The ‘Mumia Abu Jamal Rule’

It’s not hard for Black folks in America to imagine a world where there is one set of rules for the general public, and another set of rules just for them. Comedian Richard Pryor famously jokes about the situation. He says we go down to the Court House looking for “Justice,” but what we find there is “Just us.”

Death-row journalist Mumia Abu Jamal knows what’s that’s all about, and for 26 years has been a victim of a cruel double standard in the courts of Pennsylvania.

A federal appeals court refused to overturn Mr. Abu-Jamal’s murder conviction, on March 27, and rejected his call for a new trial. In 1982 he was convicted of murder in the killing of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner following a controversial, racially tense trial before a predominantly white jury. Many, many people, including yours truly, believe he did not kill that cop.

A three judge panel of the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals did order a new sentencing hearing in the case because of flawed jury instructions. If he is re-sentenced, he could again get the death penalty, or life in prison without parole.

“We will not accept this vicious and outrageous decision to keep an innocent man locked up and silenced,” Pam Africa, Coordinator of the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal said in a statement. “The conspiracy to kill Mumia even though the government, the judges, the politicians, and everyone involved in this decision knows he is innocent, should be and will be denounced by the whole world.

“The only reason the government wants Mumia killed or locked up for life is because he has been so successful in exposing the hypocrisy, racism, oppression and deadliness of this system,” Ms. Africa continued.

“Mumia Abu-Jamal is an innocent man who never should have even been arrested let alone convicted and sentenced to death,” the International Action Center said in a statement. A world-renowned journalist and writer, a Black Panther Party member and a supporter in the 1980s of Philadelphia’s MOVE back-to-nature collective, Mr. Abu-Jamal’s recorded messages and his books have been heard and read around the world. 

Calls for a new and fair trial for Mr. Abu-Jamal have come from Amnesty International, the Congressional Black Caucus, Harvard University Law School’s Civil Rights Institute, former South African President Nelson Mandela, Bishop Desmond Tutu, former French President Jacques Chirac, the Japanese Diet (parliament), hundreds of British attorneys, thousands of artists, writers, and other intellectuals in this country and around the world. 

The majority of the three-judge panel denied Mr. Abu Jamal’s appeal on procedural, rather than substantive grounds, according to Linn Washington who worked along side Mr. Abu Jamal as journalist in Philadelphia in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. Mr. Washington is a graduate of the Yale University Law Journalism Fellowship Program. He worked for the Pennsylviania Supreme Court as a Special Assistant to then Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert N.C. Nix, Jr., and he is the author of  “Black judges on Justice.”

“Two of the judges said that he did not raise these objections (to racial discrimination in the selection of his jury) on time, and because he didn’t raise them in a timely manner, he was precluded from ever raising them,” Mr. Washington explained. “And because he didn’t raise them in a timely manner, then he was precluded from ever raising those. So they don’t even have to rule on whether he did in fact experienced racism–which he did–just because he didn’t say, ‘Hey. I’ve been harmed by this,’ within the right time frame, they said that he couldn’t raise the issues.

“The (dissenting) judge said that’s crazy. One of the things it does is create a new standard, which even the U.S. Supreme Court has not adopted. He said that is absolutely wrong. The fact that this court created a new standard–a new hurdle–for Abu Jamal to jump over, is so consistent with what the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has done, where they’ll make a ruling today; when Abu Jamal’s case comes tomorrow, they’ll change it; and then two days later they’ll change it back to the original one, just so they can keep him from being released or get any modicum of justice.”

No “justice.” Just Us…or in this case Just Mumia Abu Jamal.

The Third Circuit had previously ruled that if there was any evidence of a single Black juror being excluded from a jury, the person who was harmed by that, should get a new trial, a new hearing. In this latest ruling, the Court said there is a time limit, if you don’t raise the issue at the time the jury was selected, you can’t raise it later.

Ironically, just eight days before this ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the guilty verdict and death sentence of a Louisiana man, concluding that a Black juror had been unfairly excluded from the man’s jury. The court ordered that the defendant, Allen Snyder, get a new trial. In a 7-2 decision the Supreme Court said the state trial judge erred when he allowed prosecutors to strike a Black college student from that jury.

Mr. Abu Jamal’s legal team plans to appeal the decision of the three-judge panel to the entire, nine-member Third Circuit Court, and if necessary to the U.S. Supreme Court. Speaking of the Supreme Court: Two guesses as to who voted against a new trial for the wrongly convicted Louisiana defendant, and you first guess does not count.

Yes, of course, Mr. Justice Clarence Thomas did not see racial discrimination in the jury selection affecting that defendant’s “fair trial.” No surprise there. No Justice. Just us, and he is no longer one of us.

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