The following article was originally published in Proletarian Revolution No. 78 (Fall 2006).
In December 2005, the courts made a ruling that provides the legal possibility of a new trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal. The stakes are no less than a matter of life and death. If a new trial does not lead to his freedom, it could mean his re-conviction and execution.
Mumia is the well-known victim of a racist frame-up who has been imprisoned since 1981, falsely charged and convicted for shooting a cop. However, he is far more than just a victim; he is an internationally recognized political prisoner. Mumia is respected for his outspoken and tenacious opposition to racism, imperialist war and a range of other injustices over the years. (See PR 50 and 59 for background discussion.)
Mumia was a radical journalist in his home town of Philadelphia, where he had a history with the Black Panther Party as a youth. The Panthers were a chief target of the FBI’s murderous “counter-intelligence” program. Hundreds of pages of FBI files dating from 1973 show attempts to frame Mumia for a political assassination. One file stated that he had “not shown a propensity for violence,” but because of racial and political profiling he was nevertheless on the “armed and dangerous” list. That meant cops should shoot first and ask questions later.
Mumia was lucky enough to survive that scene. Later he was involved with MOVE, a Black “back to nature” group which was brutally repressed. Abu-Jamal became especially known for his articulate exposés of local police brutality. It was not by coincidence that he ended up framed by the police and courts for the murder of a Philadelphia cop in 1981.
On December 9, 1981, Billy Cook, Mumia’s brother, was pulled over by Officer Daniel Faulkner. Mumia, who was sitting in his taxi filling out trip sheets, crossed the street to assist his brother. Both Mumia and Faulkner were shot; Faulkner died.
Mumia was given a rigged, racist trial. The investigation was led by cops of the Center City district, known as “Rizzo’s boys” after Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo, the organizer of the notorious Civil Defense Squad that targeted Blacks and gays in particular. A third of the 35 cops who played a role Mumia’s arrest and conviction were later nailed and punished by prosecutors for other illegal acts that preceded this event. Three months after the arrest, one cop testified that Mumia had confessed when he was in the hospital (where police beat him as he waited to be operated on.) However, the official police report from the night in question had stated, “The negro male made no comment.”
The prosecution’s principle witness was Cynthia White, a prostitute with a long record of prior arrests and several arrests pending at the time of the trial. Later Pamela Jenkins, another prostitute and a friend of White, stated that White had lied under pressure. Jenkins came forward after White died under suspicious circumstances. Another prosecution witness, Robert Chobert (like Mumia, a cab driver), was on probation for arson and on n the night of the shooting was driving his cab with a suspended chauffeur’s license. He also later came forward to say he had been pressured to testify against Mumia.
Other facts that prove Mumia’s innocence “beyond a reasonable doubt” are widely available. (Besides our previous articles, readers can refer to the websites www.mumia.org and www.freemumia.org.)
According to a legal update from Mumia’s lead counsel, Robert Bryan, the issues that the court is willing to hear in consideration of a new trial include the following:
Until December 2005, higher courts had rejected all appeals for a new trial. During the 1990’s there was a growing movement in the U.S. which, along with international support, played a role in staving off execution. While the active U.S. movement has ebbed in terms of numbers on the streets, Mumia has retained a large potential resource of sympathy and support at home and abroad. For workers and youth fighting against the racist death penalty, police brutality and capitalist injustice in general, defending Mumia Abu-Jamal is an integral part of our struggle.