WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – The Supreme Court dealt a cruel blow to journalist and former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal, April 6, denying without comment his appeal to overturn his conviction for the 1981 killing of a White police officer.
“The central issue in this case is racism in jury selection,” Robert Bryan, his chief defense attorney wrote to supporters recently. The racially tinged trial which sentenced Mr. Abu Jamal to death was held before a predominantly White jury of 10 Whites and only two Blacks in Philadelphia where 43 percent of the population is Black.
“This is another terribly dark day for justice in this country!” Hans Bennett, a co-founder of the group Journalists for Mumia told supporters. Mr. Abu Jamal was president of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) who had repeatedly reported on police brutality charges raised by the back-to-nature collective MOVE at the time of his arrest in 1981.
“We are ready to mass mobilize, but we are open to suggestions from the ground. One of our first acts will be to get the petition drive going. We want to push this in a big way,” MOVE member Pam Africa told Final Call correspondent Saeed Shabazz.
“Mumia turns 55 on April 24, and there will be ‘More Than a Book Party’ celebrations held in Philadelphia, at the Church of the Advocate, in Milan (Italy), and San Francisco to introduce Mumia’s new book ‘Jailhouse Lawyers,’ ” said Ms. Africa. The New York City book party is scheduled on April 25, at 4 p.m. at the Riverside Church, sponsored by the church’s Prison Ministry.
Demonstrations and Emergency Strategy Meetings in New York City, Philadelphia, Albany, N.Y., San Francisco, Germany, France and Italy, were scheduled on April 11 according to Suzzane Ross, Free Mumia Abu Jamal Coalition/NYC.
“People are calling, they are outraged. We had 27 calls to our New York Mumia Hotline within hours after the decision was made public,” Ms. Ross said.
“This Supreme Court decision again underscores the ‘Mumia Exception’ where courts reject granting this inmate the same legal relief given to others raising the same legal points,” Linn Washington, associate professor of journalism at Temple University and longtime defender of Mr. Abu Jamal’s innocence, told the online column “Journal-isms” April 6.
“Ample evidence exists documenting improprieties by the prosecutor during jury selection at Abu-Jamal’s 1982 trial–the same pattern of improprieties that state and federal courts have cited in overturning over a dozen murder convictions in Philadelphia occurring before, during and after the trial of Abu-Jamal … none of which (involve) a Black charged with killing a white police officer,” said Mr. Washington.
“The ruling is just really an atrocity, because this particular case has consistently led courts to create special exceptions for Abu Jamal only, where everyone else gets a new trial, but Abu Jamal doesn’t,” author Dave Lindorff, told The Final Call the day of the Supreme Court decision to not hear Mr. Abu Jamal’s appeal.
“The first example of this was in Pennsylvania, where the State Supreme Court issued a ruling that freed everybody up to Abu Jamal on a precedent, and then didn’t free him, and then, after his case had been rejected on this appeal, they then returned with a new case and again reinstated their precedent but didn’t make it retroactive. They specifically made it so that the only person who didn’t get a new trial on that particular precedent was Abu Jamal.”
The ruling, made without comment by the court, leaves in place a federal appeals court ruling upholding Mr. Abu-Jamal’s conviction of killing White police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981 after the patrolman pulled over Mr. Abu-Jamal’s brother during an overnight traffic stop. Mr. Abu-Jamal was working as a cab driver at the time.
Prosecutors, meanwhile, are appealing to the Supreme Court for a separate ruling to reinstate the death penalty, after a lower court ordered a new sentencing hearing because of flawed jury instructions.
While on death row for more than 25 years, Mr. Abu-Jamal has been a prolific writer and radio commentator. In 2004, the NAACP reaffirmed previous stances against the death penalty and passed its first-ever convention-approved support “of the international movement for a new and fair trial for Mumia Abu Jamal.”
“There will be a legal campaign with petitions to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department asking for a civil rights investigation into ‘prosecutorial misconduct’ in the nation, particularly Philadelphia,” said Ms. Ross.
The Supreme Court ruling came as no surprise to Mr. Abu Jamal, he told long time confidant and collaborator Noelle Hanrahan, director of the Prison Radio Project. When asked by Ms. Hanrahan when he stopped being surprised, Mr. Abu Jamal told her: “When I was at pretrial hearing before Judge (Alfred ) Sabo, and he denied the motion. I knew then that he wasn’t working with the Constitution.
“It did surprise me, and it really shocked me, because, you know, I had read the cases. I knew what the law was. I knew what the law books said the law was. I learned then that they’re not going by that kind of law. And apparently they’re not going by that kind of law now. You know, if you read Batson and you read my case, then it’s almost as if you’re in two different universes. And, in fact, you are. You are,” he said.
The Batson precedent was the basis of Mr. Abu Jamal’s appeal. That case was decided by the Supreme Court in 1986, and it “essentially lowered the standard, in one respect, for counsel to even ask the question as to whether or not discrimination in jury selection had taken place,” Vincent Southerland, assistant counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund told Pacifica Radio’s “Democracy Now!” April 7.
“Essentially, when defense counsel or a prosecutor, in some cases, sees a pattern of discrimination, a pattern of strikes during the course of jury selection, that attorney has a right to then question the court, to ask whether or not the other counsel is using those strikes in a discriminatory manner.
“And at that point, when the court makes a determination that there has been some type of a pattern of discrimination, some type of discrimination during the course of jury selection, the onus is then on the prosecutor or the other counsel to make–to provide some explanation as to why they’re striking jurors and make that explanation–you know, provide an explanation that does not have to do with race,” Mr. Southerland continued. “They cannot be striking jurors based on race. And, you know, that decision is essentially the cornerstone of the protections that defendants have in order to prevent discriminatory jury selection and at least challenge discrimination in jury selection during trial.”
“The district attorney’s office in Philadelphia, back during–particularly during that period in the early ’80s, late ’70s and mid- to late ’80s, engaged in a pattern–this is judicially recognized–of removing people from sitting on juries because of race, because of the color of their skin,” Robert Bryan, Mr. Abu Jamal’s attorney said last year when he petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the conviction.
The racially biased jury, as well as witness intimidation by police wanting to avenge the death of one of their own, and tainted evidence presented at trial point to the gross injustice of Mr. Abu Jamal’s conviction, if not his outright innocence according to Mr. Lindorff. He is a prize-winning journalist, columnist and author of several books including “Killing Time: An Investigation into the Death Penalty Case of Mumia Abu Jamal,” published in 2003 after a three-year investigation
“I never made a conclusion as to whether he shot Faulkner or not. There’s a number of possibilities that could have happened, but it was my conclusion after looking at all the evidence, that–and there’s been some evidence since I wrote the book that’s further strengthened this perspective–is that what certainly did not happen is what the prosecution convinced the jury happened,” Mr. Lindorff told The Final Call. “That was based on lies, forged testimony and evidence by the police and prosecutor
“What we do know is that the scenario they described … is simply impossible on the basis of all the evidence submitted. So, he’s in jail now on a fraud, a trial that was based on lies and deceit by the prosecution,” he said.
Calls for a new and fair trial for Mr. Abu-Jamal have come from Amnesty International, the Congressional Black Caucus, Harvard University Law School’s Civil Rights Institute, former South African President Nelson Mandela, Bishop Desmond Tutu, former French President Jacques Chirac, the Japanese Diet (parliament), hundreds of British attorneys, thousands of artists, writers, and other intellectuals in this country and around the world.
New evidence in Mumia Abu-Jamal’s case (FCN, 12-23-2007)
Congressional hypocrisy in anti Abu-Jamal resolution (FCN, 01-01-2007)