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Free Speech for Whom?

[EDITOR'S NOTE: In the Dec., 1992 issue of PLN we reported that supporters of Mumia Abu Jamal, the former Black Panther on death row in Pennsylvania accused of killing a cop, had shouted down Penn. Governor Casey at a forum in New York City. The forum had been sponsored by the Village Voice and other liberals and was about "Pro-Life Liberals", i.e. Democrats against abortion. One of the speakers was Gov. Casey who is strongly opposed to abortion rights for women and also strongly in favor of the death penalty. After being unable to speak at the forum several of the organizers, including Voice columnist Nat Hentoff, published long articles calling Mumia's supporters and the abortion rights protesters who shouted Casey down as "fascists", "brownshirts", "book burners", etc. Hentoff also claimed that Mumia was "saddened" by his supporters actions, etc.

After reading this I started to write a letter to the editor of the Village Voice to point out the absurdity of calling anti-death penalty and abortion rights protesters "censors" and "fascists." I was going to go into the whole thing about power relationships, media access, etc. It then occurred to me that it would be best to contact the person most directly affected by this. The person whose life is at stake. Here are Mumia's comments for you to read. To the best of my knowledge none of the mainstream media that have been going on an on about Casey being shouted down have bothered to contact Mumia for his opinion on the matter. Paul Wright.]

I have nothing but admiration for those who braved the state's sanctions and the state's organs - the media - to speak out on my behalf.

Although I had no idea a protest would occur at Cooper Union, that it did hardly "saddened" me. Shocked? Surprised? Yes. Yes.

But even more "shocking" was the report that the Governor of Pennsylvania had "no knowledge" and "knew nothing" about my case; this after over 40,000 signatures of petitions were sent to him; letters from members of the Congress of the United States written to him on my behalf, people from France, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, Jamaica, the U.K. and the U.S. - thousands have written, even representatives of the European parliament and "nothing?" How could one not be shocked?

And although it would be safe to say I was initially "saddened" at a valuable lost opportunity, that was before I learned of the "I don't know nothing" comment. Which, I am told, actually sparked much of the protest, as folks reacted in disbelief and outrage.

As an old avant-garde jazz aficionado, I have read Hentoff's writings on the music with admiration, but his riffs on the Cooper Union protests have troubled me. Fascists? Brownshirts? Book burners? One wonders if Nat knows the recent history of my supporters, who, just a year ago, were threatened by Philadelphia cops with death via an "electric sofa?" This coming from the baby killers and mad bombers of Osage Avenue (authors of the so-called MOVE bombing of May 13th, 1985) was a threat none of my supporters took idly.

It is one thing to burn books (and I am not unaware of the reverence with which observant Jews hold books); it is quite another thing to burn babies. I have yet to read any liberal columnist who called Philadelphia's death squad the "fascists" that they are. Still.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has a special regard for books - and a special regard, quite low I might add, for the first amendment.

Books are banned to me, by prison officials, based solely upon my principled refusal to violate my religion, The Teaching of John Africa, by cutting my hair. Educational courses and books by which to study them, are specifically denied to me, solely because I refuse to violate my religion by cutting my hair.

Visits from my loved ones, family and friends, are specifically denied and lessened drastically, solely because of my religious refusal to abide by a prison rule to cut my hair.

Phone calls are non-existent, solely because I refuse to violate my faith and cut my hair as the prison seeks. But some MOVE folks suffer more.

Ramona Africa, survivor of the May 13th holocaust of Osage Avenue, served every day of her seven years, solely because she refused to violate her faith and renounce MOVE.

Sue Africa "maxed out" after almost 12 years for the same reason.

To this day, Carlos and Consuella Africa, remain in Pennsylvania hell holes, solely, only, because they will not violate their faith by pledging to disavow their MOVE family.

Both could have been freed on parole years ago, over 5 years ago, if they had agreed to a commonwealth stipulation that they not associate with MOVE people (their family), visit MOVE houses (their home!) nor attend any court proceeding involving MOVE people.

Nat, nor any of his colleagues, have ever termed any of these conditions "fascistic." Never have they condemned the government of Pennsylvania, nor the prison officials, parole officers, nor the governor, for these acts which spit on the so-called "First Amendment Guarantees" that the liberal intelligentsia find so "holy" when "desecrated" by the Cooper Union protesters.

When courts allowed the state to wave my membership in the Black Panther Party (over 10 years past) before a mostly white jury like a red flag, as a reason to execute me, no columnist crowed about the desecration of the first (nor any other) amendment. Not even when a white Aryan Brother, convicted of killing a white person following a prison escape, had his death sentence reversed, based solely on the introduction of his Aryan Brotherhood beliefs and associations.

Fascists? Brownshirts? Book burners? If Nat and the New York press see "fascism" in the face of handful of brave souls who dared shout down the chief executive of a government that bans books, shackles prisoners, and deprives people of their very freedom solely because of their religion; that signed the most death warrants in recent history; that sanctions religious practice with perverse isolation, then I fear for the faculty they call "vision". It's a case of "freedom of speech (religion, association, etc.) for me, but not for thee."

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