Press your hand on the glass partition. The proud, Dread locked Black man on the other side lifts his shackled hands and touches the glass.
Shake hands with Mumia Abu Jamal at S.C.I. Huntingdon, in the hills of southern Pennsylvania. That’s how he received visitors when I met him there in the early ‘90s–through inch-thick glass, via a telephone. He would read several commentaries for radio broadcast. We would record with a crude microphone arrangement we had to improvise. The prison authorities did not want to accommodate him in any way.Â They did not want himÂ publicizing his cause to supporters all around the world. They feel he’s a cop killer.
Mumia Abu Jamal has been on death row for more than 25 years. He was convicted of murdering police officer Daniel Faulkner in December 1981, in what was a bonafide rush-to-judgement, presided over by a notorious “hanging judge” who boasted of being a member of the Fraternal Order of Police. Remember, everybody is automatically guilty of something, just whenever an officer of the law makes an accusation. Especially true if you’re Black. On top of that, the law enforcement establishment kind of loses its presumption-of-innocence-thing altogether, whenever the defendant is accused of killing a cop.
Mumia Abu Jamal maintains his innocence. He says he did not shoot Officer Faulkner that night. Sadly, his real crime was being an outspoken journalist who was a vocal and well known sympathizer with unpopular Black causes like the Black Panther Party and such. The cops wanted him, and they got the prosecutor and the judge to go along with them, and they got Mumia Abu Jamal, guilty or not! And that’s what they wanted. They wanted him.
He deserves a new trial. He could never be convicted of murdering that police officer today. The truth is, he’s innocent.
Mumia Abu Jamal has come within days and weeks of a planned execution on more than one occasion. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit heard oral arguments May 17, for dismissal of the death sentence, and for a new trial because of ample evidence of a racially biased jury selection which was permitted by an overtly hostile, racist trial and appellate judge.
The former president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, Abu Jamal angered Philadelphia police authorities for his critical reports concerning police misconduct toward the back-to-nature group MOVE. Once, after tracing phone calls he made filing news reports in 1980 to a MOVE house, police authorities tried to get him fired from his job at a non-commercial radio station.
The issues before the Court of Appeals, involve the death penalty, racism in jury selection, and the racism and bias of the trial judge, Albert Sabo, said Abu Jamal’s lead attorney in a broadcast interviewÂ a day after the oral arguments. Judge Sabo “referred to my client during the trial, to use his words—I’m quoting him—‘I’m going to help them fry the nigger,’ referring to Mumia Abu-Jamal,” the attorney said.
Cop killer. Law enforcement folks don’t take to accused cop killers, innocent or not.
Just for the record, however. It would be instructive to note that there is ample evidence of witness tampering in the original trial. Witnesses who saw someone fleeing the scene of the shooting that left Abu Jamal wounded, and Officer Faulkner mortally struck, were never called at trial, and were not on witness lists for the defense to question, according to several investigative reports.
One witness at the scene was Veronica Jones, legal authority Leonard Weinglass told this writer in a 1996 interview. During a hearing, Jones told the judge she had testified falsely in the 1982 murder trial; that her false testimony was coerced by police detectives; and that she did in fact see two men running from the late night murder scene after the shooting of the police officer.
During the original trial, Jones was in custody on an armed robbery charge, and threatened with a mandatory 5-10 year sentence and the loss of custody of her three young children.
On the witness stand, she recanted her statement to the police. After her testimony,Â which helped convict Abu Jamal, the 21-year-old mother was given probation on the pending charge.
There are other witnesses. Dessie Hightower, is one nameÂ I read who claimed she saw the gunmen flee, and who successfully passed a polygraph test to that effect. But she could not be found for the trial. There are others who were coerced into testifying falsely.
I don’t believe Mumia Abu Jamal shot that cop.
But this is a pivotal moment, and is virtually his last appeal on his legal merits. The court could order a new criminal trial. That would constitute a slam-dunk victory for Mumia Abu Jamal. Then again, theÂ court could order the case back to a lower federal court. The court could—worst case—say there was no racism in the jury selection, that the judge was not biased, the defendant got a fair trial, the verdict and penalty stand,Â and reinstate the death penalty.
If that happens, the governor has promised to sign a death warrant, and the bloodthirsty, who want vengeance and not justice will get to warm up Ol’ Sparky again, to deal with maybe an innocent man whom they accuse of being a cop killer. I don’t believe Mumia Abu Jamal shot that cop.
I do believe he deserves a fair trial, a new trial.