Published Apr 19, 2012 11:27 PM
Against a backdrop of the murder of Trayvon Martin and an all-out war against Black youth, this protest comes at a critical time.
On the occasion of Abu-Jamal’s 58th birthday, protesters will link the violations in his case and fraudulent trial to the crises of mass incarceration, torture, the death penalty, police brutality and racist, vigilante violence in the U.S.
The civil disobedience action will demand an end to mass incarceration; end to solitary confinement and torture in U.S. prisons; end to the racist death penalty; hands off immigrants; free all political prisoners; and jobs, education and health care, not jails!
The action will also demand the release of other political prisoners, including the MOVE 9, Leonard Peltier, the Cuban Five, Sundiata Acoli, Russell Maroon Shoats and others.
Danny Glover, Frances Fox Piven, Norman Finkelstein and M1 of Dead Prez will be among those taking part in the civil disobedience action demanding a meeting with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to discuss police corruption and Civil Rights violations.
Torture: 30 years in solitary
For nearly 30 years, Abu-Jamal was kept in solitary confinement on Pennsylvania’s death row at SCI Greene. International human rights standards, including those signed on to by the U.S., consider more than 15 days in solitary confinement to constitute torture.
In 2001, U.S. District Court Judge William Yohn overturned Abu-Jamal’s death sentence on the grounds of prosecutorial misconduct during the 1982 sentencing phase of the trial. Following this ruling, Abu-Jamal could have been transferred from death row to general population, but the Philadelphia District Attorney immediately appealed.
As a result Abu-Jamal was forced to remain on death row, and denied direct contact with family and friends, during the 10-year appeals process. Finally, in October 2011, the district attorney’s final attempt to challenge Yohn’s decision was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court, and in December Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams officially accepted the sentence of life imprisonment for Abu-Jamal.
Yet even after Abu-Jamal was transferred from death row at SCI Greene to SCI Mahanoy where he was to be placed in general population, the Pennsylvania prison system prolonged its torture by keeping Abu-Jamal in solitary confinement — the “hole”—for seven more weeks.
Supporters again mobilized. They held a press conference on Jan. 26 and traveled to Mahanoy to present 5,000 signatures demanding Abu-Jamal’s release into general population. He was reassigned on Jan. 27, finally able to embrace his family and friends.
Time to free Mumia
Now the fight is on to win Abu-Jamal’s release from the prison system altogether.
In addition to the April 24 action, petitions requesting that the U.S. be held accountable for its violations of human and civil rights in Abu-Jamal’s case are being filed with the United Nations Council on Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Days before Abu-Jamal’s release from death row, human rights activist Desmond Tutu declared: “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.” (freemumia.com)
Role of police corruption
Widespread police brutality and corruption are key to understanding this case. During his years of activism, first as a student fighting racism in his high school, then as a member of the Black Panther Party, later as a world-renowned journalist, Abu-Jamal took on the issue of rampant police brutality in Philadelphia. He was brutally beaten by police at a rally against George Wallace in 1968, and was then targeted by both Cointelpro and Philadelphia officials.
The cops who shot, beat and arrested Abu-Jamal in 1981 for the shooting death of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner were under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. Within days of Abu-Jamal’s July 1982 trial, 15 of the 35 police officers involved in collecting evidence in his case were convicted and jailed on charges of graft, corruption and tampering with evidence to obtain convictions.
Among the convicted officers was Alfonzo Giordano, who led the crime scene investigation in Abu-Jamal’s case.Yet the DOJ investigation failed to provide relief for defendants like Abu-Jamal who were convicted by the testimonies of these corrupt cops.
In Abu-Jamal’s case witness coercion by the state and evidence tampering by police played a role in his conviction. The police even claimed they failed to perform standard tests to see if Abu-Jamal’s gun had been fired or if he had gunshot residue on his hands.
New period of struggle needed
In the 30 years that Abu-Jamal was confined on Pennsylvania’s death row, and now in general population, a lot has changed. Globalization of the technological means of production has expanded capitalism’s hold over the world’s wealth and its exploitation of labor, including inside the rapidly expanding prison-industrial system.
The U.S. prison population has skyrocketed. With only 5 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. The U.S. is now the leading jailer in the world.
Author Michelle Alexander in “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” notes that the majority of young Black men in large U.S. cities are “warehoused in prisons” because their labor is no longer needed in the globalized economy.
Many states, including Pennsylvania, spend considerably more on building prisons than on educating youth. Prisons are built while schools are closed.
The global capitalist economic crisis and its particular impact on youth have fueled the growing Occupy movement in the U.S. and general strikes throughout the world. In response, the capitalist state has intensified its campaign to restrain people and silence dissent.
The Occupy Wall Street protests, originating in response to the income disparity gap between the wealthiest 1% and the majority 99%, gained momentum when demonstrators took to the streets in September 2011 to protest the execution of Troy Davis. They were met with police wielding batons and pepper spray, and later coast-to-coast repression, under a campaign coordinated through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
At the same time, passage of HR 347 (called the “anti-protest” or “criminalizing- protest” bill) and the National Defense Authorization Act opened the way for increased state repression and denial of First Amendment rights, while legislation in several states increased the scapegoating and detention of immigrants. State surveillance, profiling and mass incarceration of Muslims has expanded since 2001.
Abu-Jamal’s removal from death row coincides with the dramatic shift of consciousness brought on by the OWS movement. The struggle for his release comes alongside massive coast-to-coast protests calling for justice for 17-year-old slain Black youth Trayvon Martin.
While massive protests eventually forced Florida police to arrest Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, 45 days after Martin was killed, more than two dozen youth of color were killed at the hands of police or vigilante terrorists in the months surrounding Martin’s death. Over 23 states in the U.S. have similar shoot-to-kill laws designed to protect vigilante racists like Zimmerman.
Critical to building the movement to free Mumia Abu-Jamal is linking the violations in his case and fraudulent trial to the issues of mass incarceration, the war on Black youth, growing state repression and the economic crisis that denies jobs and education for millions of youth.
The call for the April 24 Occupy the Justice Department protest notes the importance of solidarity: “On April 24, we will breathe life into the old labor slogan: ‘An injury to one, is an injury to all.’ On that day we will say that we are all Mumia, we are all immigrants, we are all Bradley Manning, we are all poor, we are all Palestinian, and we are all Troy Davis. … On April 24, make a placard and write on it all of your grievances. They will be welcomed. Above all, on that day, bring your fighting spirit and your desire to create and live in a decent and different world.”