By JEFF MACKLER
Pam Africa, national coordinator of the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, announced during a recent nine-day San Francisco Bay Area speaking tour that May 13 has been set for national and worldwide protests to demand a new trial for death-row political prisoner, Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Mumia, imprisoned for the past 18 years on frame-up charges of murdering a Philadelphia officer, continues to win the support of prominent groups and individuals.
May 13 was originally set as a day for a Western regional mass mobilization in San Francisco. It was called by the Northern California-based Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, the host and initiator of last year’s San Francisco demonstration of 25,000.
May 13 commemorates the 15th anniversary of the Philadelphia police bombing of the MOVE headquarters, the racist hate crime that destroyed some 60 residential homes and killed 11 people. Mumia Abu-Jamal was a prominent MOVE supporter and journalist who exposed the bombing.
In addition, organizers of Jamal’s freedom struggle are planning a major mobilization on Saturday, April 29, in New York City. This will be the East Coast counterpart of the May 13 West Coast mobilization for Mumia. A Midwest May 13 mass action is also under consideration for Chicago.
The May 13 international actions are expected to be organized and supported by hundreds of groups worldwide. They have joined the effort to make the political price of Abu-Jamal’s murder too high to pay for the U.S. criminal “justice” system in regard to a fundamental loss of credibility.
New York activists’ conference on Feb. 19
Hundreds of activists and leaders from across the country and abroad are planning to attend the second Emergency National Conference to Save the Life of Mumia Abu-Jamal, set for Saturday, Feb. 19, in New York City.
The one-day conference will be held at the Synod Hall of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine at 112th St. and Amsterdam Ave. in Manhattan. Registration begins at 8:30 am. Call (212) 8544-1281 for information.
The conference includes more than a dozen major workshops, each designed to plan and implement a series of activities aimed at reaching ever-broader forces in this historic fight for human and democratic rights. Plenary sessions will include some of Mumia’s most well-known supporters as well as presentation by the chief legal counsel, Leonard Weinglass, and Amnesty International’s Sam Jordan.
Gains made in federal court
Mumia’s case is currently before the Federal District Court in Philadelphia, presided over by Judge William H. Yohn Jr.
On Jan. 14, Yohn called an in-chambers hearing, where he agreed to an extension of the deadline for the presentation of written arguments for the defense team and state prosecutors. April 2 is now set as for this deadline, after which Yohn will set the date for oral arguments-where Mumia will be present.
The most critical aspect of the Jan. 14 hearing was Yohn’s clear reaffirmation that the defense team is entitled to include arguments in its written briefs that challenge the state court record established by “hanging” Judge Albert Sabo.
This is a critical element in Mumia’s defense since the record established by Sabo’s court excluded vital evidence that proved Mumia’s innocence. This included the recantation by eyewitness Veronica Jones, who originally had testified that Mumia was the murderer of slain police officer Daniel Faulkner.
In 1995, Jones explained in a court hearing that her 1982 trial testimony had been a lie, extracted from her through police coercion and intimidation, including threats of imprisonment and the loss of her children. Jones’s new testimony was consistent with that of several other eyewitnesses who have stated that the real shooter of police officer Faulkner fled the murder scene.
Similar evidence concerning other witnesses, as well as new ballistics and forensic evidence exonerating Mumia, was also banned from the record by Sabo, the U.S. judge with the reputation of having sentenced more people to death than any other sitting jurist in the United States.
Judge Yohn’s decision to review this new evidence opens the door to a challenge to the 1996 Effective Death Penalty Act, signed by President Clinton. This law was designed to prohibit, or at least severely restrict habeas corpus and therefore make state-court decisions-i.e., decisions that would be rapidly result in execution-“effective.” The law is currently under review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Washington, D.C. delegation
Of course, whether or not Judge Yohn finds the Sabo record to have resulted in a frame-up depends largely on the power of the social forces now mobilizing on Mumia’s behalf. In this regard, Mumia’s new and impressive supporters have contributed greatly to increasing public awareness of the case. This includes a prominent delegation organized by the International Committee to Save the Life of Mumia Abu-Jamal, which met on Jan. 12 in Washington, D.C.
The delegation- including a member of the British Parliament, the French National Assembly, the Spanish Senate, actor Ossie Davis, Baldemar Velasquez (vice president of the Ohio AFL-CIO), and several prominent trade-union leaders from around the globe-proved capable of forcing a reluctant U.S. Justice Department to assign three high-ranking representatives of its Civil Rights Division to meet with it and discuss Mumia’s case.
The delegation presented the U.S. government representatives with a video training tape wherein state officials instructed state prosecutors, in racist terms, on how to exclude Blacks from Pennsylvania juries. In Mumia’s case 11 African Americans were so excluded. The delegation presented detailed briefs outlining the violations of federal law in regard to the conduct of Philadelphia police and the courts in Mumia’s case.
The government agreed to receive additional materials and agreed with the delegation’s central contention that the Justice Department did have jurisdiction in regard to investigating the violations of U.S. law that were presented. A detailed response was promised in the coming weeks.
Among the most prominent supporters of this delegation was Martin Luther King III, who called for a new trial for Mumia. He likened Mumia’s frame-up to the events surrounding the murder of his father. The King family recently won an important victory in this matter when a jury found that King’s murder involved U.S. government officials.
Abu-Jamal’s case has dovetailed with a rising consciousness in the U.S. that police and court frame-ups are the rule, not the exception. The announcement last week by Illinois Gov. George Ryan that his state would place a moratorium on all executions went far beyond a moral statement against the death penalty.
Ryan pointed out that since 1977 more defendants convicted of murder in state courts have been exonerated than have been executed, a shocking statistic. Ryan placed the number of falsely convicted at 13, while the number executed was 12.
The critically acclaimed film “Hurricane” has also added to increasing public awareness of the fundamentally flawed and racist nature of the U.S. judicial system. Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, whose struggle for freedom is vividly portrayed by actor Denzel Washington, has spoken out across the country on Mumia’s behalf (See page 16.)
For further information and to get involved in the fight for justice and a new trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal contact, in Philadelphia, the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia, (215) 476-8812; or in San Francisco, the Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, (415) 695-7745.