protected by the police. In 1995, Chobert admitted to a defense investigator that he actually never saw the shooting. We believe that Giordano’s intention was to finish Mumia off at that point by taking him to police headquarters for further “questioning.” Mumia’s only crime was that he survived the cops’ attempt to kill him, too.
Giordano was the central witness for the prosecution against Mumia at the preliminary hearing, the first court hearing after the arrest. And he testified about the gun, about the confession, about the witness. Significantly, despite Giordano being the senior officer at the scene, despite his supposed firsthand knowledge of a witness ID and finding the murder weapon, he was never called as a witness at Mumia’s actual trial. During the trial he was reassigned from active duty to desk duty. Giordano resigned from the Philadelphia police force the first working day after the trial was over. In 1986 he copped a plea on federal charges based on receiving tens of thousands of dollars in illegal payoffs during the 1979-80 period and didn’t spend any time in jail.
Other police were on or close to the scene to make sure that the hit went off without any problems. This included “white shirts”—ranking officers—as well as members of the police Stakeout unit and undercover cops. This is confirmed by Singletary, by another witness named Marcus Cannon (who testified to the fact that undercover cops were there) and by Pamela Jenkins (a prostitute who was also a lover of a cop involved in another scandal). That’s a whole story unto itself. Jenkins said that she knew cops who were on the scene and that they were involved in payoffs regarding prostitutes, drugs and the like.
Other ballistics and blood evidence illustrate the frame-up. The D.A.’s scenario, adopted by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, was physically impossible and not supported, even by the prosecution’s own evidence. The bullet trajectories are wrong. They support more than one shooter of Faulkner, as Beverly says. The bullets do not fit with the prosecution story. Beverly says he was carrying a .22, which is what Singletary says he heard. There are no divots, no marks on the sidewalk that support the proposition that several bullets were shot at Faulkner’s head, only one of which hit Faulkner. Such other bullets would have left marks. There is also a discrepancy between the bullet taken from Faulkner’s head wound and how it is described. The ballistics report says that this bullet is too degraded and deteriorated to be able to be matched. However, its identifying elements, its lands and grooves, are clearly intact. There is a missing bullet fragment, reported as taken from Faulkner’s brain, but it’s gone. It was not preserved and is no longer part of the evidence. All of this suggests that the ballistics report was false.
The medical examiner’s office routinely did x-rays of people with gunshot wounds. But there were no x-rays of Faulkner found or disclosed. Nor is there any evidence that Mumia’s gun was even fired that night. Forbes, the Stakeout officer who purportedly found Mumia’s gun, testified at trial that the bullets in Mumia’s gun were a different type than that listed on the ballistics report. And Forbes’ partner, Shoemaker, could not confirm that Forbes actually found Mumia’s and Faulkner’s guns at the scene. There were internal inconsistencies all over.
Arnold Beverly also says that Faulkner was first shot and killed before Mumia ever got on the scene and that Mumia was not shot by Faulkner but by another police officer. This fits with another very important fact: the Homicide cops on the scene made a call into the Medical Examiner’s office that morning and reported that Mumia was shot by an arriving police officer. That has never been fully explored, but it was the subject of an in camera—out of the purview of the jury and media—meeting with the prosecutor, McGill, and the judge, Sabo. Moreover, Mumia’s wounds do not fit with him being shot by Faulkner. Mumia supposedly shot Faulkner in the back and Faulkner then spun around, and as he was falling to the ground shot Mumia in the chest. However, the bullet trajectory from Mumia’s lungs to liver is downward. But by the D.A.’s scenario, Faulkner would have been shooting up at Mumia. It does not fit at all.
Additionally, Dessie Hightower recalled that Faulkner’s gun was still in his holster when he was being taken away. And the gun that was identified as Faulkner’s in the ballistics reports has a bent hammer spur and was inoperable. Also, the chambers were dirty. This was not likely the condition of Faulkner’s weapon. This gun was likely a throwaway.
It is notable that the scene was not secured. At about 8:00 a.m., four hours after the shooting, Linn Washington, a journalist friend of Mumia’s, went to the scene. There were no police barriers and no cops there, no protection of the scene in terms of evidence or witnesses. Billy Cook’s VW was unattended and Mumia’s cab was simply sitting on the street, the keys inside.
Since the D.A. was not going to use Giordano as a trial witness, he came up with a new confession by Mumia. Some two months after the shooting of Faulkner, the prosecution and the cops came up with a story that Mumia had confessed on the night of the shooting, on the hospital floor, while he was bleeding almost to death. The doctor at the hospital said that Mumia could not possibly have spoken anything.
This “confession,” which the police claimed to have forgotten about, was testified to at the original trial by a cop, Gary Bell, and a hospital security guard, Priscilla Durham. We learned at the 1995 hearing that this confession was invented at what they call a “round table” meeting after Mumia filed police brutality charges against the cops. The police were furious that Mumia had the audacity to complain about being beaten up at the scene. Trombetta’s partner, Gary Wakshul, had filed the initial police report that stated, “the negro male made no comments,” absolutely disproving that there was any so-called confession. And more recently, Kenneth Pate, Durham’s step-brother, swore in an affidavit that she admitted to him that she was lying in her trial testimony.
Here are a couple of other strange incidents, which merit some investigation. One of the Stakeout officers first on the scene, Robert Shoemaker, used to hang out on a regular basis and smoke weed at the vendor stand of Billy Cook and Ken Freeman. The vendor stand was burned to the ground a few nights after the Faulkner murder. Two months later, Freeman’s house was searched for a weapon. And on the night following the 13 May 1985 MOVE bombing, Ken Freeman, then age 32, was found naked on the street and declared dead from a heart attack.
Beverly Confession Suppressed
Leonard Weinglass would not allow the Beverly confession to be presented in court. Because of that, Jonathan Piper and I both resigned from the legal team. We could not be party to a defense that suppressed evidence of Mumia’s innocence and of the state frame-up. Some two years later, this evidence was finally submitted in state and federal court by Mumia’s new lawyers, headed by Eliot Grossman and Marlene Kamish. In conjunction with their legal filings in the Pennsylvania state court and the U.S. federal court, I submitted my affidavit.
The final straw leading to Weinglass and co-counsel Daniel Williams’ being fired by Mumia was the May 2001 publication of Williams’ book appropriately titled Executing Justice. Williams’ book, written while he was representing Mumia, was outrageous, shameful, unethical and a violation of attorney-client privilege. This book was ambiguous on the issue of Mumia’s innocence and was written for the purpose of a pre-emptive strike against the Beverly evidence, which was denounced as being presented to “propagate a lie.”
Williams’ position was that an overzealous cop would bend the rules a little bit if he knew the person was guilty but would not frame up an innocent man. Weinglass argued a bit differently. For him, the Beverly evidence was simply too hot and unbelievable. He did not want to offend a federal court judge with allegations of conscious cop frame-up and prosecution lies. Williams denied and Weinglass refused to state the truth about the role of the cops and courts under capitalism.
It is somewhat perverse to have to give examples and evidence of conscious cop frame-ups. They are numerous. As I described earlier, exposure of the Philly 39th District cops’ frame-ups was nightly news while we were conducting the 1995 PCRA hearing. The cases of COINTELPRO frame-ups of Geronimo ji Jaga (Pratt) and Dhoruba bin Wahad (Moore) are well known. There is the L.A. Ramparts case. And even a Republican governor—George Ryan—could not stomach the extent of police coercion of confessions and fabrication of other evidence, such that he commuted all Illinois death sentences in January 2003.
Cop-mob ties, including for murder, are well documented. There is the Boston FBI agent John Connolly, Jr. with ties to the Winter Hill Gang, who did hits. Two former New York City homicide detectives, Stephen Caracappa and Louis Eppolito, were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in federal court for murder on behalf of mafia bosses, while they were on police department payroll. A retired FBI agent, Lindley DeVecchio, was recently indicted for providing information to the mob that directly led to murders.
The core of Weinglass and Williams’ positions was that it did not matter whether Mumia—who faces execution—is innocent but that the real question is a fair trial. Williams’ book went on an attack against the PDC, and Jonathan Piper and me in particular, for demonstrating “ideological zeal,” and supposedly twisting the truth in the furtherance of politics. The sole “evidence” cited by the D.A. and state and federal court judges in repeatedly denying any consideration of the Beverly confession is Williams’ book.
So I want to make the following point. It was adherence to the program of bourgeois liberalism, which means faith in the justice of the capitalist courts, that led two defense lawyers to suppress evidence of their own client’s innocence and of the police frame-up, which are solid legal defense grounds under bourgeois law. Despite a decades-long state vendetta against Mumia, these liberal lawyers did not use all legal means to fight for Mumia’s freedom, because they had a political agenda. It was the lawyers with the Marxist viewpoint who aggressively pursued the evidence, and fought to bring it into court, coupled with working to build a mass movement on his behalf demanding Mumia’s freedom.
Demobilization of the Mumia Movement
The fights within the legal team over the Beverly confession, the state frame-up and Mumia’s innocence were mirrored in the movement on his behalf, codified in the rejection of the call for Mumia’s freedom in favor of the “new trial” slogan. Most notably, after a debate at a January 1999 “Emergency Leadership Summit Meeting,” at which representatives of International Concerned Family and Friends, Refuse & Resist, Socialist Action, Solidarity, Workers World Party and others participated, the slogans for “free Mumia” and opposition to the death penalty were rejected.
While Weinglass worked to trash the Beverly evidence, the 24 April 1999 “Millions for Mumia” demonstration took place. Following the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denial of Mumia’s PCRA appeal, and with the threat of a new execution warrant hanging over Mumia’s head, probably the biggest rallies for Mumia took place in the U.S. On the West Coast, there were 20,000 people and about 10,000 in Philadelphia. (I would also point out that at that very moment I was in the Bay Area with a lie detector expert, Charles Honts, who was giving Arnold Beverly a lie detector test.) Despite their numbers, these rallies represented not the high point of the campaign in defense of Mumia but rather its political demobilization. Not one organization spoke from the podium of those demonstrations to denounce the “new trial” slogan and reliance on Democratic Party politicians. These included the ILWU’s Jack Heyman, a well-known spokesman for the left-talking Labor Action Committee.
Here was the expression on the political plane of the suppression of the Beverly evidence on the legal front. At the “Emergency Leadership Summit Meeting,” the theme was to “build a broader and more inclusive movement, one which reaches out to the American mainstream.” Two years later, Dan Williams argued that his book was written to make Jamal’s case “more interesting and attractive to a mainstream audience.” This meant tailoring Mumia’s case for those who see in it a “miscarriage of justice,” an aberration which stains the reputation of American justice—much like their view today of the Abu Ghraib tortures. This meant tying Mumia’s defense to what Democratic Party politicians would accept, like the need for a new trial to clean up the image created by Sabo’s indisputably racially biased trial and PCRA proceeding. This meant denying the truth about the capitalist state and its vendetta against black militants, the COINTELPRO targeting of Mumia, the murderous attacks on the MOVE organization.
Appealing to the “mainstream” also meant ambiguity on the question of Mumia’s innocence—and on whether he lives or dies, is entombed for life or goes free—so long as there is a new trial. It meant rejecting the very reasons that millions around the globe had taken up Mumia’s cause: revulsion with the injustices inherent in capitalism—poverty, racial and ethnic bias, war. There was broad identification with Mumia’s fight against the “system” and for justice for all of humanity.
As I said earlier, from the beginning we sought to build the broadest possible support for Mumia, on a united-front basis, while emphasizing that this was a racist frame-up that exposed the nature of the capitalist state and the oppression of black people. A class-struggle defense policy provides the basis for a successful fight for Mumia’s freedom. As Cannon stated, we favor all possible legal proceedings, but we put all our faith in the power of the working class and no faith in the justice of the courts.
When Mumia fired Weinglass, most of the leadership of the Mumia movement was stunned. The 12 May 2001 demonstrations in the Bay Area and Philadelphia were the first time that many learned of the Beverly confession and that Weinglass had been fired. At the Bay Area demo, an International Action Committee representative who was co-chairing the demonstration tried to censor Mumia’s statement to that gathering.
Now what did Mumia say? I’m going to read just a small portion of his statement: “Dear Sisters, Brothers, Friends and Enemies, We are at a crossroad, one dictated by time, by history, by circumstance and even by chance.... Many of you have said that you don’t believe in the system, yet, in your hearts you refuse to let it go.” And then he goes on with appropriate criticisms of lawyers, and states, “How can you say you don’t believe in the system and then believe lawyers who betrayed their so-called client’s interests? I thank you all for joining in this ongoing battle for freedom and justice. And, if you by chance choose not to join me, I have one simple request: don’t get in my way. I Thank You, Ona Move, Long Live John Africa.”
For years the reformists clung to the belief that Mumia could get a fair ruling in the federal courts. The rallies and mobilizations in the spring of 1999, 2000 and 2001 were premised on that supposition. In December 2001, federal court Judge Yohn overturned Mumia’s death sentence, providing grist to the mill of the liberals and reformists that “justice” will prevail through the courts, even as Mumia remains on Pennsylvania’s death row. The illusions in the court and bourgeois democracy promoted by the so-called left’s leadership served to demobilize the Mumia movement in the face of the federal court’s denial of all of Mumia’s other claims—from Mumia’s innocence, including the Beverly evidence, to the fabricated confession and coerced witnesses, as well as Mumia’s numerous “fair trial” issues.
In the face of further state and federal court refusals to even consider new evidence of the state frame-up over the past several years, Workers World, Socialist Action, the RCP and the rest continue to promote the same illusions. While they have at times cited the Beverly confession, it has not been to expose the truth that this was a racist political frame-up but as a supplement to their cringing appeals to bourgeois justice.
Last December, when the federal Court of Appeals put Mumia’s case on the “fast track,” Mumia was placed in great danger, requiring mass mobilizations based on the labor movement demanding, “Free Mumia, Now!” But the International Action Center hailed the court’s agreement to allow Mumia to raise three of the over 25 issues he has in his appeal as a “resounding federal court victory.” That the court might well uphold the death sentence, or that a new sentencing hearing might result in another death sentence, was rejected by Socialist Action as the “least expected” outcome.
The clear message is why mobilize on the streets and in the unions if Mumia can get justice in the courts. But the state has repeatedly made it clear that it is determined to see Mumia dead. The only pressure that will impact on the rulers and their courts is the fear of the consequences of executing Mumia or entombing him for life. The reformists’ projections that these legal proceedings will result in a new trial and freedom for Mumia are an obstacle to building the militant mass movement—prior to the federal appeals court deliberations—that is essential to save Mumia’s life and to obtain his freedom. Time is running short.
The Road to Mumia’s Freedom
Mumia is up against the vast resources of the capitalist state. The road to victory in Mumia’s case, to free Mumia, begins with an understanding that the class enemy will stop at nothing—from lies to terror—on the streets and in the courts. And the road to victory is understanding the nature of the capitalist state, including its courts, as a machine which suppresses the working class and its allies, which protects and preserves the rule of the capitalist class. The road to victory is understanding that the power to fight and win lies in the class struggle—in the mobilization of the multiracial, multiethnic proletariat.
The fight for Mumia’s freedom, if successful, would have enormous impact. It would strike a blow against the government’s “anti-terror” campaign and the evisceration of democratic rights. It would give labor a sense of its own power. The fight for Mumia is the fight for black liberation, for the liberation of us all, part of the struggle for socialist revolution. What is necessary is to bring to the working class the consciousness that the way out of the whole system of capitalist injustice is the struggle for socialist revolution. This requires the instrumentality of a Leninist party that fights as a tribune of the people, which, in V.I. Lenin’s words, is “able to generalise all these manifestations and produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation;... in order to set forth before all his socialist convictions and his democratic demands, in order to clarify for all and everyone the world-historic significance of the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat.”