At this point, a new trial will likely require the bringing forth of new evidence. The investigation of police and prosecutorial misconduct, including the suppression of crucial evidence and the intimidation of witnesses could also lead to a new trial. These are the avenues that will be pursued to obtain Mumia's freedom. Among the new evidence that has come out in recent years, Philadelphia journalists Linn Washington Jr. and Dave Lindorff have recently performed a ballistics test, (watch video) fundamentally challenging the DA's shooting scenario/theory used to convict Abu-Jamal.
In Philadelphia on December 9, the 30th anniversary of Abu-Jamal's arrest, supporters organized a large event at the National Constitution Center that was attended by over 1,000 people. Declaring that a sentence of life without parole is unacceptable, speakers ranging from author/activist Cornel West to Ramona Africa of MOVE & the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, pledged to continue fighting for Abu-Jamal's freedom. Prerecorded video messages to the December 9 event were delivered by author/activist Michelle Alexander and the internationally renowned human rights activist Desmond Tutu, who days before has already released a statement declaring:
"Now that it is clear that Mumia should never have been on death row in the first place, justice will not be served by relegating him to prison for the rest of his life--yet another form of death sentence. Based on even a minimal following of international human rights standards, Mumia must now be released. I therefore join the call, and ask others to follow, asking District Attorney Seth Williams to rise to the challenge of reconciliation, human rights, and justice: drop this case now, and allow Mumia Abu-Jamal to be immediately released, with full time served."
Interview with Bret Grote
(Artwork: Ascncios Mac)
In this interview we speak with Bret Grote from Human Rights Coalition (HRC), who's website describes itself as "a group of predominately prisoners' families, ex-prisoners and some supporters," whose "ultimate goal is to abolish prisons." HRC seeks "to empower prisoners' families to be leaders in prison organizing, while at the same time reduce the shame of having a loved one in prison or being formerly incarcerated," and "to make visible to the public the injustice and abuse that are common practice throughout our judicial and prison systems across the country, and eventually end those abuses." Learn more at www.hrcoalition.org.
Prison Radio: Supporters of Mumia Abu-Jamal argue that his current time in the hole is a form of retaliation for his being a longtime political activist. In his recent article entitled, "Sadism in the Cell: Thanks to a Vindictive Prison System, Abu-Jamal is Still in 'The Hole,'" Linn Washington Jr. contextualizes recent events by documenting a long history of repression, ultimately arguing that "while Abu-Jamal detractors indignantly dismiss all claims of his being a political prisoner, his post-arrest ordeals provide a compelling case of a person specifically targeted by authorities for who he is politically more than for the crime he is supposedly serving time for." Why do you think it is that Mumia is currently being held in "Administrative Custody?"
Bret Grote: In regard to Mumia, the inference should always be that the government is targeting him because of his politics due to the more than forty years that federal agents, Philadelphia police and prosecutors, governors of Pennsylvania, and prison officials have been conspiring to silence him. The current rationales offered by prison officials for his placement in solitary confinement do not withstand scrutiny, which lends further support to the inference that he is continuing to be targeted.
First, they asserted that they were waiting for the filing of paperwork by the District Attorney's office of Philadelphia so that his sentence would be formally changed from death to life without the possibility of parole. According to information available on the DOC's website, however, all death-sentenced prisoners are held on death row at State Correctional Institution (SCI) Greene or SCI Graterford. Abu-Jamal was removed from death row virtually as soon as Philadelphia DA Seth Williams announced he would not seek to re-impose the death penalty. If the prison were in fact waiting for a formal re-sentencing prior to placement in general population, Mumia would still be on death row.
Second, they have recently decided that his hair exceeds the regulatory length and that he needs this cut. It took them five weeks to notify him of this. Obviously, the length of Mumia's hair was not unknown to prison officials. In fact, he was held on disciplinary status while on death row earlier during his confinement for eight years, although he was removed from that status-without cutting his hair-in the early-90s at some point.
The shifting rationales indicate that they are digging their heels in and seem prepared to try to continue subjecting Mumia to solitary confinement torture, which has been his fate for thirty years.
It is important to note that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has recently declared that, in his opinion, prolonged solitary confinement of more than fifteen days violates article 1 (prohibiting torture) or 16 (prohibiting other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment) of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment. He further stated that the Convention is violated when solitary confinement is imposed as punishment. These standards applied to U.S. prisons renders the overwhelming majority of solitary confinement practices criminal.
PR: Can you please tell us more about how PA Prisons use solitary confinement and what are called "Restrictive Housing Units." How is it used? Against whom? Are there other examples of solitary confinement punishment being used to retaliate against political activists?
BG: While the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (PA DOC) operates in a seemingly arbitrary nature, there are some factors that place prisoners at high-risk for being kept in long-term solitary confinement: 1) political activism and jailhouse lawyering; 2) race; and 3) mental illness.
To start with, those who file grievances about staff misconduct and abuse, or file lawsuits about civil and human rights violations, are routinely subjected to repressive treatment. Pennsylvania is far from alone in this practice. Professor of Corrections and Correctional Law at Minnesota State University, James Robertson, has stated that "Retaliation is deeply engrained in the correctional office subculture; it may well be in the normative response when an inmate files a grievance, a statutory precondition for filing a civil rights action." He also refers to a survey of Ohio prisoners that found "that 70.1% of inmates who brought grievances indicated that they had suffered retaliation thereafter; moreover, 87% of all respondents and nearly 92% of the inmates using the grievance process agreed with the statement, "I believe staff will retaliate or get back at me if I use the grievance process.' [FN18] Among staff supervisors, only 21% believed that retaliation never happened, with one warden characterizing it as "commonplace' when inmates resort to the grievance process." As Robertson says, guards who retaliate "cannot be regarded as rogue actors. They act within the norm." ("One of the Dirty Secrets of American Corrections": Retaliation, Surplus Power, and Whistleblowing Inmates, 42 U. Mich. J.L. Reform 611 (2009)).