Some 20,000 enthusiastic youth attended the Jan. 28 Rage Against the Machine benefit concert in New Jersey’s state-run Continental Airlines arena located in the Meadowlands area close to New York City.
Organized to raise funds for the legal defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the concert provoked a firestorm of protest from outraged police organizations led by the Fraternal Order of Police and the New York Patrolman’s Benevolent Association.
New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, State Police Superintendent Carl A. Williams, and State Attorney General Peter G. Verniero denounced the concert and urged ticket holders to seek refunds and boycott the show. About 700 people did, according to a Rage spokesperson, but the tickets, which cost $30 each, were quickly resold.
Headlines in area newspapers like The New York Post (“Concert benefits a cop-killing vermin”) were designed to dissuade people from attending. Public officials scowled at a recent federal court ruling that barred them from canceling the concert outright.
But the impact of the hysterical outpourings of the defenders of corporate power and its racist death penalty and criminal “justice” system only fueled interest in the case.
Hip-Hop artist Chuck D, leader of the band Public Enemy, took the stage with the Rage musicians. To vigorous applause, he challenged the youth to not think like robots as they enter the 21st century. The audience joined Chuck D in chanting with raised fists, “Free Mumia.”
The event also featured performances by The Beastie Boys, Bad Religion, and Chumbawamba. Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys stated, “The death penalty is something that has to be erased from the world.”
Pam Africa, leader of the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, spoke at the pre-concert press conference: “If the judges are truly infallible,” said Africa, “how do you explain the countless people that have been released from prison after years of incarceration because new evidence was found proving them innocent, … people like Betty Patterson, the Scottsboro Boys, and Hurricane Carter, to name a few.”
Amnesty International’s USA Executive Director, Dr. William F. Schulz, issued a statement on the concert:
“Amnesty International calls for the commutation of Mumia Abu Jamal’s death sentence and an immediate and thorough review of his trial and sentencing hearing….
“Amnesty International has serious doubts about the fairness of Mr. Abu-Jamal’s trial, which may have been contaminated by the deep rooted racism that appears to taint the application of the death penalty in Pennsylvania.
“Mr. Abu-Jamal’s case serves to highlight some of the particularly egregious aspects of the application of the death penalty in the United States: racism in jury selection, questionable identification evidence, possible pressure on witnesses, the withholding of evidence from the defense, a questionable purported ‘confession,’ incompetent trial counsel, and inadequate funding for the defense.”