WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – Hundreds of supporters of Mumia Abu-Jamal–the political prisoner who has been held on Pennsylvania’s death-row for 28 years, accused of murdering a Philadelphia police officer–marched to the U.S. Department of Justice to deliver thousands of petitions to Attorney General Eric Holder demanding a civil rights investigation of his case.
Speakers at a rally prior to the Nov. 12 march represented Amnesty International’s Death Penalty Abolition Campaign; the NAACP; and the Coalition to Free Mumia Abu Jamal.
“We are not coming to the Department of Justice looking for justice,” said Pam Africa, chair of the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu Jamal. “We arebringingjustice to the Department of Justice.”
Since the trial and conviction of the former journalist, Black Panther Party member, and supporter of Philadelphia’s naturalist MOVE organization, Mr. Abu Jamal and his supporters have steadfastly maintained his innocence. Despite several legal setbacks, more and more evidence is discovered and made public supporting that claim.
Dr. Suzanne Ross of the Free Mumia Abu Jamal Coalition chaired the press conference and rally. She said that for 13 years Mr. Abu Jamal’s prosecutors withheld evidence that a driver’s license belonging to a passenger in the car driven by his brother, William Cook, was found in the pocket of slain police officer Daniel Faulkner the night of the 1981 shooting.
The petition and letter-writing campaign by Mr. Abu Jamal’s supporters took on worldwide momentum earlier this year after Attorney General Holder called for the dismissal of charges against Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska on the basis that prosecutors in that case withheld evidence favorable to the defense.
The letters to Mr. Holder on Mr. Abu Jamal’s behalf point out that in addition to a similar pattern of evidence being withheld in his case, courts on local, state and federal levels have all violated their own rules to keep him on death row.
Despite a December 2001 ruling by Federal District Court Judge William Yohn that converted the death sentence in Mr. Abu Jamal’s case to life in prison, he remains on death row and his life in jeopardy because of efforts by the Philadelphia district attorney’s office to appeal Judge Yohn’s decision. Mr. Abu Jamal has exhausted his federal appeals seeking a new trial.
“At this critical moment in Mumia’s case, a civil rights investigation could mean the difference between life and death for Mumia,” said Dr. Ross.“It could also open the door for his release.”
Heightened demands for a civil rights investigation came in April, after the U.S. Supreme Court accepted another court’s motion that blocked the doors for a new trial for Mr. Abu Jamal, but at the same time, the court is still considering the Philadelphia District Attorney Office’s appeal to reinstate his death sentence.
“I was at the NAACP convention this summer,” Marvin “Doc” Cheatham, president the group’s Baltimore Chapter told The Final Call. “I was on the resolution committee and I looked at all the resolutions, and created an amendment. What it basically said was that Mumia Abu Jamal, Reggie Clemons, Troy Davis, and Marshall Eddie Conway, all of their cases would be requested by the NAACP to be reviewed by the Attorney General Holder.
“It’s imperative that Attorney General Holder look at this as civil rights violations,” Mr. Cheatham continued, “look at each one of the cases, especially Mumia’s case, and actually do a thorough review of the case, and allow those parties that have been organized for all four of the names that we put in the resolution to allow different groups to provide information that may not in fact have been introduced in the court trials.
“We’re optimistic that once they really look at all the data that’s presented in these specific four cases then all four cases would have to be thrown out. We think there were so many injustices, civil rights violations, that took place in these four cases, that those cases would have to be thrown out and those individuals released,” Mr. Cheatham said.
International organizations and legal bodies such as Amnesty International, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, the European Parliament, and city councils and national governments around the world have maintained that Mr. Abu Jamal was wrongfully convicted in a widely denounced trial and appeals process. Among the claims of wrongdoing are suppressed evidence, witness perjury, witness intimidation and an openly biased judge.
Attorney Thomas Ruffin told the rally of photos taken by freelance news photographer Pedro Polakoff, who arrived at the scene of the Dec. 9, 1981, shooting before the police forensics team. His pictures contradict the testimony of key prosecution witnesses during the trial. The prosecution, which had access to the pictures, did not reveal their existence to the defense.
Mr. Ruffin said that there was no proof that Mr. Abu Jamal had a gun in his hand when he arrived on the scene, or that he had fired it. The prosecution never presented paraffin tests for gunshot residue. The press conference and protest expressed open solidarity with victims of the state’s Cointelpro-like campaign that has targeted more than 400 Muslims and recently resulted in FBI agents gunning down Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah just outside of Detroit on Oct. 28.
“We were here to show our support for the most recognizable political prisoner in the world–Mumia Abu Jamal,” Mauri Salakhan, founder and director of the Peace and Justice Foundation told The Final Call. “And we wanted to create a marriage, between this individual who is the most recognizable political figure as a prisoner, and a community (Muslims) that has become the most impacted community in the world in terms of political imprisonment, both here and abroad.
“It gave us an opportunity to show our support for Mumia, and also to take this opportunity to help those veterans that have been a part of Mumia’s movement to become more knowledgeable, more aware of how political imprisonment has been impacting the Muslim community, and the importance of us working together around this issue. More and more, increasingly we’re coming to find that this is something that has to concern us all, because it is affecting us all.”
Mr. Salakhan organized the attendance at the rally of several family members and supporters of the “Fort Dix Five” from N.J.; two family members of another Muslim prisoner, Shifa, who came from Atlanta; and organizers with Project Salaam, an organization that works to draw attention to these and other cases from Albany, N.Y.