By JEFF MACKLER
A number of the nation’s major corporate media, including The New York Times, felt compelled to report on the fact that Pennsylvania death row political prisoner and award-winning journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal was selected by Evergreen State College students in Olympia, Wash., to present a 13-minute audiotaped address during the graduation ceremonies on June 11.
The Times and their corporate media co-thinkers focused on the presence at the event of Maureen Faulkner, wife of Daniel Faulkner, the Philadelphia policeman Abu-Jamal was falsely convicted of murdering. Faulkner signed two police-funded advertisements published in The Olympian, protesting Mumia’s invitation by Evergreen students.
In the face of a national campaign to compel Evergreen, a four-year state liberal arts college, to withdraw the invitation, college president Jane Jervis defended the students’ decision.
Mumia’s invitation, said Jervis, served “to galvanize an international conversation about the death penalty, the disproportionate number of Blacks on death row, and the relationship between poverty and the criminal justice system.”
Protests were registered by leaders of the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police and by District Attorney Lynne Abraham, who prosecuted Mumia Abu-Jamal in 1982.
“To dignify a graduation ceremony with the words of a convicted killer,” said Abraham at a Philadelphia press conference, “is an obscenity.”
Washington Gov. Gary Locke canceled his scheduled appearance at the graduation in protest. In Washington, D.C., Republican House leader Tom DeLay of Texas branded those who selected Abu-Jamal as “twisted radicals” who “perverted their vocation to better mankind through teaching.”
The June 10, 1999, New York Times carried a major story on the Evergreen event that was run on the wire services and published in papers around the country. The Times reported that a dozen students protested Mumia’s speech by wearing yellow armbands and turning their backs on the podium. An additional three walked out.
The Times neglected to report that the remaining 800 students rose to give Mumia a standing ovation, an action that registers without doubt the fact that growing millions have come to challenge the fundamental injustice involved in Mumia’s conviction.
In a June 14, 1999, New York Daily News op-ed article on the Evergreen graduation, columnist John Leo declared that while he believes Mumia is guilty, his trial was so unfair that the imposition of the death penalty is “indefensible.”
The nationally-circulated U.S. News & World Report dated June 21, 1999, reprinted Leo’s column, a further indication that powerful forces are beginning to question whether the planned state murder of Mumia will cost them too dearly in regard to a profound loss of public confidence in the criminal “justice” system.
Leo’s column included a call for a new trial, an eventuality that Mumia’s legal team fully expects would result in Mumia’s exoneration and freedom.
“Stuart Taylor Jr.,” says Leo, “in a brilliant analysis of the [Mumia Abu-Jamal] case in the American Lawyer in 1995 concluded that Abu-Jamal’s trial was ‘grotesquely unfair.'”
“Taylor,” Leo continues, “thinks an unfair trial was guaranteed when it was assigned to Judge Albert Sabo, who is believed to have sent more defendants to death row than any judge in America.
“As Taylor tells it, the sentence was ‘pushed though by Sabo in less than three hours on the Saturday of the July 4 weekend’ in a proceeding ‘riddled with constitutional flaws.'”