Veterans for Peace, Mumia Abu-Jamal
TO: Veterans for Peace National Board
RE: Veterans for Peace action on Free Mumia Abu-Jamal
At our regular monthly meeting of October 8, 2016, the East Bay Chapter #162 of Veterans for Peace voted unanimously to urge our National Office to issue a statement supporting the renewed effort to obtain justice for Mumia Abu-Jamal, including the street rally and indoor event in Philadelphia on Friday, December 9, 2016 (see below).
We also voted unanimously to support the local Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jama in its effort to organize for a new trial for Mumia. This is the grassroots organization that helped inspire the 1999 West Coast port shutdown to free Mumia by longshore workers of the ILWU.
As you know, Mumia is perhaps the world’s best known political prisoner. As Amnesty International (AI) states: “His case has generated more controversy and received more attention, both national and international, than that of any other inmate currently under sentence of death in the United States.”
Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther and close associate of Philadelphia’s MOVE organization, was convicted and sentenced to death in July, 1982 in the death of white police officer Daniel Faulkner on December 9, 1981. The entire case took place in Philadelphia, described by Amnesty International as “a city of racial tensions, police brutality and police corruption.” Philadelphia is the only city in the U.S. that has actually bombed its own black citizens, dropping an incendiary bomb on the MOVE home and headquarters. The resulting fire killed 11 people, including 5 children, destroyed 65 nearby houses, and left more than 250 people homeless. In 1996, a federal jury ordered the city of pay $15 million civil suit to survivors.
All this background is important in placing Mumia’s case in perspective. In spite of international support for Mumia, the Philadelphia police department, the District Attorney, and their supporters have stubbornly resisted both legal appeals and mass demonstrations for a new trial that could free Mumia. By 2011 Mumia’s death sentence had been vacated by a federal court, and the DA decided against seeking to re-impose the death penalty in a new trial, knowing that a new trial would certainly free Mumia. In 2012, he was released into the general prison population at SCI Mahanoy state prison in Frackville, Pennsylvania. In 2015 Mumia required hospitalization due to his Hepatitis C condition, but prison authorities are refusing to provide appropriate medication.
No one really knows what happened in the early morning hours of December 9, 1981 that led to the death of police officer Daniel Faulkner. But we do know—and the entire world knows—that Mumia did not receive a fair trial. As Amnesty International wrote,
" Based on its review of the trial transcript and other original documents, Amnesty International has determined that numerous aspects of this case clearly failed to meet minimum international standards safeguarding the fairness of legal proceedings. Amnesty International therefore believes that the interests of justice would best be served by the granting of a new trial to Mumia Abu-Jamal. The trial should fully comply with international standards of justice and should not allow for the reimposition of the death penalty. The organization is also recommending that the retrial take place in a neutral venue, where the case has not polarized the public as it has in Philadelphia. Finally, the authorities should permit prominent jurists from outside the USA to observe the proceedings, to ensure that the retrial complies in all respects with universally-recognized human rights safeguards."
While national and international mass protests prevented Mumia’s execution, his legal appeals were routinely denied by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, whose members included former Philadelphia District Attorney Ronald D. Castille, a clear conflict of interest. Earlier this year, however, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in Williams v. Pennsylvania, 136 S.Ct. 1989 (2016), that it is a violation of the due process right to an impartial tribunal free of judicial bias if a judge participating in a criminal appeal had “a significant personal involvement as a prosecutor in a critical decision” in a defendant’s case.
This precedent-setting ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court provides the basis for a new legal action filed by Mumia Abu-Jamal in the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas on August 7, 2016. Mumia’s supporters believe that this provides a path for the courts to overturn Mumia’s conviction and win his freedom, but we understand the continuing importance of mass action to support Mumia’s legal case.
In spite of (or perhaps because of) being a political prisoner for 35 years under conditions amounting to torture, Mumia Abu-Jamal remains one of the most astute commentators on American politics. His books include Live from Death Row (1996) and Have Black Lives Ever Mattered? (forthcoming)
I searched our Veterans for Peace national web page and resolutions file and found support for Iraq war whistleblower Chelsea Manning (2012 & 2014), for Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar Lopez-Rivera (2013), and former Black Panther Veronza Bowers, Jr. (2005), as well as a resolution opposing the death penalty and sentences of life without parole (2001).
However, I could not find any mention of support for Mumia Abu-Jamal. Chapter #162 believes that it is time for this oversight to be corrected, and we urge our National Office to correct this situation by supporting the renewed mobilization to free Mumia.
Eugene E. Ruyle
Veterans for Peace, East Bay Chapter #162
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Here are some useful sources of information on Mumia’s case:
The Wikipedia article covers the case through 2015 in a fairly straightforward way, at: Mumia Abu-Jamal Arrest for murder and trial.
For Amnesty International’s 2000 report: “USA: A Life in the Balance - the Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal,” see here.
For AI’s continued call for a new trial after the 2011 decision vacating his death sentence, see: Amnesty International welcomes decision on Mumia Abu-Jamal Case.
For the legal background on Mumia’s latest (2016) appeal, see “Path to Mumia's Freedom,” by Rachel Wolkenstein.
For a statement for renewed mass mobilization to support Mumia’s most recent (2016) legal case, see “It’s High Time for Mass Mobilization to Free Mumia!,” co-authored by Jack Heyman, one of the leaders of the 199 port shutdown.