Abu-Jamal case generates support worldwide

Reading time 5 min.

What makes people from Brazil to Berlin and beyond rally in support of a new trial for America’s most recognized death row inmate – Mumia Abu-Jamal – award-winning journalist and convicted cop killer?

Many, like Victor Toro from Chile, see Abu-Jamal’s legal battles as symbolizing struggles of oppressed people worldwide.

“For us, Mumia is our Mandela. He is a political prisoner and a revolutionary,” said Toro, who was expelled from Chile in 1976 due to his activism against the notorious dictator Augusto Pinochet – whose U.S.-backed regime tortured Toro and his wife.

“In America there is racism and violence against people of color,” Toro said recently during a Philadelphia event for Abu-Jamal, the former radio reporter and Black Panther Party (BPP) member from 1968 to 1970 during his mid-teenage years.

Abu-Jamal, despite confinement in a death row isolation cell for over twenty-five years, remains prolific publishing six acclaimed books and thousands of perceptive commentaries.

Many radio stations worldwide regularly broadcast Abu-Jamal’s commentaries on current events. Interestingly, his books and commentaries rarely reference his case where he’s proclaimed innocence since his 1981 arrest.

Abu-Jamal holds ‘Honorary Citizen’ status in over 20 cities worldwide including Montreal and Paris. The European Parliament and South African labor unions support Abu-Jamal receiving a new trial as does Amnesty International.

French supporters of Abu-Jamal include Julia Wright, daughter of acclaimed Afro-American novelist Richard Wright and Mireille Mendes-France, daughter of Caribbean-born psychiatrist/philosopher Franz Fanon whose books on colonialism influenced the teenaged Abu-Jamal.

Those supporting Abu-Jamal’s execution – like Pa Governor Ed Rendell –denigrate Abu-Jamal’s worldwide supporters as dupes, blinded by propaganda generated in support of the murderer responsible for shooting Philadelphia Policeman Daniel Faulkner.

The case against Abu-Jamal arguably contains compelling aspects of guilt, albeit circumstantial and lacking conclusive forensic evidence normally produced in high-profile prosecutions.

The two policemen claiming Abu-Jamal confessed didn’t report this significant evidence for over two months. Police experts never matched bullets removed from Officer Faulkner to Abu-Jamal’s legally registered gun.

During the time of Abu-Jamal’s arrest, trial and death sentence, Ed Rendell was Philadelphia’s District Attorney – its chief prosecutor.

Courts – state and federal – have overturned many murder convictions obtained during Rendell’s DA tenure citing incidents of misconduct by his prosecutors inclusive of withholding evidence of innocence and engaging in racially discriminatory jury selection practices – two improprieties polluting Abu-Jamal’s conviction.

While mounds of evidence unearthed since Abu-Jamal’s 1982 conviction document numerous legal violations, courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, continuously uphold Abu-Jamal’s conviction.

Conviction advocates trumpet this court ruling record while supporters criticize courts for employing irregularities to refuse him the relief given other inmates raising the same legal claims.

Curiously, Philadelphia and Pennsylvania courts found no errors – evidentiary or procedural – in Abu-Jamal’s case despite finding major flaws in 86 Philadelphia death penalty convictions between Abu-Jamal’s 1981 arrest and October 2009.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently ordered a federal appeals court to reconsider its decision voiding Abu-Jamal’s death sentence.

German activist Annette Schiffmann stated the Abu-Jamal case “for us captured everything the U.S. was about ideally and was not in real life” in an April 2009 article she authored entitled “Why Germans Support Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier.”

In that article Schiffmann noted how many Germans began researching the Abu-Jamal case in the late 1980s following publication of his writings by a small German publishing firm.

Many Germans, Schiffmann observed in her article, uncritically accepted professions advanced by American officials throughout Germany following WWII that justice reigned throughout the USA.

Abu-Jamal “rang a chord with many critical minded Germans,” Schiffmann wrote, “judging from our own past we could imagine quite well how political repression and racism in courts had worked in this particular case.”

Schiffmann’s brother, Dr. Michael Schiffmann, author of a book on Abu-Jamal (“Race Against Death”), discovered unpublished photographs of the 1981 crime scene capturing police tampering with and destroying evidence.

Those photographs by a Philadelphia photojournalist were featured in the 2007 film “In Prison My Whole Life” produced in part by British movie star Colin Firth. Amnesty International endorsed the “In Prison” film, a first of that organization.

Documented legal violations in this contentious case convince groups as diverse as Amnesty International and America’s NAACP civil rights organization that double standards of justice victimize Abu-Jamal.

The NAACP approved a resolution during its centennial convention in July 2009 calling on the U.S. Justice Department to investigate civil rights violations in the case of Abu-Jamal and three other men: Troy Davis in Georgia, Reggie Clemons in Missouri and former BPP member Marshall “Eddie” Conway in Maryland.

The cases of Abu-Jamal, Clemons, Conway and Davis each contain similar patterns of misconduct by police, prosecutors and judges.

US Justice Department head, Eric Holder, cited prosecutorial misconduct violations when dismissing a corruption conviction against a Republican US Senator in April 2009.

Yet, in August 2009, Holder’s Department opposed prison release of American Indian Movement (AIM) leader Leonard Peltier, convicted in 1977 of killing two FBI agents during a trial riddled with prosecutorial misconduct.

Anti-death penalty activist Lawrence Hayes, who supports a Justice Department investigation into Abu-Jamal’s case, recently called on President Obama to fulfill campaign pledges to fight for justice.

“We thought you would bring a different perspective,” said Hayes, a former BPP member who spent nearly 20-years in New York state prisons including a stint on death row for a questionable cop killing conviction.

Criticizing federal government onslaughts against BBP and AIM activists, Hayes said, “An investigation of Abu-Jamal’s case is part of what went into our vote for Obama.”

Linn Washington Jr. has researched the Abu-Jamal case since December 9, 1981.

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Linn Washington Jr
Linn Washington Jr is an award-winning journalist who writes a weekly column for The Philadelphia Tribune. A graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship, Washington writes regularly on issues involving law, the criminal justice system, news media and inequities involving race and/or class. This ’information junkie’ teaches multi-media urban reporting at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pa. He lives in New Jersey and frequently travels abroad.
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