By JEFF MACKLER
Three hundred activists mobilized on July 4 at Philadelphia’s City Hall to demand “Free Mumia Abu-Jamal and All Political Prisoners.” Pam Africa, chair of the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, addressed the rally and welcomed the outpouring of a new generation of anti-racist activists. Africa noted that July 4th protests for Mumia Abu-Jamal’s freedom had been organized annually for decades to mark the racist admonitions to the jury in 1982 by the presiding judge to hurry their deliberations so that they could go home to celebrate the holiday. They did so and found Abu-Jamal guilty on July 2 and imposed the death penalty a day later. The July 4th rally was initiated by a broad range of organizations supporting Abu-Jamal’s freedom struggle.
Imprisoned since 1981 on frame-up murder charges of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, Mumia, as he is known by friends and supporters worldwide, has been for decades a leading critic of the racist criminal “justice” system in all its myriad aspects.
Mumia’s tormentor Frank Rizzo
The July 4 protest occupied the very plaza where a statue of Philadelphia’s white supremacist former Chief of Police and then Mayor, Frank Rizzo, was dramatically taken down in the wake of the mass national mobilizations that forced the removal of statues honoring racist figures from the Civil War era to the present. Rizzo, indeed, as Philadelphia police chief, early on threatened Mumia with police retaliation following Mumia’s central role as an award-winning journalist covering the U.S. Justice Department’s filing corruption charges against and securing prison sentences for a number of Philadelphia cops charged with engaging in prostitution rings, drugs and other such ventures. Then a radio journalist, Mumia was similarly central to the defense of the MOVE human and animal rights organization, whose members were persecuted by racist police and whose Powelton Village, West Philadelphia commune was attacked by police in 1978. Nine MOVE members were arrested and subsequently sentenced to prison terms exceeding 40 years. Rizzo later bombed the MOVE house, killing 11 people. Indeed, it was Rizzo, who publically stated that Mumia “would be held responsible” for his journalistic attacks on Philadelphia police. Shortly after, Mumia became a victim of the horrific police/court frame-up trial that ended with a death penalty sentence.
Following decades of litigation and a massive national and international movement that included the largest demonstrations ever for a political prisoner – 25,000 each in San Francisco and Philadelphia in 1999 – Mumia defeated two court-ordered attempts at his execution and finally won a decision that took him off death row in 2011, when his death penalty sentence was reversed due to fundamentally flawed instructions to the jury. Yet he remained in prison, where he is currently serving a life sentence.
New appeal rights won
Two years ago, this sentence itself was brought into question when Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Leon Tucker, the first Black judge to become involved in Mumia’s case, ordered a review of all the decisions against Mumia by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Tucker’s ruling effectively re-opened Mumia’s case. Mumia had previously exhausted all his appeals. Citing the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision that a prosecutor – in Mumia’s case then Philadelphia District Attorney Ronald Castillo – who later becomes a judge, cannot rule in a case that he previously prosecuted. Castillo, who later became a Pennsylvania Supreme Court judge, refused to recuse himself from ruling in Mumia’s appeal, ignoring Mumia’s demand in an appeal that he recuse himself. The simple notion that one cannot be a prosecutor and then a judge in the same case, thus allowed Mumia to continue his legal battle for exoneration. I might add that it was Castille, in his capacity as District Attorney, who presided over the preparation of an official Pennsylvania state video instructing prosecutors in how to remove Blacks from juries, based on the premise that Blacks were less likely to vote for the death penalty than whites.
Mumia’s infamous 1982 trial
Volumes have been written about every aspect of Mumia’s 1982 racist trial presided over by the infamous “hanging judge” Albert Sabo, who declared in his antechambers before entering the courtroom, in front of another judge and award-winning court stenographer Terry Maurer Carter, “Yeah, I’m going to help ‘em fry the n****r.” Mumia’s trial was so replete with massive suppression of evidence of innocence, intimidation of witnesses, exclusion of Black jurors, lying police testimony – including literally driving exculpatory eyewitnesses out of town and hiding testimony of an eyewitness who saw Faulkner’s murder and two men fleeing the scene while Mumia lay wounded on the ground – that organizations ranging from Amnesty International, the European Parliament and the NAACP to hundreds of national and local U.S. trade unions and several city councils in major cities across the country have demanded a new trial or Mumia’s freedom.
Faulker and FOP win delay
With Judge Tucker’s ruling last year to essentially reopen all Mumia’s Pennsylvania Supreme Court appeal denials some 30 years ago, the stage was set for an unprecedented review of major rulings against him. But this review itself has been stalled when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court last year approved an unusual “King’s Bench” petition filed by Daniel Faulkner’s widow, Maureen Faulkner, who alleged that the current Philadelphia District Attorney, Larry Krasner, who declined to challenge the Trucker ruling reopening Mumia’s appeals, was guilty of bias in hiring staff members who were Mumia supporters. Faulkner, supported by the Fraternal Order of Police, which has campaigned for Mumia’s execution since 1981, demanded that Krasner be removed. In March 2020, the PA Supreme Court appointed Senior Superior Court Judge John Cleland as a Special Master to review Faulkner’s charges and make a recommendation as to their validity back to the Supreme Court.
Mumia’s lead attorney Judith Ritter told Socialist Action that to date there is no news as to Cleland’s report, although she expected it may become public, perhaps in the months ahead. Nevertheless, Ritter told this writer that in today’s context of the dramatic emergence of massive anti-racist protests across the country she was confident “that truths long hidden or denied on a broad range of issues provided renewed reasons for optimism in winning Mumia’s freedom.”