An honorary citizen of over 20 cities around the world but a prisoner in the United States of America. He is called the ‘voice of the voiceless’ yet he has been on death row for half his life.
The event that changed the life of Mumia Abu-Jamal occurred almost three decades ago in 1981, when a police officer was shot and killed. Abu-Jamal himself was injured and taken to the hospital. The next day he was arrested and charged with first degree murder. Since then, he became one of the most well-known alleged political prisoners in the world and continues to maintain his innocence to this day.
“Revolution means change. It means total change,” Abu-Jamal has said.
He has continued to fight the American judicial system from behind bars.
“This was a police frame-up against a revolutionary journalist and activist, very well known organizer in Philadelphia, outspoken against police abuse,” said Sarah Flounders, from the International Action Center.
Abu-Jamal’s case is one of the most debated in modern legal history, with many high profile politicians, academics and celebrities among his supporters.
“Mumia Abu-Jamal is a civil rights issue that spins several spectrums; race, class and definitely the politician power structure of America,” said Immortal Technique, a rapper and political activist.
“Kicked into” the Black Panther Movement after being beaten by the police in his teen, Abu-Jamal claims his work has been monitored by the FBI since he was 14 years old.
“His analysis is a revolutionary analysis. That this system is rotten to its core, that it’s racist, classist, sexist, evil and that it is the head, the leader of an imperialist domination of the world,” said Suzanne Rose, of FreeMumia.org
Supporters believe convicting him was an attempt by the government to silence him.
“He was somebody who was very effective in reaching people,” said rose.
Sadiq Sundiata, a Mumia supporter in New York said, “This is a program of intelligence and assassination, run by the United States government.”
However, Abu-Jamal’s imprisonment simply amplified his voice and spread his reach across the world.
He is the holder of numerous honorary memberships and awards. His writings are distributed across the planet and there is even a street named after him in France, actions condemned by the US Congress.
The defense claimed Abu-Jamal did not receive a fair trial. Issues ranging from witnesses being police informants to the prosecution knowingly withholding evidence have lead to that argument.
Among the unanswered questions – ballistics.
“They claim that Mumia shot Officer Faulkner and missed him at least three times, into the cement, but there are no holes in the pavement,” said Mumia supporter Hans Bennett. “The crime scene photos show that those types of marks simply are not there.”
In addition, new evidence from the defense that shows Abu-Jamal’s innocence has been consistently dismissed.
“The courts haven’t investigated many leads,” Rose said.
Calls for a new investigation and countless appeals to the US President and Justice Department have gone unanswered.
“I am fighting my conviction, fighting the sentence, fighting for my life, and fighting to create a revolution in America,” Abu-Jamal said.
The media has chosen to largely stay away from the case.
“It’s a deliberate action on their part to keep the story suppressed, because it so vivid exposes the nature of the system,” said one Mumia supporter.
The hearing in Philadelphia will decide whether Abu-Jamal will be executed or receive life in prison without parole.
Abu-Jamal’s former lead attorney, Robert R. Bryan is convinced the case can still be won and that Abu-Jamal can be set free.
“This case can be won, by won I mean A. his life being saved and B. I feel that we can free him,” Bryan said.
A number of Nobel Prize winners, Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu, and many others across the world have spoke out in support of Abu-Jamal.
Abu-Jamal’s case has become a representation and symbol for the anti-death penalty movement internationally.
This case and the US stance on the death penalty undermines America’s ability to speak out against human rights abuses by other nations, explained Bryan.
“We ourselves are big offenders,” he added.
There is an international effort to free Abu-Jamal, but very little media coverage.
Bryan said the world cares about abolishing the death penalty in their own nations and elsewhere, including in the US, Iran, and China.
“Mumia has become a symbol of everything that is wrong with capital punishment, people executing other people in the name of the government,” he explained.
Dr. Malik Zulu Shabazz, the chairman of the New Black Panther Party, explained he and his group want to help free Abu-Jamal.
“We are there at the courthouse today, in Philadelphia, we are in the streets and we are a part of that movement that is around the world right now and through America that are rallying behind the cause of Mumia Abu-Jamal,” said Shabazz.
Abu-Jamal was previously hopeful about his situation following the election of President Obama.
However, the climate in the US has changed, Obama does not have as much influence to take a stand against the death penalty as he once did, argued Shabazz.
The people need to keep the momentum and pressure on the US government.
“We have to fight inside the court room,” said Shabazz. “And the pressure must be on in the streets.”
Activists need to raise awareness about the Abu-Jamal case and others cases of political prisoners.
Shabazz argued that all cases of those targeted as political prisoners must be heard. It is up to the people to raise the voice of those behind bars. The people must rally and demonstrate to be heard.
“We must use pen. We must use paper. We must rally. We must demonstrate,” he said. “It should be a multifaceted approach.”
Former Congresswoman and past US presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney in 2009 called for a civil rights investigation into the case, but she has received no response from the US government.
“Unfortunately that’s why we have to do everything that we can now to impress upon the Department of Justice, President Obama that for once, please, speak up and speak out and save the life of this man who is innocent, who is clearly innocent,” said McKinney. “Mumia did not get a fair trial.”
She argued that there is a consistent thread that runs through the justice system that has created a lesser standard for African Americans.
“Now we’ve got a different set of oral arguments that will determine whether or not Mumia has the opportunity to live,” said McKinney. “We need intervention from the White House.”
The world is watching what is going on in the United States, she argued. The US is under the scrutiny of the world, especially the criminal justice system.
“I have to continue to believe in the capacity for change, but nothing is going to change unless the will of the people want, directs that change,” McKinney said. But, “US democracy does not reflect the will of the people.”
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