By JEFF MACKLER
The Feb. 12 issue of the popular supermarket magazine stand publication Entertainment Weekly carried a half-page article on January’s Rage Against the Machine benefit concert for Mumia Abu-Jamal.
The New Jersey event, despite numerous threats to cancel by local and state politicians, and the concerted efforts to discourage attendance orchestrated by the Fraternal Order of Police, attracted some 20,000 youth.
Rage performer Tom Morello states: “This is as mainstream as human rights cases get. The case is simple and unambivalent: Mumia Abu-Jamal is an award-winning journalist and political dissident who did not receive a fair trial. There’s a mountain of doubt about his guilt.”
Just a few short months ago, the corporate media ignored the mounting calls from every quarter of the country and internationally for a new trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was framed up on charges of murdering a Philadelphia policeman in 1981.
Today, publications from The New York Times and Daily News to theSan Francisco Chronicle and Oakland Tribune, as well as the major television networks, are compelled to accept the reality that Jamal’s case is reaching increasing millions who believe that the criminal “justice” system failed miserably in providing even a semblance of fairness in Jamal’s case.
In February, 81 members of the Danish Parliament signed a declaration for a new trial for Mumia. Similar resolutions have been issued by scores of members of the French, Italian, Swedish, and other European elected bodies, as well as by the European Parliament.
In the United States, resolutions demanding a new trial have been approved in recent months by the San Francisco and Alameda County central labor councils, as well as the Seattle Central Labor Council and scores of trade unions across the country.
Dozens of union buses have already been chartered in New York City for the April 24 mass action in Philadelphia.
On the West Coast, a March 6 regional conference at the University of California at Berkeley titled “Race for Justice” is slated to be the largest such event in U.S. history.
Fifty-two workshops, including some 250 speakers, are set to participate in this kickoff event designed to educate about the case and organize for the April 24 mass demonstration in San Francisco.
March 6 conference workshops have been initiated by Amnesty International, the Northern California American Civil Liberties Union, major trade unions, representatives of local churches, and an unprecedented array of civil rights groups, youth organizations, legal organizations, and feminist groups.
Don Harmon, conference organizer and staff member of the sponsoring organization, The Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, told Socialist Action that more than 2000 are expected to participate.
A Feb. 28 Town Hall rally in New York City attracted 1700. The rally featured, among others:
Actor Ossie Davis; folksinger Pete Seeger; comedian Dick Gregory; former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark; former political prisoner Geronimo ji Jaga; Dennis Rivera, president of Hospital Workers Union Local 1199; and Pam Africa of the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
The rally heard Jamal’s chief legal counsel, Leonard Weinglass, give an update on the case. A collection raised over $20,000 for the legal defense.
A few weeks earlier a Mumia educational conference at the City College of New York attracted 250 activists. A similar event in Washington, DC., drew 200 participants.
March 20 has been set for a Midwestern conference called by Jamal supporters in Chicago.
Mumia legal update
At the end of February, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to a defense team request for an extension until April 24 in regard to Jamal’s filing for a hearing on two critical constitutional issues.
These are Sixth Amendment violations that the defense team has raised, thus far unsuccessfully, in lower courts.
The 1982 trial was fundamentally flawed, according to the defense, when Pennsylvania Judge Albert Sabo denied Jamal’s request to represent himself, and when this “hanging judge,” who has sentenced more people to die than any other in the country, removed Jamal from the courtroom for most of his trial.
Should this request for a Supreme Court review be denied, a second warrant for Jamal’s execution is expected to be signed by Pennsylvania Gov. Thomas Ridge. This will immediately be appealed to the Federal District Court, where a critical decision will be rendered.
Should the court rule against Jamal and invoke the 1996 Effective Death Penalty Act, Mumia Abu-Jamal faces a grave state of affairs from a legal standpoint. This reactionary Clinton-signed legislation, designed to expedite executions, requires federal courts to accept as valid the finding of fact of lower courts.
The new standard of “justice” reverses the entire body of law that was extracted from racist America during the mass civil rights struggles of the 1960s and ’70s. It reverts back to segregation era law wherein “states rights” statutes enacted by overtly racist state bodies were immune to federal court review.
Jamal’s supporters have long insisted, however, that his fate rests less with the corrupt and racist criminal justice system than it does with the collective capacity of human rights supporters to build the kind of mass social struggle that will make the price of Mumia’s legal murder too high to pay.
This kind of movement is in gestation in the United States today. On Feb. 26, for example, hundreds of student protests across the country were organized in response to a national call for coordinated actions supporting a new trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Mass rallies, teach-ins, leafleting, and other forms of protest mushroomed, for the first time, in a majority of the nation’s states.
The struggle for justice for Mumia Abu-Jamal has inspired a new generation of youth to become involved in politics for the first time.
These youth, many of whom are members of oppressed nationalities, have learned from bitter experience to distrust a criminal “justice” system that has often meted out injustice to their families and friends.
We must build a mass struggle
The growing movement for justice for Mumia Abu-Jamal faces several key challenges in the months ahead.
In the short time before a final decision is rendered, perhaps some 18 months, it must transform itself from a movement that was initiated by small groups of dedicated radicals and socialists to a mass movement that fuses the aspirations of working people of all races into a mass struggle that cannot be denied.
The rapid growth of this movement today, including the inclusion of key sectors of the labor movement, organizations of oppressed nationalities, faith-based groups, youth-and all those concerned with basic democratic rights-is a product of the current crisis of capitalist society itself.
Increasing numbers are learning from experience that truth and justice, whether at the workplace, in the mass media, in the government, or in society in general, is subordinate to the profit system.
The decline of American capitalism in relation to its international competitors has resulted in a generalized assault on American workers. Wages, hours, job security, conditions of work, as well as health care and other forms of social insurance that were won by past generations, are increasingly subject to attack and erosion.
This has been accompanied by an onslaught in the legal arena on social, political, and civil rights legislation that had been the product of previous decades of struggle.
In a significant sense, Mumia Abu-Jamal’s fight for life has energized and united many of the social struggles that have been dormant for decades. The outcome of this case will determine the political landscape of the human rights movement for years to come.
A defeat will inevitably stimulate a further growth in the forces of social regression. A victory, however, is an outcome well within our reach.
A victory will embolden the new social movements to take the next steps forward to exercise their new-found power in arenas of combat that go far beyond this critical battle for the life of an innocent and courageous fighter who has come to represent what is best in all of us.