By Michael Z. Muhammad -Contributing Writer-
PHILADELPHIA–As the COVID 19 virus continued to ravage America over 100 participants making up a global audience joined a unique virtual press conference. They were listening to speakers who passionately spoke on why journalist and political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal should be immediately released from prison.
Mr. Jamal was arrested in December 1981 and later convicted in the shooting death of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. For decades Mr. Abu-Jamal and his supporters have maintained he is innocent.
Pam Africa of International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal opened the conversation held April 23 by thanking those who have supported Mumia for four decades.
“John Africa taught us the power is with the people,” she said. “This has been a long battle, but it has been an invigorating battle. Mumia is innocent, and we need you to help continue this work.”
Information was shared outlining Mr. Abu-Jamal’s vulnerability and the urgency in having him released. False stories began circulating that the former Black Panther had contracted coronavirus. Santiago Alvarez, a UC Santa Cruz student, reported an incident in mid-April where he says he was told by corrections officers that Mr. Abu-Jamal was taken to the hospital for Covid-19. “It was a sick and wicked thing to do. It is a reminder of the urgency of how vulnerable Mumia is and how we need to get Mumia out of prison immediately,” he said.
Philadelphia journalist and Temple University Professor Linn Washington is considered an expert on the Mumia Abu-Jamal case. Mr. Washington cited the double standards that have been used in the judicial system against Mr. Abu-Jamal and pointed out the corruption in the appellate court system going as high as the U.S. Supreme Court. He referenced the lack of judicial ethics demonstrated in the case where justice is never mentioned. “Mumia has never received justice from the Pennsylvania Supreme court or the federal court,” he said while calling for continued support.
Janine Africa then spoke on the movement that brought her and six other members of the MOVE 9 home after four decades in prison. “What they are trying to do since they couldn’t kill him on the streets of Philadelphia, since they couldn’t execute him with the legal death sentence, they are now trying to keep him in jail until he dies. Never give up! We were told for over 40 years that we (the MOVE 9) would never get out. But we sit here today as proof of the power of the people,” she added.
Michael Schiffman, an investigative writer and author joined in the virtual press conference from Germany. He described how photos taken by photographer Peter Polakoff at the 1981 crime scene prove that prosecution witnesses lied about significant aspects of the case against Mumia Abu-Jamal. He pointed out considerable inconsistencies, sighting the lack of bullet marks on the ground where Mr. Abu-Jamal attempted to shoot the police officer and missed as well as the police mishandling of the weapon used in the crime.
Other international presenters included Mireille Fanon Mendes from Paris, France who congratulated Mumia on his 66th birthday. She also noted that in capitalist countries, those most affected by Covid-19 are poor people, migrants and incarcerated people. She ended her talk, hoping, “Next year, we want to celebrate your birthday with you, freed from the colonial yolk of prison.”
Sharon Cabusao-Silva, from the Organization of Families of Political Prisoners in the Philippines and longtime member of Gabriela Women’s Alliance, Philippines and herself a former political prisoner, called into the livestream press conference saying: “We need to prioritize the release of political prisoners, especially the sick, elderly and pregnant women…We have a common struggle–here in the Philippines and with our friends there in the U.S. to have our political prisoners freed at this time of the epidemic.”
Gregory Muhammad, a student minister in the Nation of Islam’s prison reform ministry shared the story of a chance encounter with Mr. Abu-Jamal while he was in solitary confinement unit (B Block) at SCI Huntington in 1982. Mr. Muhammad then discussed Point Number 5 of the Muslim Program, “What the Muslims Want,” which calls for the release of Black men and women incarcerated in America. “Minister Louis Farrakhan has supported Mumia from day one,” he pointed out.
Blak Rapp Madusa, an international hip hop artist from Pittsburgh, described working to bail out 97 mothers and caregivers a few days earlier, trying to free vulnerable populations including elders, mothers, and caregivers from the dangers of Covid-19. He worked in alliance with the National Bailout movement. “There is no refuge in a cage,” she pointed out. Their efforts include working to provide resources–access to shelter, food, clothing, and testing for Covid-19, after they’re released.
Razakhan Shaheed, from Nation Time, spoke about supporting jailhouse lawyers or paralegals like Mumia Abu-Jamal inside the prisons, who work to get each other out.
Charles Barron, a New York State Assemblyman, gave a first-hand account of his battle with Covid-19. He concluded the program in fireball fashion calling for revolution. “The real problem is not just that we have bad diets and need to eat better, or that we need to exercise more–we have to fight with every breath, we have to dismantle and destroy this predatory capitalist system!” he pointed out.
Calling the viral epidemic, a “colonial virus,” he stated, “Revolution is the ultimate and only solution.”
The event was organized and hosted by Bronx New York social activist Sophia Williams. A question and answer period followed the press conference. There were questions regarding Mumia Abu-Jamal’s current legal situation. His appeals process has ground to a halt following a Kings Bench Order filed by the police officers’ widow who has no standing in the case. Mr. Washington pointed out it was a subversive and corrupt move where the district attorney’s credibility is being called into question. “There is no telling when this will be resolved,” he said.
The other issue discussed was the importance of not looking for support from mainstream media. The utilization of alternative media was the advice given. “No matter how hard it seems, the power of righteousness will never betray you,” Janine Africa concluded. To view the press conference, go to YouTube and search “Mumia Abu Jamal press conference April 23, 2020.”