December 9th, 2011, will mark the 30th year that Mumia Abu Jamal has been behind prison bars on Pennsylvania’s death row. Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther, was convicted of and later sentenced to death for fatally shooting and killing white Philadelphia police officer, Daniel Faulkner, thirty (30) years ago on Friday, December 9, 1981. “According to trial testimony, Abu-Jamal witnessed his brother in a scuffle with the young patrolman during an early morning traffic stop and ran toward the scene. When police found Abu-Jamal, he was wounded with bullets and Faulkner, who had been shot several times, was found dead.”
The US Supreme Court recently confirmed that Mumia Abu Jamal’s death sentence was unconstitutional, which will mean that unless the District Attorney calls for a new re-sentencing trial, Mumia Abu Jamal will serve a life sentence without the possibility of parole. This is the first time that the US Supreme Court has acknowledged unfairness in Mumia’s case and the fact that he likely will not face execution. This is a victory. According to supporters, it is a small victory; their goal is to see that Mumia Abu Jamal is freed. Mumia and his supporters are committed to continue to struggle on for: his freedom; the end of the death penalty; an end to mass incarceration in this nation.
Earlier this week, District Attorney Seth Williams said that seeking the death penalty could draw out the case of Abu-Jamal for years, with possible appeals. According to Mumia, [He] spend[s] [his] “…days preparing for life, not preparing for death… They haven’t stopped me from doing what I want every day. I believe in life, I believe in freedom, so my mind is not consumed with death. It’s with love, life and those things. In many ways, on many days, only my body is here, because I am thinking about what’s happening around the world.” Mumia supporters are calling for actions across the country and a march in Philadelphia. They want to mobilize a large showing of support for Mumia with a clear message: FREE MUMIA ABU JAMAL!
The case of Mumia Abu Jamal and countless others across our nation call into question the validity of capital punishment. The United States has struggled with the question of the appropriateness of capital punishment as a criminal sanction for decades. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, there are thirty-four (34) states with the death penalty and sixteen (16) without this criminal sanction. Opponents to capital punishment assert that the criminal justice system is riddled with injustice and error under these conditions the death penalty must be halted. Some argue that there is a wealth of evidence that proves the ineffectiveness of the death penalty in achieving its states goals.
Many people assert that Mumia has been an inspiration to those fighting for justice on a range of issues including but not limited to: those who fought to stop Troy Davis’s execution, those who continue the struggle against unjust wars and American imperialism, those in the Occupy movement fighting against corporate greed, and many more. Some argue that Mumia has educated millions of people about the inner-workings of the injustices in our prison system. Through his writings and radio shows, Mumia has encouraged us all to fight on. As he says, “I have held out hope for the people, because I believe in the people, because the people make change. If the people don’t organize and protest, then no change will happen. It doesn’t matter who is sitting in what office or in what judgeship or whatever. And that’s just a fact. That’s just the truth.”
Mumia supporters prepared a list of ten (10) reasons why we should support Mumia Abu Jamal and they appear on the Campaign to End the Death Penalty’s website. Mumia’s supporters assert that his case highlights the massive flaws of the entire death penalty system–racial bias, police misconduct and brutality, as well as prosecutorial and judicial prejudice.
Here are five (5) actions that you can take to help with the release of Mumia Abu Jamal:
1. Organize an educational event about Mumia’s case. This could be a teach-in at your local Occupy, a meeting at your school or church, a screening of one of the many films about Mumia (In Prison My Whole Life, Mumia: A Case for Reasonable Doubt, Justice on Trial: The Case of Mumia Abu Jamal, etc.). Troy Davis’s case showed the opening for a new generation to get involved with the fight against the death penalty.
2. Hold a petitioning event in your community for Mumia. Take petitions to your local Occupy site, meetings and events, bus stops, busy intersections, campuses, and collect signatures for Mumia.
3. Use social media sites like Twitter and Facebook to share the online petition for Mumia and show support by changing your profile picture.
4. Get Mumia’s voice heard. Mumia himself is his biggest advocate. He is an amazing journalist who has authored six books, written countless articles about a wide range of subjects, and broadcasts a radio show from his prison cell. Spread his voice over social media sites and at teach-ins and meetings.
5. If you are able, head to Philadelphia to be part of the historical actions there, which include Cornell West, Michelle Alexander, Alice Walker, Sandra Jones, and many others.
This year, we have seen the power of ordinary people standing up for justice. Mumia supporters have vowed not to rest until they see the end of the death penalty and Mumia freed. According to recent opinion polls[i], the majority of American voters (61%) prefer other criminal sanctions for murder convictions as opposed to the death penalty and some in law enforcement question its effectiveness. A 2009 poll commissioned by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) found police chiefs ranked the death penalty last among the strategies employed to reduce violent crimes[ii] and viewed it as the least efficient use of taxpayers’ money.[iii] Opponents of the death penalty, both in the United States and around the world, assert that not only is it costly, it is also immoral, ineffective, and discriminatory. They assert that the death penalty is often used disproportionately against the poor and people of color. Human beings and systems created by humans are fallible. With that said, the risk of executing innocent persons can never be completely eliminated from the criminal justice system as evidence by the annual number of death row inmate exonerations.
For persons opposed to capital punishment or those seeking a moratorium, the Davis case undergirds their assertion that wrongful convictions occur and the death penalty must be halted. For further information, an important resource is the Death Penalty Information Center’s website. If you are interested in working to abolish the death penalty, many resources can be found on the Amnesty International website including: petitions, fact sheets, organizing materials, as well as helpful suggestions on how to get involved and take action to end the death penalty.
Sources:Campaign to End the Death Penalty. Wikipedia. The Council of the American Law Institute (ALI); Death Penalty Information Center; Politico (March 9, 2011); Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial, “Juries Know Better”, May 20, 2011; Amnesty International; NAACP; savannahnow.com/…/pope-makes-plea-spare-life-troy-davis; and the Innocence Project. Star Quotes. “Philadelphia DA Drops Death Penalty Against Mumia Abu Jamal”, BET News, Danielle Wright, December 7, 2011.
Photo credit: Microsoft Clip Art.
[i] A 2010 poll by Lake Research Partners and 2009 poll commissioned by DPIC.
[ii] Death Penalty Information Center Website