How an Innocent Man and Hero to Many Could Lose His Life in Prison
Imagine yourself in prison, Hep C'd to the brink, and all you can rely on are the four unforgiving walls and the fleeting loyalties of small groups of supporters occasionally campaigning for your release. Such is the frittering life of political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, an innocent man, seemingly destined to live out his final years in maximum security, scapegoated for a heinous crime he did not commit. He doesn't have long.
In 1982, Jamal, a journalist, was sentenced to death for the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. Later, his sentence was commuted to life without parole. Outside the F.B.I., the Philadelphia Police Department, and the tight-knitted loop of corrupt politicians, it has become common knowledge to those investigating on both sides, that Jamal was framed.
Make no bones about it, Mumia Abu-Jamal is an outspoken individual, often brash, occasionally arrogant, and supremely intelligent. He has the innate ability to stir hornet's nests, call the system out for what it really is, and write without fear, of the corruptions and evils that American greed can conjure. In his freedom years, as a member of the Black Panthers, with his intense interests in Black Nationalism, and his eventual role as president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, he pushed aggressively against the Philadelphia Police Department and that city's justice system, a cohort which at the time was one of the most brutal and corrupt in all of the United States of America. To an influential few, Mumia was trouble, and, under the threat of exposure to a teeth-gnashing public, he needed to be taken out.
"Do you see law and order? There is nothing but disorder, and instead of law there is the illusion of security. It is an illusion because it is built on a long history of injustices: racism, criminality, and the genocide of millions. Many people say it is insane to resist the system, but actually, it is insane not to."
With the framing of champion boxer, gun runner, and fellow Black Nationalist, Rubin "Hurricane" Carter still fresh in the minds of many, the police department manipulated a foolproof sting using one of their own as the sacrificial lamb, to frame, arrest and convict Jamal for felonious homicide. Mumia Abu-Jamal, having recently been sacked as a journalist for his outspokenness, was working as a taxi driver on the night in question, and, upon witnessing a routine traffic stop involving his brother William Cook, stopped in case he was required to render assistance to his sibling. That's when his life changed, forever.
Policeman David Faulkner was a fair man, and like Mumia, was an outspoken individual. Word had spread throughout the 39th District that a young police officer had gone to the feds to report on corruption within his own department, and although unsubstantiated in official circles, it is widely known that that indeed was the fact. David Faulkner had become a rat within the ranks of powerful men. Killing two birds with the one stone seemed the ultimate option.
There is a cratering gap the size of the Grand Canyon between the time of the traffic stop and the time that Faulkner's dead body was found. Somehow, Mumia Abu-Jamal too had been shot. He was found bloodied and severely wounded just metres away from the deceased policeman, with a bullet wound from Faulkner's gun, and his own discharged revolver beside him. What at first seemed like just another tragedy in an increasingly violent city, soon became a sensation, sweeping the nation to a cataclysmic free-for-all against each other. Once again, as had occurred countless times before, sides were taken, and black and white lines were toed in the sand; Jamal obviously did it/Jamal couldn't have done it.
To quote Bob Dylan as he sung about a similar trial of the pre-judged Rubin Carter, the trial was a pig circus. Mumia never stood a chance. With odds stacked completely against him, Mumia Abu-Jamal was quickly sentenced to death, just another neighbourhood street thug with a self-serving grudge against the police department. It wasn't until 30 years later, in 2012, after an excruciating amount of appeals, that his sentence was reduced to life without parole. A small victory.
Soon after the trial, the conspiracy became exposed, the frame-up unravelling at a mile a minute to the point of complete exposure. The sudden death of an honest cop threatening to unleash a tirade against corruption in the department was not a new thing to the 39th Precinct, and as a result, an already skeptical public tide was beginning to turn.
The police had arranged for two shooters on the night, and had scripted the scene as Faulkner being attacked and killed by one, while Jamal was attacked and killed by the other. But the plan backfired. Mumia survived. Also, the police involved, given that this was all to go down around 4am, hadn't banked on any witnesses being present who could come forward with the real version of events. But they did. Twelve of them, all with corroborating sworn statements.
To wrap it all up in a neat little bundle, judges, lawyers, politicians, jury members and false witnesses were paid off to convict Jamal quickly and with minimal fuss. Despite missing evidence, a lack of reliable witnesses, and not one strand of evidence that could be tied to Jamal's involvement, the jury delivered a unanimous verdict with little deliberation and care. Guilty or not, we as a collective all maintain the right to a fair trial. This one was not.
Within the confines of his claustrophobic cell, Mumia Abu-Jamal has become an integral speaker against injustices not only in his home state of Pennsylvania, but across the troubled land of the United States. A man of influence and eloquence, with cult figure status and a lashing tongue, he has recorded several spoken word albums for San Franciscan independent label Alternative Tentacles, has written many books including several memoirs, and availed not only his plight, but the plight of thousands of African-Americans to varying cultures living outside of the mainstream media.
Now, in what is supposed to be the autumn of his life, Jamal is ill. Frailed by age and the ravaging of Hepatitis C, still awaiting the fruits of justice, he continues to fight to clear his name with the help of some serious influencers, Amnesty International and Internationalist.org. But time is running out. Pragmatic about his own situation, Mumia concedes that he may never bear witness to the spoils of freedom again. But even in his weakening state, he will remain steadfast and strong, never to give up the fight. And where he weakens, many stand firm, laying foundation for yet another assault on the American justice prison, with hope for a reopened hearing under the autonomous banner of the Supreme Court.
There is no doubting that Mumia is an incredibly sick man with little time left on the planet that so betrayed him. Despite this, and despite Manahoy Prison's utter negligence in providing a safe facility for its inmates, the state refuses to grant him clemency. Recently, he was moved into the prison's general population, giving him several privileges he had not been warranted for over three decades. Another small victory.
The broader problem is this. How many cases of a similar ilk are perpetuated on a daily basis, not only in the United States, but all across the globe? How many innocent men and women, like Mumia Abu-Jamal, must rot in prison, as wasted, living corpses, before the mainstream population as a whole become fed up and stand up to fight for what's right? Why is exposing the truths in such cases left up to so few, something so crucially vital as an innocent person's life, while the many refuse to become involved, or even simply learn, because they don't want their own worlds troubled by such negativity?
So, what can we do? We are just little people, right? Right! It's the little people who matter! It's the little people with power, with choices and rights! It's the little people with the vote, the ultimate decisions and the driving reason to smash corruption, expose greed and capitalism for what it really is, and work together, not as opinionated politicos, but as HUMANS, with love, empathy and passion, to obtain justice for those who are not able to obtain it for themselves. But we're wasted. Our own services to the community are redundant. Because you, me, and the majority of the western world, are either too scared, or too apathetic, to lift a finger to improve our own quality of life. While the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and bad men continue to rule, we sit. We watch sports, laugh at cat videos and complain about our lattes to a barista earning $5 an hour. All fine, I guess. But think of it like this; if this were to happen to you, and it could, if you were to be set up for something as grand as murder, or something as petty as stealing the bosses lunch, would you not want at least the ear of your peers, to help relay the injustice and fight to clear your name? I should think so.
You may not realise it, but by reading this, you've started today, and I thank you from the very bottom of my heart. But, I implore you, don't stop there. I'm not asking you to dedicate your life to calls to action or bringing down a corrupt system. Just make yourself aware. Engage in other people's lives, those who need engaging the most. And most importantly of all, teach your children. For who knows, future generations may not ever need to know of a Mumia Abu-Jamal or Ruben Carter. It's possible, is it not, that in decades to come, your children and your children's children, will understand just what the right to pure freedom really means.
It starts today.
*To assist Mumia Abu-Jamal in his fight for freedom, financially or otherwise, go to freemumia.com