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"Murdered By Mumia": How not to build one's case for justice

By Mark L. Taylor  Posted by Hans Bennett (about the submitter)     Permalink
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How Not to Build One’s Case for Justice

A Review of Maureen Faulkner and Michael A. Smerconish, Murdered By Mumia: A Life Sentence of Loss, Pain, and Injustice. Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press, 2007, 349 pp.

by Mark Lewis Taylor

Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal (EMAJ)

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December 19, 2007

Maureen Faulkner, widow of slain Philadelphia Police Officer, Daniel Faulkner, and conservative Philly radio talk-show host, Michael Smerconish, released their new book in early December 2007. It is their take on the decades-long debate about perhaps the most contested death penalty case today, one that dates back to the 1982 conviction and death sentence of Mumia Abu-Jamal for the officer’s murder. The book’s chapters are organized roughly in terms of what Maureen Faulkner sees as her emotional ups and downs relating to her public relations victories and defeats, in her struggle to see Abu-Jamal executed.

The battle lines have firmed up over the years as prosecutors continue to argue they have “slam dunk” evidence of Abu-Jamal’s guilt, even while ever more analysts and human rights organizations – Amnesty International, for example – call for a new trial.

In their book, Faulkner and Smerconish definitely embrace the slam-dunk view of evidence for Abu-Jamal’s guilt and are out to explain to readers, as Maureen Faulkner puts it, “why I and my family need to see Jamal executed” (300).

As this quote from the book shows, the prose is all in Maureen Faulkner’s first person voice. Smerconish merely aims “to play scribe for her,” as she sits in his study satisfying his request for all the details of her struggle to see Abu-Jamal executed for the murder of her husband (xvi-xv).

The result is a blend-in that takes a woman’s and her family’s very real loss and pain and mixes it with the political agendas that are familiar to anyone who knows Smerconish’s several books and radio screeds against “the disease of political correctness.” Being politically correct is Smerconish’s negative term for anyone who voices political criticism of social and political structures, especially if this means not sharing Smerconish’s “instincts” (his term) to support law enforcement and to have “always respected the uniform.”

Precisely here, in this foregrounding of respect for the uniform, is what I will call the book’s first “rhetorical strategy of persuasion,” its way of inviting readers into sympathy and agreement. In this review, I suggest that these strategies are as problematic and flawed, if not more so, than are its misreadings of the facts of the case.

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Other reviewers of this book have already treated the inaccuracies in the facts as rendered in Murdered By Mumia. [1] There are also some glaring omissions in the book of key problems, such as a court stenographer Terri Maurer-Carter’s affidavit holding that she overheard trial judge Albert Sabo saying during a break from Abu-Jamal’s trial, “Yeah, and I’m going to help ‘em fry the n------ .” Nor is there treatment of testimony revealing that a third man at the scene in all likelihood had been riding in the VW of Abu-Jamal’s brother, Billy Cook. [2] There are some notable inaccuracies, too, such as getting wrong the name of that third man, writing as they do of “Howard Freeman” (140), not Kenneth Freeman.

These inadequacies are compounded by the rhetorical strategies used by the book, and it is these on which I concentrate in this review. Let us begin with this first strategy of “respecting the uniform.” It leads up to four other strategies that are also flawed.

Recall, these rhetorical strategies concern the book’s approach to trying to persuade readers to accept the authors’ reading of the case. By looking at these strategies we not only have one way of evaluating the book’s claims, but also of understanding to whom this book makes its appeal.

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