For the first time in a long time, political prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal told an interviewer recently, he had reason to observe his birthday. He didn’t really “celebrate” because he remains imprisoned for a crime which I and his supporters all around the world believe he did not commit. But for the first time in 29 years, his birthday rolled around and he was not on death row.
Chanting, “Free Jamal. Free them all,” hundreds of protestors, ranging in age from some in their 80s, to many twenty-something-year-olds, including many parents with small children rallied outside the U.S. Department of Justice April 24 demanding freedom for Mumia, freedom for all political prisoners, an end to solitary confinement, and an end to mass incarceration.
Protesters dubbed the event “Occupy the Justice Department” and chose the date because it was Mumia’s 58th birthday. The day’s events began with speakers and entertainment–including MOVE member Ramona Africa, Chuck D of Public Enemy, and M-1 of Dead Prez
Abu Jamal was convicted in the 1981 shooting death of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner and sentenced to death row in 1982. His supporters maintain his innocence, insisting he was set up by a Philadelphia police force that was under federal investigation for corruption and widespread civil rights violations, and which hated him for his work with the Black Panther Party and his reporting in support of MOVE family members who were often victimized by the Philadelphia cops.
The Constitution and Western jurisprudence going back to the Magna Carta and before do not require a person accused of a crime to prove his or her innocence. The burden of proof is on the prosecutors to convince a jury of one’s “peers” to unanimously agree on guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Not so in Abu Jamal’s case. The odds were stacked against him from the beginning.
Fifteen of the 35 officers involved in the evidence collection in Mumia’s case were themselves convicted and sentenced to jail on a number of misconduct charges. On top of that, he was victimized by a rigged, racist legal system which unfairly manipulated evidence, excluded Blacks from the jury, and coerced witnesses to testify falsely against him. His legal defense was a joke. His attorney did absolutely no investigation of the circumstances which left Officer Faulkner dead and Abu Jamal shot and wounded.
In December 2011, Mumia was removed from death row following a number of court appeals which went all the way to the Supreme Court. He is now imprisoned for life without the possibility of parole. After the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s vacating his death sentence, prosecutors abandoned their efforts to reinstate the death penalty rather than go back into court. Had they gone back in court, evidence of decades of police and prosecutorial misconduct might have been introduced, possibly leading to a new trial. There is abundant evidence “proving” Mumia’s innocence.
The State of Pennsylvania could never get a re-conviction. With all the forensic evidence that has been uncovered, all of the witnesses who have recanted their testimony, declaring they were forced to lie in the original trial by crooked cops, if they dared to try to go before a judge again, it would be a wonder if the prosecutor and cops would not be exposed and themselves prosecuted for their underhanded tactics.
Free Mumia Abu Jamal. Free all American political prisoners, and there are hundreds of them.
Right now the United States represents 5 percent of the world’s population but we incarcerate 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. And guess which group of people is disproportionately represented in the American criminal injustice system. Black people, that’s who. Richard Pryor tells the joke about the people you see in the courts: “Just us.”
“Behind me on the wall it says this place is a place of hallowed justice, it should say this is a place of hollow justice, there’s no justice. We’re right in front of the injustice department because for over 40 years we’ve seen Mumia Abu Jamal got no justice, we’ve seen Eddy Conway, we’ve seen Mutulu Shakur, we’ve seen Herman Bell, we’ve seen Jalil Muntaqim, and countless other colonial subjects shot down by the police departments inside this country, no justice,” M-1 of the hip-hop duo Dead Prez said at the Occupy the Justice Department rally.
Five percent of the world’s population, 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, and who are they again? Just Us. It’s a “just us” system, not a justice system. Free Jamal. Free them all.