By JEFF MACKLER
The struggle to win a new trial and freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal has entered a critical stage. Mumia, a noted Black journalist and innocent political prisoner, has been on Pennsylvania’s death row for 17 years after being convicted in a frame-up trial of killing a Philadelphia police officer.
Key organizers of Jamal’s defense, from chief legal counsel Leonard Weinglass and the defense team to the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, have stated that Mumia’s life rests with the capacity of his supporters to engage ever broadening sectors of the population in united actions.
The goal now is to bring Mumia’s case-perhaps the most important death row case in decades-to the attention of additional millions of Americans.
Legal experts estimate that the time period during which all federal court appeals may be exhausted is between six and 24 months.
This is essentially the time left to mobilize an international fight to make the price of Mumia’s murder too high to pay from the vantagepoint of his would-be executioners in both Pennsylvania and the highest levels of U.S. ruling-class circles.
To this end, some 60 national organizations and prominent activists have been called to a mid-January New York City meeting to plan and prepare a series of coordinated events. On April 24, “Millions for Mumia,” demonstrations have been set for Philadelphia and San Francisco. These will be preceded by four staggered regional conferences in San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York.
Leonard Weinglass told a Dec. 12 Philadelphia regional organizing conference that a representative of Pennsylvania Gov. Thomas Ridge had informed the defense team that he would not sign a new warrant for Mumia’s execution. Instead, according to this official, the state would operate as if the 1995 death warrant signed by the governor were still operative.
This 1995 death warrant was stayed by “hanging judge” Judge Albert Sabo following mass protests at that time and following the defense team’s simultaneous filing for a Post Conviction Relief Act hearing. Sabo’s stay of execution explicitly stated that it was valid through all federal court appeals up to and including the U.S. Supreme Court.
While Gov. Ridge has misinformed Jamal’s defense team in the past, and may do so again by signing a new warrant for Jamal’s execution, the fact that no such warrant has been signed to date indicates that Ridge may seek to avoid drawing the additional national attention to the case that would inevitably flow from a new execution warrant.
The defense team, according to Weinglass, is currently preparing an appeal to the Federal District Court that challenges the Oct. 29 rejection by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court of all 26 points raised by Jamal’s defense.
In the meantime, support for Mumia continues to mount. The most recent example came on Dec. 17 when the European Parliament passed a resolution that included the following:
“Noting that Mumia Abu-Jamal was condemned to death in December 1982 following an unfair trial, that his application for a re-trial was rejected on Oct. 30 by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, and…
“Whereas this rejection means that the governor of Pennsylvania may at any time sign a fresh warrant setting the date for his execution…
“The European Parliament … issues an urgent appeal to the governor of Pennsylvania not to sign a fresh warrant setting an execution date and reiterates its call for a re-trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal, and for the death sentence passed on him to be commuted.”
The European Parliament resolution followed presentations to the body by a delegation that included Leonard Weinglass, Angela Davis, Ramona Africa, Sue Africa, Julia Wright, and others.
In the United States, the 2500-member Oakland Education Association, in conjunction with the Oakland Unified School District, will schedule lesson plans in history and social studies classes, as well as assembly programs on Mumia’s case and the death penalty in the district’s secondary schools.
Similarly, the national convention of the Labor Party unanimously approved the following resolution:
“Be it resolved that the Labor Party 1998 Convention goes on record demanding justice for Mumia Abu-Jamal, a world renowned award-winning journalist, courageous defender of the rights of the working-class and oppressed people…
“Be it further resolved, that we demand a new trial, due to the mockery of his 1982 trial that was characterized by reliance on contradictory evidence from the police, coercion, intimidation, bribery by the police of prosecution witnesses, police suppression of evidence, the illegal exclusion of African American jurors, and the blatant bias of Judge Albert Sabo…”
Mumia’s struggle for freedom has resonated in every quarter of American society. A dramatic letter calling for his freedom was signed by 15 innocent people who had lived on death row for periods ranging from two to twelve years.
They had been convicted and freed when the racist and classist frame-up against them was finally brought to light. The letter was circulated and released on Nov. 13 at the National Conference on Wrongful Convictions and the Death Penalty in Chicago. One thousand attended to learn how the U.S. criminal “justice” system victimizes oppressed people by methods that bear a striking resemblance to the frame-up of Mumia.
The former death row inmates wrote:
“We know Mumia’s struggle, because no one knows it better than we of the lengths to which the criminal ‘justice’ system will go in its relentless quest to take a life. Many of us are intimately familiar with the daily degradation of Mumia’s 17 years on death row: locked in a cell for 23 hours each day, forbidden to embrace or even see his family members, prohibited from being filmed or audio-taped by reporters, slapped into punitive detention for writing and publishing his views, refused the right to confidentially communicate with his attorneys.
“We were sustained in our struggle for justice, as Mumia is, by the tireless support of our families, friends, and people of principle who organized to liberate us from the machine that tried to slay us. And, above all else, we were sustained, as Mumia is, by the only real certainty we were allowed on death row-the knowledge that we were innocent.”
Dec. 12 actions calling for Mumia’s freedom were scheduled coast to coast. In Northern California, rallies and demonstrations initiated by the Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal in San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Cruz, San Jose, and Sebastopol. An estimated 2000 attended these events.
In Oakland, police and other public officials sought to impose permit fees totaling $2300 for the right to march in the city’s streets. Mobilization organizers refused to pay these fees and insisted that they would exercise their First Amendment rights.
On the eve of the march, both Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris, a supporter of the march and Mayor-elect Jerry Brown pressed the police to waive all fees. In addition, a news conference was held, with representatives of the Oakland Unified School District, the Oakland teachers’ union, the National Lawyers Guild, International Longshore and Warehouse Union, and the Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal attending.
The dispute was given coverage in the Oakland Tribune.
As a result of the pressure upon them, the police informed march organizers that they would not interfere with the scheduled march and rally-although they still refused to grant a permit for the action without payment of fees.
New support was won from several Bay Area trade unions, from representatives of Grace Cathedral, and from the Nation of Islam ,whose Minister Christopher Mohammed addressed a San Francisco rally of 300.
A representative from NABET also addressed the rally, as did Walter Johnson, Secretary-Treasurer of the San Francisco Labor Council and Brian McWilliams, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
In Philadelphia, 200 attended the Dec. 12 organizing conference. The meeting was addressed by representatives of a diverse range of political and social organizations, including many currents on the left that had previously shunned common action with groups with whom they retained fundamental programmatic differences. This is indicative of the growing unity and determination that is emerging across the country.
A victory for Mumia will resound in every quarter that cherishes human freedom and dignity. We must build an all-inclusive and united effort to achieve this result. Mumia’s freedom rests with the American working class, Black and white, and all their allies among the oppressed. Their involvement in the future struggles will prove decisive.