Mobilize Workers’ Power to Free Mumia!
Outside Court Hearing in Philadelphia
Internationalist Group marched with hundreds in Philadelphia, May 17, demanding freedom for Mumia.
Over 500 people turned out to demonstrate on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal outside the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia May 17. Inside the packed courtroom another 200 observed the proceedings in which the justices peppered prosecution and defense lawyers with questions about the deliberate exclusion of blacks in jury selection during Mumia’s 1982 trial, the instructions to the jury on the death sentence, and evidence of judicial bias against Mumia. In court, the prosecution demanded that the death sentence against Jamal be reinstated while defense lawyer Robert Bryan asked for a new trial. Outside, hundreds of demonstrators circling the courthouse chanted over and over, “Brick by brick, wall by wall, We’re gonna free Mumia Abu-Jamal.” While some had illusions that a new trial could be fair, many declared that the entire “justice” system was racist to the core.
Among those attending the hearing were film star and fighter for social justice Danny Glover, former Communist Party spokeswoman Angela Davis, former Black Panther Party leader Kathleen Cleaver, former Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, veteran activist Dick Gregory and prominent civil liberties lawyer Lynne Stewart (who is appealing her own frame-up conviction on bogus charges of “aiding terrorism” by defending her client). Also present were delegations from Germany, where thousands marched for Mumia’s freedom last January, and from France, where in 2003 Mumia was named an honorary citizen of the capital, and last year a street was named after him in a Paris suburb. Virtually every left and socialist organization in the U.S. was represented in the crowd of hundreds who came to show their support for Jamal. The Internationalist Group spoke from the open microphone (see below) and marched with a prominent banner declaring: “Free Mumia Abu-Jamal! Democrats, Republicans, Racist Legal Lynchers: Forge a Revolutionary Workers Party!”
Former Black Panther and renowned radical journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal has been on Pennsylvania’s death row for the past quarter century, framed by the police for a murder he didn’t commit. He has come to symbolize the struggle against the racist death penalty in the United States and internationally. Mumia was known as the “voice of the voiceless” for his hard-hitting reports as a radio reporter in Philadelphia in the 1970s, and his powerful prison writings against injustice (including hundreds of columns and five books) are read the world over. Mumia was convicted in a rigged trial under Judge Albert Sabo, notorious as the “hanging judge” for issuing more death sentences than any other judge in the United States (a record he still holds after his death). Even though a key issue in the PCRA hearing 13 years later was Sabo’s conduct of the original trial, he insisted on presiding over the appeal, during which he ordered the arrest of one of Mumia’s attorneys (Rachel Wolkenstein of the Partisan Defense Committee) and a defense witness (Veronica Jones) was dragged off the stand in handcuffs.
Liberals and reformists
call for a new trial, fostering illusions in racist capitalist “justice.”
In Philly, hundreds demanded “Free
Although the 1982 trial and 1995 hearings were racist travesties, they were hardly unique. The intimate connection between the courts, cops and capitalist politicians in the system of racist injustice is illustrated by the power of the Fraternal Order of the Police (FOP), which is waging a vendetta against Jamal. Judge Sabo, a former Philadelphia sheriff, was a lifetime member of the FOP. But he was not alone. When the Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard the appeal of the ’95 hearings, defense lawyers objected to the participation of Justice Ron Castille, who as former District Attorney of Philadelphia signed papers opposing Mumia’s earlier appeals, and who received campaign contributions from the FOP. Castille’s replied that four other Supreme Court judges (i.e., five out of a total of seven) had also received FOP money. FOP conventions have been addressed by Democratic president Bill Clinton and Republican president George Bush. Last December, an FOP lobbying blitz got the U.S. House of Representatives to vote by 368 to 31 to condemn the French city of St-Denis for naming a street “Rue Mumia Abu-Jamal.”
Add to this Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, who has vowed to sign a warrant to execute Mumia, was Philly D.A. at the time of Jamal’s original trial and later mayor. And Rendell’s wife is a justice on the 3rd Circuit federal appeals court where a panel of judges is hearing Mumia’s habeas corpus appeal. You have here the portrait of a tight-knit local ruling class which lords it over the oppressed with naked police power, whether the mayor is a Democrat, like former D.A. Rendell, or a Republican like former top cop Frank Rizzo who ran the “city of brotherly love” with an iron hand in the 1970s and early ’80s. To register simply that the entire judicial and police apparatus is stacked against Jamal would be a grievous understatement. He was railroaded by a system in which racial minorities, and black men in particularly, are routinely convicted and subjected to legal lynching – state murder – on the basis of trumped up charges, bought “witnesses” and phony “confessions” after being terrorized and often tortured by the cops. And not just in “up South” Philly: as a courageous fighter against police terror, Mumia was on the feds’ hit list ever since J. Edgar Hoover put his name on the FBI’s COINTELPRO lists in 1969.
Many who observed the proceedings in the courtroom were trying to decipher how the judges would rule from the tenor of their questions. Some took heart from the justices asking critical questions of both sides, in contrast to Sabo’s hectoring of defense witnesses and attorneys in 1995. But as Ramona Africa, who survived the 1985 police bombing of the Philly MOVE commune, noted, “They can sit there and look very attentive and appear to be leaning toward the defense but it doesn’t mean anything…. To me the most impressive part of the day was these people who came from all over for Mumia.” As evidence of judicial bias against Mumia, lead defense counsel Robert Bryan managed to get on the record the report from a court stenographer who heard Judge Sabo saying during the 1982 trial that “I’m going to help them fry the n----r.” But the judicial panel kept asking why this or that issue wasn’t addressed in the 1995 appeal. An observer who was present in 1995 commented that the judges seemed oblivious to the barrage of arbitrary rulings and threats by the raving racist Sabo which prevented numerous issues from being raised.
Judges asked Assistant D.A. Hugh Burns how he could square the jury selection – where prosecutors peremptorily removed 11 of 15 potential black jurors, but only 4 of 28 white jurors, ending up with a jury that had only 2 black people and 10 whites, in a city that is over 40 percent black – with the Supreme Court’s Batson decision against racial criteria to select jurors. Bryan noted that it was unusual for a federal appeals court to allow the NAACP, which submitted an amicus curiae (friend of the court brief) on the issue of jury discrimination, to argue part of the defense case. The fact that the Philly district attorney routinely tried to remove blacks from juries is an established fact. There is even a videotape of a training session in which assistant D.A.’s are shown how to do it. In his summation, Bryan pointed out that it defied logic to believe that given the record of the Pennsylvania courts at the time, there wasn’t racially biased jury selection in Mumia’s case – particularly considering that this was a former Black Panther and MOVE supporter accused of killing a police officer. But two of the three judges told Bryan that they found it hard to tell if there was discrimination without knowing the racial make-up of the 150 people in the jury pool – information that is unavailable.
What happened in the courtroom was uneventful. Bryan said his best “guestimate” was that a ruling could come in 45 to 90 days. Speaking to the crowd of Mumia’s supporters outside, he also noted that rather than deciding either to order a new trial (as the defense requests) or to reinstate the death penalty (the prosecution’s demand), the appeals court could take an intermediate position. It could uphold Judge Yohn’s 2001 ruling, but order a new sentencing hearing (at which a death sentence could again be imposed); or send the case back to Yohn for a new hearing with instructions to consider particular precedents. In response to a question, Bryan said that the confession of Arnold Beverly, who admitted to killing police officer Daniel Faulkner, for which Mumia was convicted, “has nothing to do with this case,” which he is arguing strictly on judicial issues. Thus the court will not rule on the most fundamental issue, that Mumia Abu-Jamal is innocent. There is no reason to believe that a new trial would be a fair trial in this racist, capitalist injustice system.
The most important fact of the day’s event was that hundreds of people traveled from around the country and the world to demonstrate their solidarity. Trade unionists from a number of unions were present in Philadelphia. But more than a show of support, what’s needed is to mobilize power, the only language that the ruling class understands. There is no justice for the oppressed in the capitalist courts. We must bring out the power of the organized working class, in the plants and in the streets, to demand that Mumia be freed from the machinery of racist repression.
We reprint below remarks by a spokesman for the Internationalist Group at the May 17 Philadelphia rally for Mumia Abu-Jamal.
I’m speaking on behalf of the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, and I want to emphasize that the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal is an international issue. The eyes of the world are on us. Working people around the globe are watching what happens to Mumia. For Mumia has become the symbol of the struggle against the racist death penalty, in the United States and internationally. And we must mobilize the power of the working class to free him.
The United States is the only major industrial country that has a death penalty. Why? It goes back to the days of slavery. Mumia today is the target of the modern slave masters who seek to repress black people in particular. He is being persecuted because he is the “voice of the voiceless,” because he spoke for and continues to speak for all the oppressed.
Every epoch has its great legal battles which lay bare the nature of the society in which they take place. Mumia is the Scottsboro case of our times. The Scottsboro case in the 1930s exposed the real nature of lynch law justice, of Jim Crow justice. Mumia’s case today illustrates the way in which black people are kept down, particularly in the northern ghettos, in the wake of the civil rights laws, which supposedly outlawed legal discrimination, but did nothing for blacks in the north.
Banner of Rio de
Janeiro teachers union, SEPE, at May Day 2007 march demands: “Freedom for Mumia
Abu-Jamal. Down with the Racist Death Penalty!”
I bring you greetings from Brazil, where the teachers of the state of Rio de Janeiro voted to make one of their demands this past May Day, freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal, and to call on labor to use its power on his behalf. Also in Brazil, the Conlutas labor federation voted to include in its demands for May Day, freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal, and to call for labor action to free him. Brazil has the largest black population of any country outside of Africa, and they follow what happens to black people in the U.S. very closely.
These are not idle words. On April 23, 1999, at the initiative of our comrades of the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil, teachers throughout the state of Rio de Janeiro stopped work for two hours to have meetings to talk about the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal and demand his freedom. (Applause) They stopped work and stopped the schools. And they did this in conjunction with port workers in the United States. On April 24, 1999, dock workers shut down ports up and down the U.S. West Coast to demand freedom for Mumia. (Applause)
A lot of times you hear people say they are “talking truth to power.” There is no point in talking truth to power. The judges in that court over there don’t need us to tell them the truth. They are meting out class justice, capitalist class justice. We need to talk power to power, the power of the working class, which makes this society run, and can also bring it to a halt. We need to mobilize that power to free Mumia Abu-Jamal, our comrade and our hero, who is in jail because he has defended all of us.
I want to make a point about the persecution of Mumia. This is a bipartisan capitalist persecution, by both the Democrats and Republicans. Philadelphia isn’t just “Rizzotown.” In 1985, Mayor Wilson Goode, a black Democrat, bombed the MOVE commune in West Philly and burned down the entire neighborhood. The governor, Ed Rendell, a Democrat, has vowed to issue a new death warrant for Mumia. And his wife sits on the federal court over there. That’s why we say it is necessary to build a revolutionary workers party that fights for all the oppressed.
One of the earlier speakers referred to a war going on, and that’s right. The war on the people of Iraq is the same war being waged against working people, black people and the oppressed in the United States. We need to mobilize the power of the working class to defeat that imperialist war in Iraq and to defeat the war on working people here in the streets of Philadelphia. (Applause)Free Mumia! n
To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: email@example.com