By Herb Boyd and Nayaba Arinde, Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News –
Almost 30 years after being convicted of shooting a police officer and spending nearly an equal number of years on death row, Mumia Abu-Jamal, 57, is free of the death sentence but still might spend the rest of his life behind bars. Hearing the news on Wednesday afternoon though, his supporters immediately felt relief but instantly turned their focus to continuing the fight to get a new trial for the former journalist and Black Panther activist.
On Wednesday, Dec. 7, prosecutors, with the support of the Philadelphia's police commissioner and the widow of the slain officer Daniel Faulkner announced they would no longer pursue the death penalty in the case.
"There has never been any doubt in my mind that Mumia Abu-Jamal shot and killed Officer Faulkner," said District Attorney Seth Williams. "I believe that the appropriate sentence was handed down by a jury of his peers in 1982. While Abu-Jamal will no longer be facing the death penalty, he will remain behind bars for the rest of his life, and that is where he belongs."
There are thousands in America and around the world who strongly disagree with Williams, who is Black, and they have voiced their support for Abu-Jamal, many of them calling not only for the end of the death penalty but for a new trial.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu is one of Abu-Jamal's many worldwide supporters demanding his release. In a statement (see Opinion), he said, "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."
Tutu decried the fact that Abu-Jamal's nearly 30 years as a Pennsylvania death row prisoner were equivalent to "torture...because he is innocent, justice for Mumia will not be served by life imprisonment, but by his release from prison."
"This is only a partial victory," summed up attorney Roger Wareham of the December 12th Movement's International Secretariat. "At least he has been removed from death row. But the case is not over...Mumia Abu-Jamal did not do the crime, so we will keep fighting to get the conviction overturned."
An international industry has been built around freeing Abu-Jamal over the last three decades. Few have been more vigilant in this quest for freedom and justice than Pam Africa, chairwoman of the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
On many occasions, at rallies, marches and conferences, she has vociferously cried out on his behalf. "We're calling on the attorney general," she said in a recent speech. "And when I say we, I'm saying there are several groups and organizations that are spearheaded by the New York [Free Mumia Abu-Jamal] Coalition that is calling on the attorney general, because what we're pointing out is that Mumia cannot get any fairness whatsoever.
"Mumia cannot get any fairness in this court system, so we're calling on the U.S. attorney general [Eric Holder] to do a civil rights investigation into this case, because Mumia's civil rights, from the beginning to the end, and our civil rights as citizens of this United States who have pointed out the evidence very clearly [are threatened]. That, nobody can get around. Mumia is innocent. He is factually innocent," Africa asserted.
"We know with this mountain of evidence that our freedom fighter Mumia Abu-Jamal is innocent of the crime, and he has remained behind bars for 30 years simply because of his political stance, which is to free the minds and hearts of Black people," said Brooklyn City Councilman Charles Barron, a fellow original Black Panther. "We celebrate the fact that he will be off death row, but this has been a long time coming; and now we continue the fight to bring him home and address this heinous injustice."
Abu-Jamal was convicted of fatally shooting Faulkner on Dec. 9, 1981. A year later he was sentenced to death.
For more than a quarter of a century, his plight has garnered international attention with protest rallies organized from San Francisco to Paris. There's even a street named after him in France.
Celebrities such as Danny Glover, Mike Farrell and Tim Robbins have signed petitions and appeared on panels denouncing the death penalty and calling for a new trial for Abu-Jamal.
Several years ago, there was even a confession from a man who said he was responsible for killing the officer and that Abu-Jamal was innocent. His story corroborated one that Abu-Jamal has maintained since his arrest. He said he witnessed his brother scuffling with a police officer early that morning and ran towards the scene. Subsequently, Abu-Jamal was found wounded by a bullet from Faulkner's gun. Meanwhile, Faulkner was found dead nearby. According to the police, the revolver found near the scene with five spent shells was registered to Abu-Jamal.
In his statement, Tutu pointed out that there are "thousands of other cases in Philadelphia in which the prosecutor, the judge and the police conspired to obtain a conviction." He also brings up the concealed existence of a fourth person at the crime scene, Kenneth Freeman.
"Within hours of the shooting, a driver's license application found in Officer Faulkner's shirt pocket led the police to Freeman, who was identified as the shooter in a lineup," said the archbishop. "Yet, Freeman's presence at the scene was concealed, first by Inspector Alfonso Giordano and later at trial by prosecutor Joe McGill. Recently, the U.S. Department of Justice asserted that withholding evidence of innocence by the prosecutor warrants the overturning of a conviction."
Tutu surmised that the "police investigation that led to Abu-Jamal's conviction was also riddled with corruption and tampering with evidence."
In October, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case. It was then left to the prosecution whether they wanted to pursue the death penalty or resort to a life sentence.
Abu-Jamal has not been silent about his predicament and his broadcasts and writings have earned him a wide audience, and the publication of his latest book, "Jailhouse Lawyers: Prisoners Defending Prisoners v. USA" (City Lights), is sure to increase his following threefold. Readers interested in learning more about his life and writings will be vastly rewarded by getting a copy of "We Want Freedom" (South End Press, 2004). In addition, his review of Manning Marable's "Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention" will appear soon in a collection of essays and reviews, "By Any Means Necessary: Malcolm X, Real, Not Reinvented," edited by Herb Boyd, Ron Daniels, Maulana Karenga and Haki Madhubuti (Third World Press, 2012).