PHILADELPHIA—Hundreds recently gathered to celebrate the 67th birth anniversary of Mumia Abu Jamal and call for his immediate release from prison, where he has been held for 40 years.
Supporters charge his case is fraught with all that is wrong with the criminal justice system when it comes to the prosecution of Black people, including police, prosecutorial and judicial bias, and misconduct overseen by a racist trial judge. Mumia was convicted of killing Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981.
But his supporters and others question the guilty verdict and legal failures in the case, including the “finding” of evidence in 2018 that was held from Mumia’s defense lawyers and demands for a new trial. Previous efforts by Mumia’s lawyers for a retrial or appeal have failed but his death sentence was commuted to life in prison.
According to human rights group Amnesty International, “After many years of monitoring Mumia Abu-Jamal’s case and a thorough study of original documents, including the entire trial transcript, the organization has concluded that the proceedings used to convict and sentence Mumia Abu-Jamal to death were in violation of minimum international standards that govern fair trial procedures and the use of the death penalty. Amnesty International, therefore, believes that the interests of justice would best be served by the granting of a new trial to Mumia Abu-Jamal.”
Philadelphia police organizations and their supporters claim Mumia received a fair and just trial.
The April 24 rally sponsored in part by the Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Jamal was billed as “All Out For Mumia: We Free Him, Or He Dies.” People in the crowd as well as participants on stage wore signs reading “innocent.” An array of placards declared “Free Mumia,”
“Black Lives Matter,” and “Abolish the Police.” The demonstration was held on the north side of City Hall in mid-afternoon. It included speakers and entertainment, concluded with a rousing rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday to You” sung to Mumia by most in attendance.
Many of the presenters highlighted recent concerns expressed by Special Rapporteurs of the United Nations Human Rights Council who in an April 20 statement expressed “serious concerns about the treatment and welfare of Mumia Abu-Jamal, an African-American man who has been in jail for 40 years in Pennsylvania, and is reportedly shackled to his hospital bed.”
The international experts were concerned about Mumia’s health as he underwent bypass heart surgery, especially unnecessary suffering caused by deplorable use of shackles during the operation and recovery. Mumia just got over Covid-19, suffers from cirrhosis of the liver and a severe skin ailment, said his supporters.
Johanna Fernandez, a history professor at CUNY-Baruch College in New York and a member of Mumia’s legal team, said new evidence found demonstrates prosecutor misconduct, race bias in jury selection, and suppression of exculpatory evidence.
“One piece of evidence includes a handwritten note from a key prosecution witness in the original trial, a cab driver named Robert Chobert, who asked the prosecuting attorney for money,” she told the crowd. “This suggests the prosecutor bribed Robert Chobert at the time,” she said.
Pam Africa, who chairs the Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, told the crowd she talked with Mumia that morning. Mumia said he was being treated well in his recovery, she shared. “Thanks to the work that we all have done. Mumia said he was misdiagnosed with congestive heart failure. His arteries were clogged.
This is another reason why he must come home,” Ms. Africa stated. “Mumia reported he is being shackled when he lays down, but he is permitted to get up and walk around.”
Ms. Africa was scathing in her criticism of Philadelphia district attorneys past and present. “You cannot sit in that cesspool and be for the people for real,” she said.
Ms. Africa urged the crowd to continue to pressure politicians and others who will not do the right thing.
“More importantly, y’all, we’re going to inform everybody so that everybody feels equipped, educated about this case, then you can bring it back to your neighborhoods. Bring back to your cities, bring back to your organizations and coalitions, the truth, because they want to continue to lie,” added one speaker.
Traveling from North Carolina and in ill health was Mumia’s brother Keith Cook. As he spoke to the crowd, he said his brother was “doing OK today” because of the people in the crowd. “I’m always going to be here,” he said. “Moving slowly, but I’ll be here. You all keep me strong.”
Attending the demonstration from Queens, N.Y., was Gwen Dubrow. “I had a vision that a judge said he could go home. I’ve been in this struggle for quite a while now. And I can envision him coming home because he is completely innocent of the charges and the conviction,” she said.
Jessica, who would only give her first name, came from New Jersey. She told The Final Call as a White person she wanted to deter any type of police action.
“I sometimes know our presence alone is a deterrent to police violence. It’s been a long haul for Mumia, and a lot of people have been fighting, and I’d love to see him go. I’d love to see him, at the very minimum, get the medical care that he needs. So yeah, just hopeful this is gonna make a dent. I know the administration has been resisting any kind of positive forward motion for a long time.”
Community activist Michael O.G. Law Ta’Bon said, “It’s a perfect time for them to show that Black lives really matter. As they say, let’s show the world.”
“When the camera shows multicultural individuals of the same mindset about this freedom who are here—that they would do the right thing and show that America is the land of the free and the home of the brave—and as the American founders wrote, it will be better for 10 guilty men to go free than one innocent man to serve time,” he said.
“This country needs to start to live up to the hype,” he added.
In closing the rally, Chicago-based Fred Hampton, Jr, said, “This cannot be for just Mumia’s birthday. Keep the case of Mumia Abu Jamal, Russell Maroon Shoalts, Sundiata Acoli (imprisoned former Black Panthers), our people in general keep them on your minds and hearts and do not let up. Remember the people recognize a revolution,” he said.