An article from Do or Die Issue 5. In the paper edition, this article appears on page(s) 113-116.
On the 17th of August Black Eco-Revolutionary Mumia Abu-Jamal was to be killed by the US state with a lethal injection. 10 days before he was due to be murdered Mumia was given a stay of execution. This is a victory for Mumia and all those around the world struggling to save his life. Without the mounting pressure Mumia would have been murdered by the time you read this. Now is not the time to give up the fight. We must not wait till the last minute again, we must intensify our actions to demand freedom for Mumia and all political prisoners languishing in the jails of the US.
Mumia’s case originated Rodney King style in 1981, when driving through Philadelphia, he saw police attacking his brother, who had been pulled over for a minor traffic violation. Stopping to help out he was shot in the stomach and nearly died. During the resulting chaos a cop was killed. At the time, 4 in the morning, night clubs were closing and over a hundred people witnessed the incident. Many claim to have seen a man, 50 pounds heavier than Mumia and with short hair rather than his distinctive dreads, shoot the policeman. While Mumia and his brother waited for an ambulance, the killer fled.
Despite his injuries, witnesses saw him beaten by police who, ‘Equal Justice US’ noted ‘were forced to admit that they rammed his head into a pole - ‘accidentally’- as they were carrying him.’ As he had survived the attack the US went about framing him. His allowed defence expenses of $150, were less than those normally allocated in drink driving cases. The defence lawyer, a novice, with no experience of death penalty cases, was later banned from legal practice. In a city with a 40% black population, only two black jurors were selected. Several jurors were closely connected to the police, including an officer’s wife. Forensic evidence including ballistics failed to link Mumia to the murder. Finally, Mumia, who attempted to convince the judge of the incompetence of his defence counsel, was banned from much of the trial.
Out of 125 witnesses interviewed by police, the prosecution produced just three. All faced charges in other cases and are suspected of making a deal with the police. Two were charged with prostitution and a third with throwing a Molotov cocktail at a school, all had an interest in bargaining with the police. Other prosecution witnesses dropped out at the last minute. Mumia’s lack of funds, poor health (remember he had nearly died) and poor defence meant that the defence had problems in producing witnesses in turn.
- Judge Albert F. Sabo, PCRA Hearing, Com. V. Abu-Jamal
In the late morning of August 7, 1995, Senior Judge Sabo surprised many in the courtroom by issuing an extended stay of execution, citing “pending appeals” in the case.
The decision seemed expected by the prosecutors, but stunned members of the defence team, whose client had 10 days ‘til death, and who expected nothing from the crusty, acerbic jurist. Observers believe this was the first stay issued in the judge’s career.
Questions abound - among them, “What does it mean?
To simplify, a stay is a judicial stop sign, and in this case, a stopped death warrant. It should be clear, however, that the writer remains on death row, under a death sentence - only the date has been changed.
The state of Pennsylvania still has every intention of killing me - just not right now.
Thus, the stay is a limited victory, not just for the Jamals and the Africas, but for thousands and tens of thousands of people from every comer of the globe - to these many, our most profound and heartfelt thanks for your militant and spirited protests. LONG LIVE JOHN AFRICA!
Although many radicals and progressives expressed joy at news of the stay, other political analysts saw it as a clever move by a clever judge, who did what higher courts would’ve done and, in so doing, attempted to blunt the edge off of a growing and militant anti-death penalty movement, in Philadelphia and beyond, thereby stymieing a series of planned demonstrations.
Whatever the reason, let us utilize this precious time to build a stronger and broader movement, to not “stay” one execution, but to halt them all! DOWN WITH THE RACIST U.S. DEATH PENALTY!
In an age when South Africa, once the pariah of the international community, has abolished ALL executions as an affront to the inherent right to life, our task can not be to merely stay (or slow down) one man’s execution. No! It must be to echo the world - the European Community, Australia, South Africa, ET AL. - in total abolition of this racist vestige of the lynching tree, all forms of state murder.
It will take the power of the people - you - us - all - to bring it about.
We can do it.
If you are truly committed, we WILL do it.
I know I am doing my part - will you help me?
This stay, is but the first step, although in the right direction, in our long walk to freedom. We are growing - thanks to you!
- Mumia Abu-Jamal, Death Row, Pennsylvania
Mumia has been involved in radical politics since his early teens. Growing up in a poor Black area of Philadelphia he was attracted to the Black Panther Party (BPP). When other groups talked, the Panthers did. They organised community soup kitchens and militant defence of the Black community. To the massive poverty, racism and state oppression in the US, the Panthers said there was only one solution - Revolution! Nothing but a total destruction of capitalism and its replacement with true human communities would change anything. As there was no Panther group in Philadelphia, Mumia and others set one up. He went on to play a national role in the organisation and often wrote for the The Panther, the BPP newspaper. The Panthers were destroyed by waves of state killings and suppression and a murderous internal factionalism inflamed by state infiltration; (in many towns coordinated by Richard Held, the FBI officer responsible for framing US EF!ers Judi Bari and Daryl Cherny with their own car bombing).
After the Panthers’ demise he continued to be active and became a radical journalist, known as the ‘voice of the voiceless’. It is his determination not to be intimidated into inaction that is most responsible for his imprisonment and planned execution. As a journalist he often covered the radical ecology group MOVE. After protesting for animal liberation and against police racism, MOVE, which was set up in 1971 by black Philidelphians, came into sharp conflict with the authorities. This culminated in 1985, when an FBI bomb was dropped from a helicopter by Lieutenant John Powell of the Philadelphia Bomb Disposal Unit onto a MOVE commune, killing eleven MOVE members and burning down sixty surrounding houses. Before dropping the bomb he shouted, “ATTENTION MOVE, THIS IS AMERICA! YOU HAVE TO OBEY AMERICAN LAWS!” MOVE has been subjected to extraordinary persecution. In a recent interview Mumia noted that ‘In 1973 they [MOVE] were in Philadelphia Zoo protesting caged exploitation of animals, and they were beaten for it, they were jailed for it, and they got ridiculously high bails for it... Now you have the ALF where people are doing the same types of things that MOVE were doing ten, fifteen years ago.’
Mumia and other MOVE supporters are vegetarians, wear their hair in dreads to be ‘natural’ and advocate a radical form of eco-politics. MOVE members include both Black and White individuals. Mumia’s statement in response to the MOVE massacre and his own imprisonment is worth remembering:
“Don’t Mourn, Organise! Pull together, unite, come together to resist this system’s usurpation of your inherent and god given rights to freedom, clean air, uncontaminated earth, fresh water, and an unpoisoned gene pool”.
The newly elected pro-death Republican Governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Ridge, started signing execution warrants as soon as he could. Mumia was top of the list. Pennsylvania State Representative Michael McGeehan, the author of a bill to speed up executions, claims to be ‘specifically interested’ in Mumia’s case, bluntly stating, ‘We’re going to see him die’. His execution was set for 10pm on Thursday August the 17th. His death warrant was signed 3 days before an application was to be judged on a retrial.
On the 22nd of July 100 marched through central London to the American Embassy. From the 1st-17th of August there was a 24 hour vigil outside the Embassy, many of the top embassy staff were visibly shaken. On the 10th of August 30 people invaded the newly opened tourist office of American Express in Brighton, occupying the first floor for about 20 minutes - some walls inside were sprayed with ‘Free Mumia Abu-Jamal’. Glaswegians demonstrated outside the American Express building 5 times and in Edinburgh there were demos outside the US Consulate. Around 60 people gathered on the 12th of August for a march to the Embassy. Halfway activists invaded the Disney store on Oxford Street and 5 were arrested, mainly for Obstruction of the Queen’s Highway. Activists in Bristol held a demonstration in the city centre, burning the American flag and a mock electric chair.
Below is a short list of some of the demos worldwide early this August. Demos have also happened in Poland, Holland, Ireland, France, Spain, Luxembourg, India, South Africa and many others.
3 Day hungerstrikes by 8 political prisoners across the country and the entire segregation unit of Indiana Prison.
All Red Brigade prisoners on 3 day hungerstrike
All Red Army Faction prisoners on 3 day hungerstrike, as were many prisoners in Lubeck Youth Detention Centre.
We must mobilise NOW to free him. We cannot let him rot in prison, never mind be murdered. The threat is not over. We must keep up the pressure - his struggle is our struggle. His life is a testament to a better future. Let America’s actions inflame our resistance.
(all at) PO BOX 190, Muncy, PA 17756, USA
Friends of MOVE, PO BOX 3069, London, SW9 8LU
Tel/Fax: 0181 519 9228