Battle Escalates for Jamal’s Freedom
Mobilize Workers Power to Free Mumia Now!
Beginning 20 years ago, when Mumia Abu-Jamal was shot and nearly killed by the Philadelphia police, then framed for the killing of a cop and railroaded to Pennsylvania’s death row, his case has summed up the racist essence of American capitalist “justice.” The former Black Panther and crusading journalist was marked for death by a brutal local regime that for decades has run Philly like a police state, and by the FBI’s program of disruption and provocation (COINTELPRO) that gunned down scores of black radicals, from Malcolm X to Fred Hampton. If the state murder machine has been held off so far, it has been out of fear of the consequences, as support for Mumia’s cause has grown steadily and spread around the world. Today, he is by far the best-known prisoner facing execution in the U.S. and the focus of the struggle against the barbaric and racist death penalty internationally.
Now, after years of legal appeals and mobilizations in the streets, on December 18 a federal judge for the first time declared that the death sentence against Jamal was the product of judicial misconduct. Judge William Yohn ruled that the jury had been falsely instructed that unless they unanimously agreed to any mitigating factors, they were required to return a sentence of death. The ruling instructed state courts to hold a new sentencing hearing within 180 days or the sentence would automatically become one of life imprisonment. Headlines announced that Mumia’s death sentence had been overturned. Philadelphia police and prosecutors fumed. Yet this narrow decision accepted only the most limited point raised in Jamal’s appeal, one which could easily be overturned on appeal. The judge dismissed out of hand the other 28 issues raised, 20 of them violations of Jamal’s constitutional rights, as well as endorsing his frame-up conviction and refusing to hear dramatic new evidence of his innocence.
Ten arrested in brutal Philly police assault on December 8 rally for Mumia Abu-Jamal. Left: cop waves gun while pinning protester to ground. (Photo: Revolutionary Lynn, Indymedia)
The Internationalist Group and League for the Fourth International have campaigned from our inception to free Mumia and abolish the racist death penalty. We have repeatedly warned against any illusions in the capitalist courts, and called instead to mobilize the power of the working class against the racist injustice system. The IG/LFI has taken the lead in initiating working-class action for Mumia’s freedom: in 1999 our Brazilian comrades sparked work stoppages demanding Mumia’s freedom by teachers in the state of Rio de Janeiro; later that year, bank workers and the state CUT labor federation made freedom for Mumia an official demand in strikes. Today we warn: this ruling does not lift the threat of Mumia’s execution. It must spur efforts to mobilize the working class and the oppressed to free this courageous fighter against injustice from the claws of the capitalist state that seeks to silence his powerful “voice of the voiceless” forever.
Ruling Aims to Cut Off Liberal Support
If Judge Yohn’s ruling stands, at best Jamal would be condemned to the slow death of “life” behind bars. Meanwhile, his death sentence can be reinstated on appeal. Philadelphia district attorney Lynn Abraham, a rabid advocate of the death penalty and sworn enemy of Jamal, has declared that she is appealing the ruling. Another ominous possibility is that a new sentencing hearing could again order his execution. Furthermore, the federal judge refused to hear any testimony, including from Mumia himself. He instructed state courts not to take a deposition from a new witness, Arnold Beverly, who has confessed that he (along with another hired gunman) shot Philly policeman Daniel Faulkner in a mob hit, and that Mumia had nothing to do with it. Yohn also refused to hold an evidentiary hearing. Under the 1996 federal law designed to speed up executions, this was the last point at which evidence of Jamal’s innocence could be introduced.
The judge’s ruling was entirely political, aimed at sectors of the ruling class that are uneasy about the death penalty, but who uphold the capitalist legal system and are not about to defend a black revolutionary accused of killing a cop. Speaking on behalf of the haughty local bourgeoisie, an editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer (19 December) titled “Never Free Mumia” wrote of Yohn’s decision, “Good move, judge.” With a stroke of the pen Yohn “scrubbed cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal’s role as poster child for the growing opposition to death row,” which should “put an end to his distracting presence as an international rallying cry against a flawed U.S. capital punishment system.” Meanwhile, the Inquirer chortled, Jamal would stay “locked away for life in a prison cell with a view of the sun through iron bars.”
Yohn’s decision was also calculated to undercut support from liberals who are wary of proclaiming Mumia’s innocence – as this would indict the entire system – and ask only for a new trial to clear up the blatant “travesty of justice” (as a February 2000 Amnesty International report put it) of his 1982 frame-up. The Inquirer editorial wrote: “To expect the hard-core ‘Free Mumia’ folks to just fade away is asking too much, of course. But here’s a hope that the less radical fringe begins to see Abu-Jamal for what he is: a cop-killer who’s a distraction from the real issues and concerns surrounding the death penalty.” By this reasoning, the “‘new trial’ folks” could be quieted by the idea that at least Mumia would get a new sentencing hearing and might not be executed.
The “new trial” crowd includes Jamal’s former lawyers, Leonard Weinglass and Dan Williams, who sabotaged his case by refusing to present the evidence they possessed of his innocence, and criminally aided the prosecution by labeling Beverly’s confession not credible. Commenting on Yohn’s ruling, the Philadelphia Inquirer (21 December 2001) wrote: “That partial victory is probably the best the defense can expect, specialists in criminal and constitutional law say. ‘It is highly unlikely’ Abu-Jamal will ever get another trial, said Daniel L. Williams, a former Abu-Jamal defense lawyer.” Williams, who last year published a vile “insider account” smear job of Jamal’s defense titled Executing Justice, seeks to build his own reputation as a “responsible” and “credible” death penalty lawyer by greasing the skids of Mumia’s execution.
Many of the left groups who have taken up Mumia’s case (including Workers World Party, International Socialist Organization, Socialist Action and others) have also couched their protest calls in terms designed to appeal to liberals, centering on the demand for a new trial. Thereby they have helped reinforce illusions in the racist court system, which will now come back to haunt Mumia as liberal support “fades away.”
One group which has denounced the “new trial” program of the liberals and reformists is the Spartacist League. The Partisan Defense Committee, associated with the SL, played an important role in publicizing Mumia’s case and in the legal defense, until PDC staff counsel Rachel Wolkenstein had to resign from the defense team in mid-1999 over Weinglass/Williams’ refusal to present evidence of Jamal’s innocence in the federal appeal. Yet in its December 18 statement announcing “Jamal Death Sentence Reversed,” the PDC wrote that the Philly D.A. and the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) “fear that the explosive new evidence of Jamal’s innocence…could finally be heard in a court of law.” While ritually pledging no faith in the capitalist courts, it failed to warn of illusions in a new trial, or simply a new hearing, which Yohn’s ruling was tailored to encourage.
Certainly, any breach in the previously solid wall of judicial stonewalling must be used to wage a vigorous defense of Mumia in the courts. Jamal’s new legal team of Marlene Kamish, Elliot Grossman, Nicholas Brown and Michael Farrell are appealing Yohn’s ruling to the federal circuit court while seeking a new Post-Conviction Relief Appeal (PCRA) hearing in Pennsylvania courts. The Philadelphia D.A.’s office is worried that any hearing that involves selecting a jury and hearing evidence, even if it is limited to sentencing, could be explosive. They would be arguing to execute Jamal, whose case is known worldwide, when the actual killer has made a detailed confession. They also fear that if Mumia is not silenced by the executioner’s needle, his powerful writings will continue to inspire his readers with the passion to fight against oppression. But this only makes Mumia’s persecutors more dangerous. They know it is their law, it is their state, and they will use it to serve their class interests.
It is necessary to warn against dangerous illusions in the capitalist justice system. We must drive home that the supposed “partial victory” of Yohn’s decision is a frontal attack on the fight for freedom for Mumia, who is innocent of the frame-up charges and is on death row solely because of his revolutionary convictions and eloquent defense of the downtrodden and oppressed. We must explain that the killers with state power will stop at nothing, unless they are stopped by a greater power that threatens their fundamental class interests. And we must organize that power, the strength of the multiracial, international working class, to bring the capitalist state murder machine to a grinding halt.
Mumia’s Appeal Spiked by Clinton’s Law
The judge’s 272-page decision, couched in elaborate legalisms, is a vivid demonstration of how there is no justice for the exploited and oppressed in the capitalist courts. In particular, the liberal judge repeatedly denies Mumia’s right to a hearing of the evidence of his innocence by citing the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). This law, pushed through Congress by Bill Clinton in the wake of the Oklahoma City federal building bombing, was designed to drastically limit federal appeals by defendants sentenced to death by state courts. (Southern Democrat Clinton campaigned on the death penalty, returning to Little Rock, Arkansas during the 1992 presidential race to preside over the execution a mentally impaired black prisoner, Ricky Ray Rector.) Under AEDPA, death row inmates get only one chance for a federal habeas corpus appeal, in which they are presumed guilty until proven innocent, while they are systematically blocked by a series of legal impediments from obtaining proof of their innocence.
Jamal’s habeas corpus appeal argued that the testimony of the state’s two key witnesses who accused him was rigged by the cops, that other witnesses swore prostitute Cynthia White was not even at the scene, that taxi driver Robert Chobert originally told police he saw the shooter flee from the scene, and that White and Chobert were given favors by the police (allowed to work and drive illegally) in exchange for incriminating Mumia. It cited the testimony of Veronica Jones, who admitted changing her testimony in exchange for prosecutors’ dropping charges against her in another matter. The appeal cited five witnesses who reported a man or men fleeing from the scene of the shooting (Jones, Chobert, William Singletary, Dessie Hightower and Deborah Kordansky), thus exonerating Mumia who was severely wounded and unable to move. It cited the report of the policeman who was with Jamal the entire time in the hospital and who never reported any concocted “confession” until months later after coaching on the eve of the trial.
In all these instances, Yohn dismissed the appeal because according to the AEDPA “a determination of factual issue made by a State court shall be presumed to correct.” This means that Jamal’s attorneys could not simply raise “reasonable doubt” about such “facts” but had to prove that they were false – and moreover that had the facts in question been known “no reasonable juror” would have found him guilty – simply in order to have a hearing on the issue!
Singletary’s testimony is dismissed on the grounds that the PCRA court ruled it “not credible”; the same for Hightower. The fact that Jones recanted her 1982 trial testimony and reported that police had coerced her is dismissed on the grounds that the PCRA court found her “incredible and worthy of little or no belief.” (Yohn adds, “I do not say that the cold paper record compels the conclusion that Jones was incredible,” but only that the court did not “unreasonably” reject her testimony!). The PCRA court’s refusal to hear Jones’ testimony that police offered to let her “work the streets” without interference as they had done with Cynthia White is upheld, on the ground that anything to do with White was “outside the scope” of the hearing. As for requests for any police or prosecution documents about Jones, the PCRA court held that Jamal’s lawyers hadn’t proved coercion, and the only evidence of the existence of police files (which could prove it) was Jones’ testimony, which the court dismissed: request denied!
The fact that the same Judge Albert Sabo ran the 1982 trial and then came out of retirement to preside over the PCRA hearing is presented as an “additional advantage” to “observe the demeanor of all witnesses.” The fact that Sabo was an undersheriff for 16 years and a retired member of the Fraternal Order of Police, that he removed Jamal from the courtroom for virtually the entire 1982 trial, that he sentenced more men to death than any other judge in the country, that 29 out of 32 defendants he ordered executed were non-white, that he has been reversed more than any other judge in the country, that he quashed Jamal’s subpoenas, blocked testimony, repeatedly threatened and even jailed Jamal’s attorneys, was clearly biased against Jamal and even admitted his bias, and therefore should not have heard the 1995-96 appeal – all this is dismissed simply because the state supreme court dismissed it. (More recently, Pennsylvania courts have refused to hear the damning testimony of Philadelphia court reporter Terri Maurer-Carter, who during Mumia’s 1982 trial heard Judge Sabo remark “I’m going to help them fry the n----r.”) In any case, Yohn writes, Jamal “may not now raise post-conviction proceeding errors.” When can these be raised? Under Bill Clinton’s 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, never.
Among the points cited in the federal appeal was the fact that the prosecutor indicted Mumia on political grounds. The prosecutor cited Jamal’s quotation of Mao Zedong’s statement that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun” and the Black Panther Party slogan “All power to the people!” as supposed proof that he was a killer. In his summary, the district attorney said the policeman Faulkner had been in the armed forces and “comes back from war and is faced with a war on the street.” (Yohn called this remark “ill-advised” but okay). Moreover, the prosecution did everything possible to eliminate blacks from the jury in Jamal’s 1982 trial, rejecting at least eleven black jurors. (This objection was dismissed on the grounds that there was no evidence of how many blacks were in the original jury pool.) A training video from the Philly D.A.’s office was submitted, in which prosecutors were told to strike blacks in peremptory challenges, and how to do it. (Rejected, because the man in the video wasn’t prosecutor Joseph McGill who tried Jamal’s case.) Evidence was provided from other trials by prosecutor McGill that he used peremptory strikes in a racially discriminatory manner. (Rejected, because it should have been raised in the PCRA and it is too late now.) A ten-year study of the Philadelphia district attorney’s office showed that blacks were systematically excluded from juries. (Rejected, because it covered the period 1983-93, and Jamal’s trial was in 1982.)
The only one of 29 points presented in Jamal’s appeal that Yohn agreed to was that the instructions to the jury illegally gave the impression that they had to unanimously agree to any mitigating circumstances, and otherwise they were required to return a sentence of death on the grounds that Faulkner was a police officer. Of all the points raised, this was the narrowest. Why accept this single point? First, to give the appearance of reasonableness: if it is overturned on appeal, defenders of the U.S. judicial system will say that at least one judge granted one of Mumia’s points. Beyond that, there is evidently an on-going dispute within the bourgeois judiciary over this. Pennsylvania courts have repeatedly okayed jury instructions intended to force juries to return death sentences; these have in several cases been overturned by the federal court, whereupon the state courts do it again.
The only other point where Yohn even gave half an inch to Jamal’s legal defenders was on the question of racial exclusion from the jury. He rejected all their charges, but allowed them a “warrant” to appeal. This is simply a public relations ploy: even if Mumia’s lawyers can provide the numbers, it will make no difference. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1986 (Batson v. Kentucky) that proving “mere disparity of number in the racial make-up of the jury, though relevant, is inadequate” to prove discrimination. This is of a piece with the 1987 Supreme Court ruling in the case of McClesky v. Georgia that the dramatic racial disparity in the number of blacks and Latinos sentenced to death compared to the tiny number of whites is irrelevant. The underlying “principle” was that put forward by Chief Justice Roger Taney in the 1857 Dred Scott decision, namely that blacks had no rights which a white man was bound to respect. This was a fundamental legal underpinning of the slave system, and it continues today in the form of the racist death penalty.
Philadelphia: The Capital of Capital Punishment
Yohn’s ruling was on the October 1999 federal habeas corpus appeal submitted by Jamal’s previous lawyers, Weinglass and Williams, which did not assert Mumia’s innocence. Weinglass and Williams also refused to present the evidence proving that Mumia is not guilty of the frame-up charges on which he has been imprisoned for two decades, almost all of it on death row. Even though, under the draconian AEDPA law, many of the legal objections they raised are automatically excluded unless they prove the defendant innocent, they instead limited Jamal’s appeal to the welter of irregularities in the rigged trial. And now we have the preliminary verdict on that supposedly “smart” legal strategy: virtually all the points were rejected, as the federal judge upheld the federal law whose purpose is to speed up the death row conveyor belt to the execution chamber. Finding out the truth was irrelevant, Yohn declared, as long as the denial of Jamal’s rights was “reasonable.”
Jamal’s new legal team, headed by Marlene Kamish and Eliot Grossman, is appealing federal district judge Yohn’s ruling to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. They also submitted in July a new appeal to the state courts which begins: “Petitioner Mumia Abu-Jamal is innocent.” It presents the signed confession of Arnold Beverly, admitting that he and another paid triggerman had shot policeman Faulkner. Beverly’s deposition explains, “I was hired, along with another guy, and paid to shoot and kill Faulkner,” who “was a problem for the mob and corrupt policemen because he interfered with the graft and payoffs made to allow illegal activity including prostitution, gambling, drugs without prosecution in the center city area…. Jamal had nothing to do with the shooting.” This, together with statements by Jamal, his brother William Cooke and a former FBI informant, Donald Hersing, demonstrated conclusively that Mumia is innocent of the charges.
Shaka Sankofa, killed by the state murder machine of "Governor Death," George W. Bush. (Photo: AP)
Yet innocence and even proof of innocence are not enough to save a prisoner from the executioner. As Mumia himself pointed out, Shaka Sankofa was innocent and had the proof, yet he was killed by the state murder machine. Already, a Pennsylvania judge has refused to hear Beverly’s confession, as Yohn instructed the state courts not to.
So why did Jamal’s former lawyers refuse to present the evidence of his innocence? In an affidavit submitted to the federal court last July, Rachel Wolkenstein of the Partisan Defense Committee explained: “Attorney Weinglass insisted that Beverly’s account was incredible and implausible…. Co-counsel Williams argued that if accepted, Beverly’s account would mean that police had knowingly framed an innocent man, and Williams asserted that it was ‘unbelievable’ that police or the prosecution would do that.” Unbelievable, incredible, implausible? On the contrary, all around the country, the police knowingly frame innocent people all the time, including and in particular in homicide cases. Recently a Tampa, Florida man, Juan Melendez, who had spent 17 years on death row was ordered freed, the 99th person since 1973 who was sentenced to die and later exonerated. In his case, another man made at least four confessions to the crime, but none were admitted as evidence.
In Philadelphia in particular, Beverly’s confessions of a mob rub-out to cover up cop corruption is utterly believable, credible and plausible. The “city of brotherly love” was run for years as a little police state by police commissioner and later mayor Frank Rizzo. Philly was “Rizzotown,” and he acted like a Bull Connor (the notorious top cop in Birmingham, Alabama during the civil rights movement) north of the Mason-Dixon line. His racist cops staged the 1970 raid on the Philadelphia Panthers, when Mumia was minister of information, in which black men were lined up naked in the street. He staged the 1978 assault by 600 police on the commune of the predominantly black MOVE organization in Powelton Village. He vowed to get reporters like Jamal who exposed this police atrocity (and became a MOVE supporter). It’s not just Rizzo: Philadelphia is where on Mother’s Day 1985 police got the permission of black Democratic mayor Wilson Goode to drop a bomb from a helicopter on the MOVE house on Osage Avenue, setting off a firestorm that killed eleven MOVE members (including five children) and burned out an entire city block of 61 homes.
Philadelphia has a tight local ruling class that runs the city like a Southern town. Philly became the “capital of capital punishment” under District Attorney Lynne Abraham, who argues that no innocent person was ever sentenced to die. “No prosecutor in the country uses the death penalty more,” wrote a New York Times Magazine (16 July 1995) article featuring her. Abraham was the arraignment judge when Mumia was jailed. The Philadelphia D.A. at that time (1981) was Ed Rendell, later to become mayor and then head of the national Democratic Party. His wife, Marjorie Rendell, sits on the federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals. The assistant D.A. who prosecuted Mumia in the 1982 trial, Joseph McGill, is working as an attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police representing its members against charges of bribery and brutality. Sabo became the most notorious hanging judge in the country. Ronald Castille, who as Philadelphia D.A. prevented Mumia from getting a new trial in 1989, became a member of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court with the support of the FOP.
Philadelphia also became the capital of police abuse, as one could expect in a virtual police state. It’s not about individual corrupt cops taking payoffs, but a whole system. At least three federal investigations exposed rampant police corruption and brutal abuse of minorities in Philly over the last quarter century. A 1979 Justice Department suit against the city and Rizzo provided 271 pages listing thousands of people who had been shot or beaten by the police. A Philadelphia Bar Association study the same year determined that 299 killings by Philly cops between 1970 and 1978 were clearly illegal. In 1995, as Governor Ridge signed Jamal’s death warrant and his appeal was being heard, the newspapers were filled with stories about an FBI investigation going back several years centering on police manufacturing of evidence, lying in court and setting up victims (including a 53-year-old grandmother). “Scores, possibly hundreds of bogus arrests may be overturned,” reported the Philadelphia Inquirer (28 June 1995).
It’s believable, all right. The credibility of the charges brought in Jamal’s new appeal is not why his former attorneys refused to touch them. It was their credibility with the bourgeois legal system they didn’t want to jeopardize. While lawyers are pledged to defend the interests of their clients, a trust that Weinglass and Williams horrendously betrayed as they stabbed Mumia in the back, they are also sworn in as “officers of the court.” They can be disbarred or refused the right to representation in the courts, as President Clinton has discovered. But more fundamentally, they are an integral part of the bourgeois “justice” system, which defends the interests of the exploiters and oppressors by meting out injustice to the exploited and oppressed. To argue that Mumia was framed by the police, prosecutors and courts as well as by the FBI – as he was – would mean indicting the capitalist state. That they would not do, because like the whole layer of liberals, rad-libs and reformists who only call for a “new trial,” Weinglass and Williams peddle the illusion that you can get justice in the courts. Bottom line: they support the state that is hell-bent on silencing Mumia Abu-Jamal forever.
There Is No Justice for the Oppressed in the Capitalist Courts!
In every major political defense case over the past century, there has been a fundamental cleavage between revolutionaries and liberals. The former defend the victims of injustice by fighting against the capitalist state that is the victimizer. The latter want to “play by the rules,” following a legalistic defense “strategy” that is doomed to defeat because it doesn’t take on the real enemy. In the case of the anarchist workers Sacco and Vanzetti who were executed in 1927 at the height of the post-WWI “red scare,” there were two defense committees, one led by the International Labor Defense (ILD) headed by James P. Cannon (who became the founder of American Trotskyism) and linked to the Communist Party, the other by the American Federation of Labor, who accused the ILD/CP of trying to get Sacco and Vanzetti killed by continuing to demonstrate in the streets. In the defense of the “Scottsboro Boys” in the early ’30s, the liberals of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) bitterly denounced the CP-led defense for calling worldwide demonstrations on behalf of the nine Alabama black youths framed up and sentenced to die on charges of raping two white women.
In some cases this sharp class counterposition has reached the point of open warfare. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) poses as the biggest defenders of free speech, even defending fascist terrorists like Ku Klux Klan lynchers and Nazis on this bogus argument. Yet the ACLU expelled one of its founders, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, from its board of directors at the beginning of World War II for being a member of the CP. It also refused to defend Julius and Ethel Rosenberg at the height of the post-WWII McCarthyite witchhunting because they were accused of treason (spying on behalf of the Soviet Union) during the anti-Soviet Cold War. While decades later, anti-Communist liberals continue to inveigh against the Rosenbergs, we consider them heros and honor their memory. In the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, Amnesty International for a number of years refused to defend him, saying that someone accused of killing a cop couldn’t be a “prisoner of conscience.”
The liberals who have called for a new trial for Jamal but refuse to call for his freedom have become increasingly venomous in recent years. Following a Vanity Fair (August 1999) smear piece, written by a publicist for Philadelphia mayor Rendell, in early 2000 Nation columnist Marc Cooper went on the warpath against Mumia and “Mumiaphiles,” “professional Mumiacs” and the like, all the while claiming to oppose the death penalty and calling for a new trial. The liberal cyber-McCarthyites of Salon have published articles like “Try Him Again,” denouncing “Millions for Mumia,” “More Mumia Madness,” etc. while bemoaning “Mumia’s all-or-nothing gamble” (Salon, 15 June 2001), in which they attack Jamal for firing his “crack legal team headed by veteran attorney Leonard Weinglass.” More recently there is one Gerald Nicosia, who is writing a book on Mumia’s case, is a confidant of Dan Williams, and also floated the “Mumia did it” lie. Nicosia was good friends as well with Jeff Mackler of Socialist Action and the rest of the Bay Area popular-front “new trial” crowd.
The whole reformist milieu – whether openly social-democratic, Stalinist or pseudo-Trotskyist (ISO, WWP, RCP, SA, FSP) – has geared its appeal on Mumia’s case to this layer of the liberal intelligentsia because that’s what they always do. Their standard modus operandi is to form lowest-common-denominator coalitions on whatever demands are acceptable to the bourgeois liberal milieu. During the Vietnam War it was the social-patriotic call to “Stop the War” and “Bring Our Boys Home.” In the late ‘90s, while waving “Free Mumia” posters to appeal to radical youth, they focused their protests on the demand for a new trial to rope in liberals. Now the treachery of Weinglass and Williams (who refused to proclaim Jamal’s innocence in the habeas corpus appeal) and federal judge Yohn’s ruling (calling for a new sentencing hearing) puts the reformists in a bind. Many of their liberal “allies” and “friends” may abandon ship as the battle for Mumia’s life and freedom reaches the crucial hour, just as the popular-front “progressives” left the CP high and dry with the onset of the Cold War.
Mobilize the Power of the Working Class to Free Mumia and Smash the Racist Death Penalty!
The Sacco and Vanzetti, Scottsboro and Rosenberg cases gained wide international support because they synthesized the evils of “democratic” U.S. imperialism: the anti-immigrant “red scare,” lynch law in the segregationist South, McCarthyism. Because they intersected vital interests of the American capitalist ruling class, these struggles could only be truly fought on the basis of revolutionary politics. It is the same with the fight to save Mumia Abu-Jamal. His persecution is the continuation of the U.S. government’s war on the Black Panther Party, which left 38 Panthers dead. It was a direct result of the COINTELPRO persecution of black radicals and leftists. Now, in the context of Washington’s “war on terrorism,” the Bush administration has heralded the “return of COINTELPRO” (as if it ever left us). Added to the secret trials for immigrants, elimination of appeals for death row prisoners and other innovations introduced by the Clinton Democrats, there are now military tribunals with no appeal and no defendants’ rights, warrantless wiretapping, government-authorized assassinations, a push to introduce a national ID card and a host of new police-state measures. U.S. rulers are gearing up for war, internally as well as externally, and for them Mumia symbolizes the “enemy within.”
But despite the swaggering displays of high tech prowess, U.S. capitalism is not the all-powerful juggernaut it makes itself out to be. The imperialist butchers can be defeated, through powerful class struggle by the workers and oppressed of the world. Wall Street is shaky following the collapse of the high technology “bubble” economy. A giant corporation like Enron suddenly goes bankrupt, ripping up the life savings of thousands of its employees. Millions of Argentine workers are reduced to living from soup kitchens by the policies of the IMF and the U.S.’ “non-NATO ally” government in Buenos Aires. While the Pentagon’s stealth fighters have demonstrated that they can hit the broad side of an Afghan mountain, the U.S. could soon see its nuclear-armed Indian and Pakistani “allies” at war with each other. And despite Bush Junior’s sky-high opinion poll ratings, the patriotic fervor is only skin deep. The working class is already uneasy as unemployment shoots up dramatically even as the stock market rebounds, anticipating sharply increased profits due to layoffs and declining wages. The fight to free Mumia must be part of a revolutionary struggle against the whole fragile edifice of U.S. capitalism.
Brazilian teachers during state-wide work stoppage demanding freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal, 23 April 1999.
The Internationalist Group and League for the Fourth International renew the call we made in 1999 for an international mobilization of workers power to free Mumia Abu-Jamal. Brazilian workers can strike a blow against their own oppression by again undertaking work stoppages for Jamal, on an even larger scale, and extend the fight to Buenos Aires, where tens of thousands of Argentine workers mobilized on behalf of Sacco and Vanzetti in the 1920s. Workers and students fighting against the starvation policies of the devaluationist Peronist government and the IMF can strike a blow against the imperialist bloodsuckers by mobilizing for Mumia. South African unions, groaning under the “free market” capitalism of the African National Congress under Mandela and his successor Mbeki, have for years called for Mumia’s release; now is the time to put industrial muscle behind those calls. Italian workers battling a rightist government including fascist ministers should raise the fight for Mumia’s freedom in mobilizing against the war on Afghanistan. Ukrainian coal miners, Indian leftists, European workers and youth battling social-democratic war mongers should join the fight to free Jamal and to abolish the barbaric death penalty to their struggles against domestic repression and imperialist war.
The struggle inside the United States to mobilize labor in fighting unity with oppressed minorities to demand freedom for America’s No. 1 class war prisoner is key. West Coast and East Coast dock workers are facing a combined government/employer onslaught in the name of “security”; this threatens such keystones of labor strength as the union hiring hall. The energy that went into defending Charleston, South Carolina longshoremen should be mobilized on behalf of Mumia. It is vital that the fight for Jamal’s freedom be extended to the black and Latino population of America’s inner cities, where efforts so far have produced a weak response. As recent events have underscored, what’s required is not pressuring the liberals to pressure the government but a frontal class struggle against the capitalist system which has launched a war against immigrants, blacks, working and oppressed people around the world. We fight to break the workers and oppressed from the Democratic and Republican parties of death and to build a revolutionary workers party, as part of the struggle to reforge the Fourth International.
The fight against the racist death penalty must be part of a broader struggle against the capitalist society that produced it. In an article on capital punishment published in the New York Daily Tribune (17 February 1853), Karl Marx asked rhetorically, “what a state of society is that which knows of no better instrument for its own defense than the hangman”? Lenin’s Bolsheviks fought against the death penalty, which was used by the tsarist autocrats to terrorize the Russian population in times of war and peace. Today, many protesters at demonstrations for Mumia chant, “No justice, no peace.” This is an appeal to the capitalist state to produce justice for the oppressed – something that cannot happen. With the bloodiest executioner among U.S. governors now sitting in the White House – serial killer George Bush who personally sent 152 inmates to their deaths – the European bourgeoisies wag their fingers at Washington over the death penalty. Yet for U.S. rulers, legalized state murder is an important component of their arsenal for war on the home front, where the chasm between rich and poor grows ever wider, as it seeks to impose its global domination.
In mobilizing to free Mumia, we have pointed out that this case is no aberration but the normal workings of a system that regularly metes out injustice to racial minorities, immigrants, leftists, workers and anyone else deemed a threat by the ruling class it protects. The racist death penalty in the U.S. is rooted in this history of chattel slavery, KKK “lynch law” and Jim Crow segregation; today it goes hand in hand with “racial profiling” and police executions in the streets. Marx and Lenin underscored that law reflects the actual economic conditions of society: so long as we live in a society divided into classes, in which the ruling class organizes the state to defend its interests and survival, “justice” will necessarily be class justice. What is necessary in the midst of the present imperialist war is to wage class war to impose proletarian justice, to sweep away the hangmen and the machinery of state murder through international socialist revolution. That is the road to freeing Mumia Abu-Jamal and sending the barbaric, racist death penalty to the dustbin of history!
9 January 2002
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