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Activist, Political Prisoner, and Journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal Diagnosed With COVID-19, Energizing Calls for His Release

Abu-Jamal was then isolated in the infirmary at Mahanoy State Correctional Institution, receiving intravenous fluids for a period of time. Although recent reports indicate that he seems to be past the worst of the virus, Abu-Jamal lost 30 pounds in the process. He also has multiple “bloodied open wounds,” potentially as a result of a hepatitis C infection, as well as liver damage and high blood pressure.

Johanna Fernández is an associate professor of history at Baruch College of the City University of New York, as well as a member of Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal, a “network of teachers and educators who have advocated” on his behalf. According to Fernández, a prison doctor recommended that infirmary staff provide Abu-Jamal with daily medical baths for his skin condition, but he had not been receiving them.

 “That a prisoner is being held under these conditions suggests that all standards of decency, morality, and humanity have eroded in American society,” she said.

Crucially, these conditions are also having disastrous effects. In the few facilities that have completed mass testing, the infection rate is about 65 percent, according to an April 24, 2020 article in The Marshall Project. Additionally, according to the University of California Los Angeles School of Law’s Covid-19 Behind Bars Data Project, the death rate for those incarcerated is about three times that of the general United States population. Mumia Abu-Jamal is especially at risk, as a result of his pre-existing health conditions and the extensive amount of time he has spent behind bars.

He was first incarcerated back in 1982, receiving the death penalty and being placed on death row. As of 2011, upon the ruling of this sentence as unconstitutional, Abu-Jamal has been serving a life sentence at SCI Mahanoy in Frackville, Pennsylvania. He has maintained his innocence, citing targeting by the FBI’s COINTELPRO program, as well as police corruption and anti-Black racism. The trial also frequently emphasized and villainized his political ties to the Black Panther Party.

Supporters have therefore been organizing for his release for decades, and are continuing to do so following his COVID-19 diagnosis and declining health. They have been holding rallies and press conferences, as well as urging people to contact Pennsylvania officials to demand that Abu-Jamal is released and receives proper hospital care.

They have also expanded these demands to encompass broader issues. As Fernández stated, “Mumia is not alone: This is what medical care looks like in American prisons.”

Calls for his release have therefore been accompanied by demands to release all political prisoners, as well as the release of, “all elders, aging prisoners over the age of 50, people who have contracted COVID, and all others who are especially vulnerable to death through COVID-19,” per official Bring Mumia Home social media accounts. 


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