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Art and Writings Against the Death Penalty / Save Mumia Abu Jamal

by Adrian Lomax

Mumia Abu-Jamal learned early what happens to African Americans who speak their minds. In 1968, at the age of 16, Mumia and some of his friends marched in Philadelphia to protest the presidential candidacy of arch-segregationist George Wallace. Police severely beat Mumia and then charged him with assaulting them.

The experience so enraged and politicized the young activist that he became a founding member of Philadelphia's chapter of the Black Panther Party. With Mumia at the forefront, the Philadelphia Panthers loudly protested the ongoing brutality of the legendarily racist Philly police under chief, and later mayor, Frank Rizzo.

The FBI eventually smashed the Black Panthers, and Mumia went on to become a journalist. In the mid-1970s he worked for several Philadelphia radio and television stations, including WHYY-TV, Channel 12. Mumia's interest in exposing the crimes of the Philly cops never waned, and the police war against MOVE, a group of radical Black utopians, showed Philadelphia's finest at the top of their form.

On August 8, 1978, Rizzo's troops marched on the MOVE compound. Their violence was so extreme that police shot other police officers in the cross fire. The MOVE members surrendered and exited the house unarmed, but the cops bashed heads anyway. The MOVE members ended up being charged with murder for causing the police to shoot each other, and some of them remain in prison to this day. (In a 1985 assault on MOVE, Philly police bombed the MOVE house, killing all but two of its occupants.)

Most of the Philadelphia press overlooked the police brutality in the MOVE raid, but not Mumia. His coverage was so strident in exposing the wanton violence that he lost his job. He continued to report on the Philly police as a freelance journalist, but he had to take work as a cab driver.

At 4:00 a.m. on December 9, 1981, while driving his cab, Mumia saw police officers beating a man. Mumia stopped and stepped out of the car. The police shot and viciously beat him. An officer was also fatally shot.

Several eyewitnesses claim to have seen a man not fitting Mumia's description shoot the police officer and then flee. Those people never testified at Mumia's trial, though, because state prosecutors prevented over 125 witnesses from taking the stand. A police ballistics expert testified that the bullets removed from the officer's body were not fired from Mumia's legally registered gun.[1]

A jury found Mumia, who had never before been convicted of a crime, guilty of murder. That verdict seems at odds with the evidence, but another travesty took place during the trial's sentencing phase. In their effort to convince the jury to impose capital punishment, prosecutors told the jurors of Mumia's membership in the Black Panther Party and quoted to the jury portions of a published interview of Mumia from that time, including the statement that Apolitical power grows out of the barrel of a gun.

Presenting such evidence to a jury flies in the face of the First Amendment. Americans are not supposed to be executed for their beliefs or their membership in political parties. Indeed, the Supreme Court three years ago overturned the death penalty imposed on a member of the Aryan Brotherhood because prosecutors told the jury of the defendant=s membership in that violently racist group.[2]  Nevertheless, the appellate courts have upheld Mumia's sentence. The Supreme Court has refused to even hear his case.

Mumia has been on death row since 1983. His appeals are exhausted. Pennsylvania's newly-elected Republican Governor,  who strongly endorsed capital punishment in his fall campaign, is expected to sign Mumia's death warrant sometime in March.

We must not allow this faithful spokesman for the victims of racist oppression to be executed for his politics and for exposing the brutality of the Philadelphia police. As the hand of death tightens around Mumia's throat, I call on every person who cares about human rights to act. Organize strikes. Walk out of your workplaces. Picket in the streets and notify the media of your actions in advance. High school and college students, walk out of your classes. Stand in crowded public places and exhort everyone within earshot to join the effort to stop the official murder of this true defender of the people. Be creative. Anything is better than doing nothing. Mumia must not die!

[Editors Note: Readers desiring more information about the campaign to save Mumia's life should contact: Committee to Free Mumia Abu Jamal, P.O. Box 10174, Pittsburgh, PA 15222.]

1. The facts in this paragraph are taken from Abu-Jamal by Susie Day, Z Maaazine, March, 1995, p. 20. All other facts are taken from the long-running series of articles about Mumia in Revolutionary Worker.

2. Dawson v. Delaware, 112 S.Ct. 1093 (1992).

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