The Life of a Black Man

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The following editorial will appear in The Nation, Nov. 15, 1999. It is signed by novelist Alice Walker, poet June Jordan, and University of California at Santa Cruz professor and activist Angela Davis.

A stay of execution was issued Oct. 26. Pending the outcome of the habeas corpus brief filed for the defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the third, and irrevocable, death warrant will be forthcoming or a new trial granted.

He must not die. As thousands crowding the streets of our country and far beyond our borders continue to insist: He must not die.

It is his one life that provokes our persevering resistance. It is his one, persisting life that permits us hope beyond our day-to-day irrelevance. It is his living, still, as a black man sentenced to death that condemns our complacency and puts all our acquiescent inclinations to shame.

We can ignite and sustain our outcry, our judicious agitation, our public appeal, our steadfast seeking after rescue and reprieve.

We can do this.

We can keep him alive.

He must not die.

Even though these United States detain the world’s largest death row population-

Even though these United States lead the industrialized world in numbers of people incarcerated and, correlatively, in total expenditures for prison construction, prison maintenance and prison personnel-

Even though these United States maintain a more aggressive, and growing, commitment to the imprisonment of their citizens than to public education of their peoples-

Even though the past 20 years inside these United States have tolerated a prison-spending growth rate of 823 percent versus 374 percent for higher education, nationwide-

He must not die.

Even though close to 70 percent of America’s prisoners are people of color-

Even though more than 90 percent of those on death row are poor-

He must not die.

Even though the Oct. 13 signing of a death warrant on Mumia Abu-Jamal means that Pennsylvania’s Gov. Thomas Ridge has now signed 176 death warrants in four years-which is to say five times the number signed by two previous governors over a twenty-five-year period-

Even though the Philadelphia judge who presided over the trial of Mumia Abu-Jamal is the judge who presided over more trials resulting in death sentences than any other judge in the United States-

Mumia Abu-Jamal must not die.

Even though the punishing, death-driven, merciless values of these United States deliberately neglect or else destroy whoever may oppose or fail to enable its profit-motivated policies here and abroad-

Even though such policies frequently overwhelm local and international best efforts toward humanitarian relief and nonviolent interventions-

Even though these United States achieve and retain domination through the (actual and implied) violence that underlies, asserts and expands its dominating power-

Mumia Abu-Jamal must not die.

Even though these United States have yet to heed the American Bar Association’s 1997 call for an immediate moratorium on death sentencing until the processing of capital cases shall conform to minimal criteria of consistency and fairness-

Even though the 1997 UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions found that, in these United States, “race, ethnic origin, and economic status appear to be key determinants of who will, and who will not, receive a death sentence” and, therefore, called for an immediate moratorium on death sentencing-

Even though these United States have not acknowledged or abided by this transnational call-

Mumia Abu-Jamal must not die.

As the state cannot take away what it has not given-

He must not die.

As the state cannot retract what it has never conferred-

The state cannot kill this man.

He must not die.

As he still lives, a black man sentenced to death among so many millions of his brothers and sisters sentenced to penury, contempt and tragic short circuitries of choice and aspiration-

As he still lives-

So he ennobles the rest of us to deepen, enlarge and improve our political opposition to a state gone mad with greed and the pathologies of uncontested, supremacist might.

We begin here, where we can win.

We can do this.

We can keep him alive.

He must not die.

Join us in this fight for a new trial! Write: The Honorable William H. Yohn Jr., c/o Leonard Weinglass (Defense Attorney), 6 West 20th Street, Suite 10A, New York, NY 10011.


-Angela Y. Davis, June Jordan and Alice Walker


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