By William Boardman -- Reader Supported News
Mumia Abu-Jamal by [sfbayview.com]
Police Go Nuts Over Mumia Abu-Jamal's Remote Speech in Vermont
How a non-event becomes an "event" that ends in anti-climax
When Mumia Abu-Jamal was the pre-recorded speaker at a Goddard College commencement in Plainfield, Vermont, in 2008, almost no one outside the Goddard community paid any attention. This year, when Goddard announced that students had chosen Mumia to do a return engagement at their graduation, Philadelphia police, politicians, media, and Fox News went crazy with angry rhetoric aimed at curbing free speech.
In the end, this breakdown in civil society resulted in nothing worse than hundreds of police-instigated threats of violence to the Goddard community. For the sake of security, Goddard moved the graduation up three hours, with no public announcement, and the full-house ceremony for 24 students went forward with private security and without incident.
In the week between the announcement and the event, "Mumia Abu-Jamal" the symbol served once again as a triggering Rorschach blot exposing aspects of American character in 2014, reflecting and denying realities decades and centuries past. In a sense what Goddard students provoked with their commencement speaker choice was a weeklong confrontation between the symbolic "Mumia Abu-Jamal" and the actual Mumia Abu-Jamal, without much success in joining them in there single, complex reality.
What does "Mumia Abu-Jamal" actually mean, or should he just be?
Understanding "Mumia Abu Jamal" in full requires more time and space that is available here. The man and the symbol and those who pillory him all have significant complexity, both real and unreal. There are at least two contexts that are fundamental to understanding the Mumia phenomenon itself and the mini-drama it produced at Goddard:
First, whatever else he is, Mumia is a political prisoner and has been a political target at least since he was 15. Mumia was born in 1954 as Wesley Cook. As he became an articulate member of the Black Panther party (until he was 16) and a representative of black resistance generally, he was targeted for his political expression by police agencies that included the FBI and its illegal COINTELPRO program. On December 9, 1981, radio reporter Mumia was moonlighting as a cab driver. He was on the scene when officer Daniel Faulkner made a traffic stop of Mumia's younger brother, William Cook. In the next few moments, Faulkner was shot and killed and Mumia was shot and disabled. Little else about the event is reliably clear. Anyone who takes the time to look disinterestedly into the record of the investigation and subsequent trials will soon understand that Mumia's conviction for killing officer Faulkner may or may not be a miscarriage of justice in terms of Mumia's actual guilt, which remains unproved. Mumia denied his guilt at trial and ever since. The investigation and judicial process are so fundamentally flawed in so many ways, they offer the best evidence that Mumia's conviction is morally and factually insupportable.
Second, and probably more important for context, is the abiding corruption of the Philadelphia legal system, both police and courts. At the time of Mumia's arrest, he had been talking on the radio about police corruption. At the same time, there was a federal investigation going on that would lead to the conviction of 31 Philadelphia police officers. In 1981, Officer Faulkner, 26, was working undercover inside the department, gathering evidence against his fellow officers. Another wave of Philadelphia police corruption and brutality in the 1990s came to be known as the 39th District scandal. In July 2014, federal prosecutors indicted six officers in "what Philadelphia's police commissioner described as one of the worst cases of corruption," according to CNN. CBS Philly has a special page for Philadelphia police corruption. Currently, after some 20 years of abusing civil forfeiture laws to pad city budgets (by an average $6 million a year), Philadelphia faces a class action lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice seeking to end the abuse, which includes an inherently corrupting conflict of interest.
When you're under fire, it's useful to have a distracting scapegoat
One of the epicenters of reflexive Mumia-bashing is the 325,000 member Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), whose website has no prominent (if any) expressed opposition to police corruption. The Order was instrumental in unscrupulously attacking an Obama administration nominee for U.S. Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Dept. of Justice, who eventually withdrew his name from nomination. Attorney Debo Adegbile, 48, was fully qualified to serve, but the FOP opposed him because he had, as part of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, tangentially participated in Mumia Abu-Jamal's appeals process. None of this was improper, but the FOP used inflammatory guilt-by-association in a McCarthyite campaign that effectively intimidated Democratic Senators into joining their prejudiced Republican colleagues in race-based opposition to a qualified candidate for the "sin" of representing the "wrong" client, an expectation of attorneys actually expressed in the U.S. Constitution. Given its Mumia-obsession, the FOP was quick to join the counter-constitutional attack on personal and institutional free speech at Goddard.
Founded in 1863 as a Universalist seminary in the Green Mountains, Goddard College has about 600 students, most of whom are not college-age and most whom are not on campus most of the time. Accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Goddard offers undergraduate degrees as well as Masters degrees in fields including Education, Health Sciences, Psychology, and Creative Writing. Mumia Abu-Jamal first came to Goddard in the 1970s, earning his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1996 from prison. In 2008, graduating students unanimously and "proudly" chose Mumia to give a pre-recorded commencement speech at Goddard. On August 10, 2008, he gave his speech, apparently without incident and without much media or other attention. Having had that experience, Goddard made a routine announcement on a Monday, setting off a chain of events, with these highlights:
September 29, 2014.
Goddard publicized Mumia's October 5 speech in a matter-of-fact press release with this headline: