By JEFF MACKLER
Philadelphia’s daily newspapers carried banner headlines on Nov. 19, when the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus announced its intention to introduce into the state legislature a House Resolution for a new trial for the innocent death row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.
This action by the Black elected officials comes in the face of a vicious campaign waged by Pennsylvania Gov. Thomas Ridge and outgoing Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell, with the assistance of the Fraternal Order of Police, to hasten Jamal’s execution.
The resolution is slated to go the House floor in January 2000, the first such effort in the nation. A few months earlier, the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus similarly endorsed Jamal’s demand for a new trial.
Incarcerated for the past 18 years after being framed up for the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, Jamal’s struggle for justice has won unprecedented support in the United States and internationally. His case has become synonymous with the fight against the racist death penalty and a racist criminal “justice” system that has placed almost 4000 people, the majority oppressed nationalities, on death row.
The case is now before Judge William H. Yohn Jr. of the Federal District Court in Philadelphia and is being closely watched by human rights supporters around the world. Yohn signed an order last month staying the second execution warrant signed by Gov. Ridge.
“Law and order” politicians spread lies
Politically ambitious Thomas Ridge has signed more death warrants than any governor in Pennsylvania’s history. He is currently on the campaign trail for the vice-presidential running-mate spot alongside Texas Gov. George Bush Jr.
In a like manner, Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell, formerly a prosecutor in Mumia’s case, was appointed by Clinton as chair of the Democratic Party National Committee.
These ruling-class politicians seek to advance their careers by hyping their image as crime fighters, advocates of massive prison construction, and advocates of the death penalty. Mumia’s death has become the centerpiece of their efforts.
In response, Mumia’s supporters have organized protests at Ridge’s public appearances. Three hundred picketed a Los Angeles Ridge rally in early November.
The Clinton administration has made its view on the Jamal case well known. Clinton seated Maureen Faulkner, the wife of the slain police officer, at his table while he addressed a national convention of the Fraternal Order of Police. The FOP, which has placed full-page ads in several newspapers calling for Jamal’s execution, regularly threatens Jamal’s prominent supporters by listing them on the FOP website boycott list.
The U.S. government itself intervened in the case when the State Department prepared a lying written summary of the case following inquiries by Austrian trade unionists last month at the U.S. embassy in Vienna.
The cover letter, signed by embassy political officer Katherina Gellner-Sweet, spuriously stated, “Mr. Abu-Jamal’s case has been thoroughly reviewed by numerous judicial bodies, as well as by the United Nations. All have concluded that his legal rights were not violated.”
The attached State Department report makes charges against Mumia that even Philadelphia police and prosecutors have not made, such as the claim that Mumia “fired upon arresting officers.” The State Department document falsely asserts that Mumia’s case has been ruled on by the federal courts and that United Nations bodies have found his case to be without merit.
Rage against the Machine
The drive to hasten the execution of Jamal is a direct response to the impressive gains won by his defenders over the past several years.
Hundreds of thousands of youth are currently attending the national 20-city concert tour of the popular band, Rage Against the Machine. The band, which has just released two new songs that favorably refer to Mumia’s case, make it a point to invite a broad range of human and civil rights groups to set up tables at their events covering Mumia’s case.
The Northern California-based Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal distributed some 10,000 Mumia fact sheets at the Oakland Coliseum Rage concert on Nov. 19. Threats of police pickets and refusal to provide security for a number of these concerts has further heightened interest in Mumia’s struggle.
The National Network on Cuba (NNOC) conference in Seattle played a taped speech by Mumia to its opening rally on Dec. 3. Mumia’s speech welcomed Cuban President Fidel Castro to the United States, although Castro’s visit was cancelled at the last minute. A huge banner with Mumia’s picture was placed prominently on the stage.
Mass mobilizations slated for spring
An impressive series of nationally coordinated actions to expand support for Mumia’s case is now in preparation. These include a major East Coast national conference slated for mid-February; a week of local activities in early April, and major marches and rallies in late April and May in San Francisco and New York.
The National Coordinators of the defense campaign have announced that an emergency national mass action would be organized in Philadelphia on the first day that Jamal appears in Federal District Court during the oral arguments of his case. Jamal’s attorney Leonard Weinglass has indicated that these first oral arguments may be scheduled as early as March 2000 or perhaps several months later.
The legal team will challenge the rigged state court record of “hanging judge” Albert Sabo, whose 154 rulings of “fact” rejected every defense contention and affirmed, without exception, the positions of the prosecution.
The rejection of Judge Sabo’s rulings, which excluded vital testimony and evidence demonstrating Jamal’s innocence, are expected to be critical to Jamal’s legal defense.