For International Workers Action to Free Mumia!
Bay Area ILWU Shuts Ports Demanding Freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal
Internationalist contingent in San Francisco march in conjunction with February 16 Bay Area port shutdown demanding freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal.
“An Injury to One Is an Injury to All – Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!” chanted union marchers on San Francisco’s Embarcadero on February 16. They were marching as International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 shut down Oakland and San Francisco ports to demand freedom for the former Black Panther and world-renowned radical journalist who has spent over four decades in Pennsylvania prisons on frame-up charges. With a Philadelphia judge denying motions filed by Mumia’s lawyers after “misplaced” boxes of evidence were found in the district attorney’s office (see article below), the dock shutdown underlines the need for widespread workers action in the U.S. and internationally to free Mumia.
That there is no justice in the capitalist courts is a bitter reality that Mumia’s case has come to symbolize. Almost three years after the largest sustained protests in U.S. history erupted in the summer of 2020 over Minneapolis cops’ murder of George Floyd, racist police terror continues unabated – as shown yet again when cops from the elite SCORPION unit of the Memphis police beat Tyre Nichols, an African American FedEx driver, to death in January (see article page 1). Importantly, members of Nichols’ family participated in the February 16 Bay Area action, speaking to the union rally that was part of the ILWU shutdown.
Plans for the February 16 Bay Area longshore action grew in conjunction with the trip by a delegation of ILWU Local 10 members to South Africa, where longtime longshore militant Jack Heyman together with David “Newt” Newton – a Local 10 activist who is the nephew of Black Panthers co-founder Huey P. Newton – met with Irvin Jim, secretary general of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa. NUMSA is the largest union in South Africa – and on the African continent. On the eve of the ILWU shutdown, the NUMSA leader issued a video announcing that the South African union was launching a month-long international solidarity campaign for Mumia’s release. On March 10, NUMSA members carried out a militant march on the U.S. embassy in Pretoria, demanding “Mumia must be set free!”
The Bay Area port shutdown – which stopped the movement of cargo – harks back to the first labor actions for Mumia’s freedom, held on April 1999 when Brazilian teachers shut down schools in the state of Rio de Janeiro demanding Liberdade para Mumia Abu-Jamal! This sparked and was coordinated with the ILWU shutting down ports all along the West Coast the next day to demand his freedom (see “Brazil Education Workers Demand: Freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal!” at internationalist.org, May 1999).
This year, on April 24 – Mumia’s 69th birthday – a labor rally for Mumia’s freedom is being held in Portland, Oregon at the initiative of the painters and stagehands unions (IUPAT Local 10 and IATSE Local 28). This was sparked by the resolution that the Portland Painters union passed last October calling for “coordinated workers action on a national and international scale” for “workers of all countries to use their power to free our brother Mumia Abu-Jamal.” (See “Portland Painters Call for Workers Action to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal,” The Internationalist No. 67-68, May-October 2022). ■
Judge Slams Door on Mumia Appeal
“Defendant’s Petition is Dismissed Without a Hearing.” With those words, on March 31, Judge Lucretia Clemons slammed a steel door on Mumia Abu-Jamal’s appeal for justice after 41 years of incarceration for a crime he didn’t commit. Jamal, a former member of the Black Panther Party, is the foremost class-war prisoner in the United States. In a trial saturated with judicial misconduct and prosecutorial racism, Jamal was convicted of the 1981 shooting death of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.
The capitalist “justice” system has been trying to execute Jamal ever since that night in Philadelphia’s Center City when Faulkner was killed. The cops shot Mumia and savagely beat him. The trial was presided over by the notorious “hanging judge” Albert Sabo, who had sentenced more prisoners to death than any other sitting judge in the U.S. and was a life member of the Fraternal Order of Police. During the proceedings, Sabo was overheard by a court stenographer telling prosecutors that he was going to help them “fry the n....r.” Nevertheless, in 1995, Sabo presided over Mumia’s post-conviction appeal, ruling on the trial he himself had conducted!
In 2011, after almost 30 years in prison, the first 20 in solitary on death row, and following massive international protests, Pennsylvania backed off trying to kill Mumia via lethal injection and substituted “slow death row” (life imprisonment without parole) abetted by medical neglect. As Mumia is now 69 years old, has been deathly ill with hepatitis C and has undergone open heart surgery, Judge Clemons’ ruling amounts to carrying out Sabo’s intention in 1982 by other means.
Clemons’ ruling concerned defense attorneys’ submission that six boxes of evidence, labeled “Mumia” or “Abu-Jamal,” which were “found” in 2018, contained crucial proofs of the frame-up nature of Mumia’s trial and of his actual innocence. These include handwritten notes detailing the prosecution’s determination to exclude blacks from Mumia’s jury and evidence that its key witnesses received promises of money and leniency in pending court cases – in other words, that their testimony incriminating Mumia was bought with a quid pro quo, exchanging favors.
Mumia’s lawyers pointed to a newly discovered letter from a prosecution star witness, cab driver Robert Chobert (prior conviction for tossing a firebomb into a school yard), who, after falsely testifying that he saw Mumia shoot Faulkner, wrote to assistant district attorney Joseph McGill: “Where is the money that is owed to me?” It was payment for services rendered. The defense also cited new evidence, including correspondence from former employees of the D.A.’s office, that the testimony of prostitute Cynthia White, who like Chobert testified that she saw Mumia shoot Faulkner, was given in exchange for promises of special treatment.
Judge Clemons ruled that Mumia’s lawyers’ “Brady claim,”1 that information discrediting the testimony of prosecution witnesses was withheld from the defense, was “immaterial,” as the witnesses’ credibility had previously been challenged. Clemons ruled that Mumia’s “Batson claim”2 was “time-barred and waived”: supposedly time-barred because it was not appealed by 1991 but only in November 2021; supposedly waived because his defense did not ask for the notes (which it did not know existed) in Mumia’s 1995 appeal; and besides, the Batson rules did not exist at the time of his 1982 trial.
These rulings are prima facie (self-evident) proof of how the whole capitalist legal system is rigged against poor, oppressed and working people, and anyone who cannot afford high-priced lawyers with abundant resources. Procedural rules are used to exclude evidence of bribed testimony and intentional exclusion of black people from a jury. These elaborate rules exist not to protect the right of defendants to prove innocence but in order to protect the courts, from evidence of their racism being considered and from having their rulings overturned.
For 41 years, there has never been justice for Mumia in the capitalist courts, and there is none today. In the 1982 trial he was denied the right to represent himself and was even excluded from the courtroom. It was a classic racist frame-up that, in addition to jury-rigging and coerced witnesses, included an alleged confession by Mumia from his hospital bed that he shot Faulkner. Yet the cop who stood guard over Mumia in the hospital reported, “The negro male made no comments.” Sabo refused to let the cop testify. Prosecutors won a death sentence by claiming that Mumia’s former membership in the Panthers showed he was a committed “cop killer.”
Mumia’s persecution was not just by a racist judge and a vicious prosecutor. Mumia has been in the crosshairs of the rulers from age 15 when he was a spokesman for the Philly Panthers. Back then, in March 1968, FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover wrote: “The Negro youth and moderate[s] must be made to understand that if they succumb to revolutionary teaching, they will be dead revolutionaries.” By 1981 when local cops shot, beat and arrested him, Mumia had been a target of the FBI – as well as U.S. Army Military Intelligence, the Naval Investigative Service, the Air Force Office of Special Investigation and the U.S. Secret Service – for more than a dozen years.
Revolutionary lnternationalist Youth speaker at 16 December 2022 demonstration for Mumia in Philadelphia.
Throughout Mumia’s ordeal, there have been counterposed strategies over how to defend him, as was true during the defense of the Scottsboro Boys, Sacco and Vanzetti and other major political defense cases in the past. We have argued with liberals and leftists whose strategy ultimately boiled down to calls on the courts to deliver justice to Mumia. Some even had illusions in “progressive” Democratic D.A. Larry Krasner. A March 11 Philadelphia rally, “Bearing Witness in the Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal,” featured calls on the judge to “do what’s right,” to ensure “basic fairness” and “follow the law.”
Even after Judge Clemons’ ruling, an article appeared in Workers World (3 April) under the headline, “Denial of Mumia’s appeal: An affront to basic justice and the law.” The article stated: “Mumia Abu-Jamal, his family and his supporters around the world had every reason and right to hope that all their hard work would pay off in persuading Judge Lucretia Clemons from the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas to follow and apply the law, as has been done in other cases.” “Every reason and right to hope”? This says it all about reformists’ illusions in the capitalist state! Class-conscious fighters for Mumia’s freedom, on the contrary, had “every reason” to expect that Clemons would do exactly what her predecessors had done.
We in the Internationalist Group and League for the Fourth International have a very different strategy. We look to the policy put forward by James P. Cannon, the founder of American Trotskyism, who wrote in 1927 of the policy of class-struggle defense:
“It puts the center of gravity in the protest movement of the workers of America and the world. It puts all faith in the power of the masses and no faith whatever in the justice of the courts. While favoring all possible legal proceedings, it calls for agitation, publicity, demonstrations – organized protest on a national and international scale. It calls for unity and solidarity of all workers on this burning issue, regardless of conflicting views on other questions.”
–“Who Can Save Sacco and Vanzetti?” International Labor Defender, January 1927
Mumia Abu-Jamal was targeted because the government saw him – and sees him today – as a powerful voice for the downtrodden, and a revolutionary threat to the state that tramples on them. At protest after protest, as we call out the names of victims of racist cop terror, there are always new names. Recently, an Ohio grand jury ruled that there will be no charges against the death squad of eight Akron police who, last June, pumped 46 bullets in seven seconds into the body of 25-year old Jayland Walker. “The officers were legally justified in their use of force,” the Ohio Attorney General said.
As Marxists we know that the law is there to defend the interests of the ruling class. The police and military, the courts and jails, are the core of the capitalist state which enforces the exploitation and oppression of the masses on behalf of the exploiters and oppressors. Who will stop the never-ending war against black people? That is the urgent task of a politically awakened multiracial and multiethnic working class, defending all the oppressed and led by a genuinely communist party fighting for international socialist revolution. ■
- 1. Referring to the historic decision in the case of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1963 that the prosecution must turn over to the defense any exculpatory evidence that could potentially exonerate the defendant, and that failure to do so could be grounds for overturning a conviction.
- 2. Referring to the landmark case of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1986 that prosecutors’ peremptory challenges (to dismiss potential jurors without cause) could not be used to exclude jurors solely on the basis of their race, and that this could result in throwing out a conviction.