By JEFF MACKLER
The April 12, 1999, issue of Work in Progress-the national AFL-CIO publication for organizers, staff, officials, and activists-carried an article headlined, “ILWU: Free Abu-Jamal.”
The article, indicative of the growing support for Abu-Jamal among working people in the United States, reads:
“Members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union will hold regular monthly stop-work meetings in all ports April 24 to discuss upcoming contract talks and to demand a stop to the execution of, and freedom for, Pennsylvania death row prisoner and journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal and to participate in a protest march in San Francisco on the same day.”
The article continues: “Some other unions will participate in a rally that day in Philadelphia. The actions are part of a growing labor outcry over the case of Jamal, who many groups believe was wrongly convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer in 1982.
“When in prison, Jamal has backed the NABET/CWA strike against ABC and the West Coast Longshore actions in support of 500 fired Liverpool dockworkers.”
The ILWU action on April 24 was widely reported in the media, as all ports on the West Coast of the United States were closed tight on a normally heavy shipping day to demand Jamal’s freedom.
But Philadelphia newspapers neglected to cover this story. The historic prison visit to Jamal by the wife of former French President Francois Mitterrand, who has called for a new trial for Jamal, was similarly ignored by Pennsylvania’s corporate media.
Nevertheless, the day following the massive Philadelphia turnout of 25,000 for Mumia, headlines blared for days with attacks on a major non-profit charity organization, the Black United Fund (BUF). This organization has served as a vehicle for tax-exempt contributions to Mumia’s legal defense efforts and to The International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, (ICFF-MAJ) the leading defense organization struggling for Mumia’s freedom.
“Abu-Jamal donation fund may skirt federal tax laws,” was the headline of the April 25 Philadelphia Inquirer. An April 29 article in the same paper was titled, “Charity raised $203,000 for Abu-Jamal cause.”
On April 30, the Inquirer charged, “Charity cut out of its literature ties to Abu-Jamal.”
“They are trying to pressure the Black United Fund,” said Pam Africa of the ICFF-MAJ, “to stop raising money for Mumia, using government terrorism and media propaganda in a way reminiscent of the way William Singletary and Veronica Jones were pressured to change their testimony in Mumia’s 1982 trial.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer editorial page on May 13, 1999, demanded: “Cut Abu-Jamal ties; Charity in danger of losing its credibility.” The editorial stated:
“There’s nothing free about the Free Mumia movement. Supporters have shelled out at least $200,000 to try to free the unrepentant murderer of a Philadelphia police officer.”
“But,” the editorial threatened, “the cost could be far higher for the Black United fund of Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia-based charity that collects money for Mumia Abu-Jamal.
“In not disclosing its relationship with the Abu-Jamal cause for three years, the Black United Fund has called into question its most valuable asset as a legitimate charity-its credibility.
“In 1995, the fund stopped mentioning its involvement with Abu-Jamal in its fund-raising pitch, following heated objections from the city police union because the Black United Fund was part of the annual workplace charity drive at City Hall. But it never stopped collecting donations earmarked for Abu-Jamal, nor halted bookkeeping provided to the group campaigning to free him.
“No plausible explanation for the secret connection has been heard from the charity’s officials. And they have let precious time elapse without taking the obvious first step-to declare, once and for all, that the Black United fund will have no more to do with the Free Mumia folks.”
The editorial concluded with a reminder to Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell to press forward with the threats of city officials to make “the city’s Combined Campaign of 14 charities … off-limits to the Black United Fund if it continues to collect money for Abu-Jamal, or if it doesn’t secure its state charitable registration, which has lapsed.”
Rendell’s spokesman, Kevin Feeley, stated that the Black United fund faces a choice: “You can be a mail drop for Mumia or you can participate in the Combined Campaign. You don’t get both.”
Approximately one-third of the Black United Fund’s annual fund-raising is attributable to city workers, who contribute to charities through a system of voluntary payroll deduction.
The BUF’s ties to Jamal’s legal defense could well become an issue at other workplaces where the fund has payroll deduction plans in operation.
A response to these attacks by the Black United Fund President and CEO, Linda Waters Richardson, was published by The Inquirer on May 14 but was omitted from the paper’s web page.
“In response to the article, ‘Abu-Jamal donation may skirt federal tax laws’ (Inquirer, April 25), please be advised of the following:
“The Black United Fund of Pennsylvania was chartered in 1982 to provide a mechanism for African Americans throughout the commonwealth to collectively address social and economic injustices by pooling the resources needed to empower their families and communities.
“BUF/PA provides grants and technical assistance to nonprofit organizations committed to improving conditions in African American communities. BUF/PA also provides fiscal sponsorship of donor-advised funds, programs and projects that are consistent with its mission to sustain quality of life issues for African Americans.
“We are the only independent Black philanthropic organization in Pennsylvania that provides fiscal sponsorship of donor-advised funds.
“Some of those funds include Africans for Justice Against Texaco, the David P. Richardson Memorial Fund, the Roxanne Jones Memorial Fund, the Million Woman March, Sisters Remember Malcolm, the Uptown Cultural District Group, the North Broad Street Joint Venture, College for Kids, and the Philadelphia Alumni Chapter of the National Pan Hellenic Council’s Scholarship Fund, as well as International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
“In response to questions regarding the fiscal sponsorship of donor-advised funds and programs, including the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, please note that the Black United Fund does, in fact, monitor all spending.
“Each donor-advised fund or program must submit a detailed check request form and attach a receipt or an invoice before a check is issued. In addition, the chief executive officer, as well as the vice president, must approve the request before a check is issued…
“The board of directors, staff and management of BUF/PA make no apologies and are proud to help support and sustain programs, events and organizations that are working to strengthen African Americans.
“The Black United Fund movement is the only mechanism working to empower African Americans without prejudice and is truly, as our motto states, ‘The Helping Hand That Is Your Own.’
“We are totally committed to and will continue our mission to empower African American communities throughout Pennsylvania.”
In a separate statement, Richardson denied that the BUF’s registration had lapsed.
Pam Africa told Socialist Action that the Inquirer’s attack on the BUF was a direct response to the April 24 Philadelphia and San Francisco mass actions that drew some 50,000 protesters into the streets to demand a new trial for Mumia.
“The pressure is on them now,” said Africa. “They have been stung by the power of our demonstrations.”
Africa reported an incident that further registered the hatred of local authorities for those who have exposed the corruption of Mumia’s trial. “Pamela Jenkins,” said Africa, “was arrested by the police after she appeared on the stage on April 24.”
Jenkins had testified in 1996 that she had been pressured by Philadelphia police to falsely identify Mumia Abu-Jamal as being the murderer of police officer Daniel Faulkner. But she refused to lie.