Monday, July 25, 2011

"We Will Not Stop Until Mumia Is Free"

In November 2010, Suzanne Ross, representing International Concerned Family & Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, addressed the International Liaison Committee, a broad grouping of political and trade union organizations at the Open World Conference Against War and Exploitation in Algiers, Algeria. Following are excerpts from Ross’s interview published in the ILC’s May 2011 newsletter. Go to to read the entire interview. Ross is also co-chair of the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition in New York City.

ILC: Mumia Abu-Jamal was one of the cases at the center of our conference in Algiers. The comrades who came to the conference would like to know about the important recent developments in Mumia’s case

SR: We are very concerned about the possible execution of Mumia since the prosecutor and the State of Pennsylvania are aggressively demanding more serious consideration of execution. This has not happened since 2001 when a federal judge ruled that Mumia should be sentenced to life in prison without parole rather than face execution because of faulty instructions to the jury in the original trial.

Suzanne Ross,
Algiers, Nov. 27.

We were very concerned given the move toward the right in the U.S., especially in the Supreme Court. We took this seriously and spent months fighting this process, both in the courts and in the streets.

We had something like a legal victory in that the Third Circuit court recently admitted there was no new basis for reinstating the death penalty, affirming the 2001 decision for life in prison without parole. However, even if this decision is not overturned on appeal, it’s not a decision we wanted — the final decision has to be Mumia’s freedom. It’s a temporary setback for the state that they could not move ahead with execution, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try again. We will never stop until Mumia is free.

In another new development Mumia’s legal case is now under the leadership of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. This is the organization that won the landmark decision of Brown v. Board of Education that officially desegregated the schools in the 1950s. They specialize in legal struggles on the issue of race and have taken on this case precisely because they feel it is very much defined by race and racial issues. I don’t mean personal racial prejudice alone but rather powerful racial institutional forces in the legal system.

In Mumia’s case, this included the original judge, known infamously for having said “I’m going to help them fry the n****r”; to the selection of a jury that was extremely biased and purposefully disproportionately white; to a police force known for its racism that has fought tooth and nail for Mumia’s execution.

ILC: You spoke about cruel and inhuman treatment in the prisons at the very moment we hear the U.S. government speaking about democracy and human rights all over the world. What are the conditions of Mumia’s imprisonment?

SR: Mumia, a respected radio journalist, has been in prison and on death row for 30 years. He was known as a radical critic of the corruption, racism and brutality of government officials. He had been head of communications for the Black Panther Party in Philadelphia.

The prosecution and police portray Mumia as someone who dreamed of killing cops, and that is how they justify denying him all human rights. He’s been living in an isolation cell the size of a small bathroom. He is allowed out of his cell for an hour a day to exercise within a small caged area. He can never touch another human being including his wife, children or grandchildren.

Phone calls are limited to two a week and all visits are through a Plexiglas barrier. Until recently, he had to undergo not only a strip search before every visit, but also came with his legs shackled and his hands cuffed. Yet in the face of all that indignity and brutality, Mumia remains concerned about others, whether in the prison he is at or thousands of miles away. When you visit him, the first thing he asks is “How are you?” He asks about all the conditions people are facing.

This inhumane capitalist society tries to justify invading any country in the world in the name of defending the people’s “human rights,” but I can’t imagine any country that violates human rights more than the U.S.

ICL: In Algiers you explained that Mumia is still alive today because of international solidarity. Could you develop this question?

SR: Millions of people around the world, of course including in the U.S., have cared about who Mumia is, what he represents, and how much is at stake in his survival and liberation from prison. Every arm of government has participated in the conspiracy to kill him: the police hierarchy in Philadelphia, the courts all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Department of Justice and president of the U.S. in refusing to review the case.

The media has played a large role in propagating the lies created by the police and prosecution. Yet Mumia is alive today and they haven’t been able to kill him because people around the world have made it clear they will not accept that.

The U.S. government and other powers know they are being watched by the whole world. This last time, when they had the hearing of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, the courtroom was packed with supporters, including representatives from France and Germany. The streets outside the court were full of loud and determined supporters, even in the face of police with their dogs meant to intimidate and discourage people from attending the hearing.

For most of the three decades since this case began there have been demonstrations in many parts of the world saying “Mumia — we stand with you. Free Mumia!” This kind of international solidarity has kept Mumia alive.

Note: On July 13 the Philadelphia District Attorney filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Third Circuit’s recent decision supporting Judge William Yohn’s 2001 decision for life in prison without parole and seeking reinstatement of the death penalty.

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