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A New Angle in Abu-Jamal's Case

By       Message Dennis Bernstein       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink

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Mumia Abu-Jamal
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A potential new front has opened up in the fight to free Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. Abu-Jamal has always maintained his innocence and has spent the last 30-plus years trying to prove it.

Along the way, there have been some victories. First he fought his way off Death Row. Then he fought a battle to get medical care that he was being denied, a situation that sent his health into a dangerous spiral. Now he and his lawyers are citing new information about possible judicial bias that could have a direct impact on the legitimacy of his murder conviction.

During his decades of imprisonment, Abu-Jamal has continued to practice the art of journalism, crafting well-researched columns on issues of racism, human rights -- and doing it, first, from death row then from maximum security lock-down. Sometimes his columns, as Emily Dickinson used to say about a good poem, can take the top of your head off.

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Tens of thousands of his supporters are charmed and moved by his Weekly Radio commentaries from prison. Many of his supporters assert that the former public radio reporter, and Black Panther Minister of Information (at 15), is a political prisoner, the victim of arguably one of the most corrupt police departments in the United States.

I spoke recently with Rachel Wolkenstein, an attorney for Mumia Abu-Jamal, about the latest development in this decades old case.

Dennis Bernstein: Set this up for us. We are hearing that new information has surfaced. We'd like to get a complete debriefing, but first please remind people briefly who Mumia Abu-Jamal is, in case they haven't heard about this celebrated case.

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Rachel Wolkenstein: Mumia Abu-Jamal is a political prisoner, a "class-war prisoner," as I consider him. He is a former Black Panther member, a MOVE organization supporter, a radical journalist who was known as "the Voice of the Voiceless." He was an award-winning radio journalist in Philadelphia in the late 1970s until his arrest on December 9, 1981 in connection with the murder of a police officer. This is a crime that Mumia did not commit and he has always maintained his innocence.

His case has always been racially biased and politically motivated. Mumia was framed by the Philadelphia police department and the prosecution, with help from the Attorney General's office and the FBI, because he was so outspoken in his defense of the oppressed, particularly the politically oppressed, such as the MOVE organization at that time in Philadelphia. As a teenager he was communications director and journalist for the Black Panther Party. He was known throughout Philadelphia for his beautiful voice and his passionate social and political commentary.

DB: He was also known throughout Philadelphia by perhaps the most corrupt police department in the nation at that time, a police department and prosecutor's office that were studied for their corruption and under federal investigation.

RW: That is correct. Frank Rizzo had been the police commissioner. Interestingly, many elements of the federal COINTELPRO program were actually based on things that Rizzo had done. He then became the mayor of Philadelphia and organized the raids on the Black Panthers when Mumia was a member and a spokesman for the Party. You are absolutely correct, the efforts to have him exterminated were very clearly orchestrated by the FBI.

One of the early things I worked on with my colleagues from the Partisan Defense Committee at that time was obtaining Mumia's COINTELPRO records, which showed that they had a dossier on him when he was just 15 years old, in the late 'sixties. There they said, in effect, despite his young years, he should be on the ADEX file (a list of who the FBI felt should be rounded up and put into concentration camps if there was any political turmoil in the country). They said Mumia belonged on that list because of his ability to speak out in advocacy.

Mumia went to Chicago to witness the murders that had been committed by the FBI and the Chicago police and to speak about what was happening. He was featured in a front-page story in the Philadelphia Inquirer, which described this young man who was speaking out in defense of the Panthers and against police brutality. The cops in Philadelphia knew who he was and they were tracking him.

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When the MOVE commune was surrounded and attacked in 1978 and when, in the aftermath, Delbert Africa, a former Panther, was beaten on the street (in the first televised police beating in the country), Mumia again spoke in defense of the MOVE members and against the attack. He was also specifically targeted by Rizzo and by Edward Rendell [former Philadelphia District Attorney who oversaw Mumia's prosecution], who I consider to be directly responsible for the frame-up of Mumia Abu-Jamal.

So there is a long history there of knowing who Mumia was, targeting him, trying to silence his voice and ultimately to murder him. What happened on the night of December 9, 1981 was that Mumia came across a police altercation in the street. He was driving a cab at that point because he had been drummed out of mainstream news reporting for his defense of the MOVE organization. In the midst of a purported shoot-out, a police officer named Daniel Faulkner was shot and killed. The chief inspector arrived on the scene, a guy named [Alfonzo] Giordano, who had been Rizzo's right-hand man a few years earlier and who was also under investigation for corruption and being on the take.

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Dennis J Bernstein is the host and executive producer of Flashpoints, a daily news magazine broadcast on Pacifica Radio. He is an award-winning investigative reporter, essayist and poet. His articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Nation, and (more...)
 

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