In December 1969, the then head of the national NAACP, Roy Wilkins, joined with other top Black civil rights leaders and white civil liberties/equal rights leaders in condemning the police murder of Chicago Black Panther Party head Fred Hampton.
Last week Philadelphia’s NAACP head and a local Black filmmaker faced stiff criticism for their stances on a contentious local murder case containing a connection to that 1969 Hampton slaying — a blood-soaked fatality that later congressional investigations and court proceedings determined was a FBI-aided assassination.
That criticism erupted during a tense Q-&-A session following a screening of “Barrel of a Gun” the latest film by Tigre Hill.
Hill’s film purports to provide irrefutable proof that acclaimed Philadelphia journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal brutally murdered a Philadelphia policeman in December 1981.
Hill sees no problems with Abu-Jamal’s 1982 murder conviction feeling Abu-Jamal is properly serving life in prison following removal of his death sentence last fall.
Hill, Philadelphia/Pennsylvania NAACP president Jerry Mondesire and attorney/activist Michael Coard were panelists on a program following the “Barrel” screening at the International House.
Hill and Mondesire said their investigations — conducted separately — convinced each of Abu-Jamal’s guilt.
Mondesire, The Philadelphia Sunday Sun newspaper publisher, said he conducted his investigation after Abu-Jamal refused his request to tell “what happened” when incarcerated Abu-Jamal asked to write for The Sun in the early 1990s.
Attorney Coard, however, said his investigations of all court transcripts and court filings in this controversial case convinced him that Abu-Jamal was both legally not guilty and factually innocent. Coard called Hill’s film “a great work of fiction.”
Hill’s documentary pushes the unsubstantiated theory that Abu-Jamal’s hatred of police, developed during Abu-Jamal’s 17-month, teenaged membership in the Black Panther Party, triggered his killing Officer Daniel Faulkner on 12/9/81 — 12 years after Abu-Jamal voluntarily left the BPP.
That “Barrel” title of Hill’s film comes from a response Abu-Jamal made to a Philadelphia newspaper reporter in January 1970 when Abu-Jamal, then a 15-year-old BPP member, told the reporter that Hampton’s murder during a midnight Chicago police raid provided proof that power comes from the barrel of a gun.
Abu-Jamal used that power-from-gun quote for emphasizing how police were killing BPP members nationwide to destroy the BPP — an organization founded partly to confront rampant police brutality against Blacks.
That quote came from Mao Tse-tung, the communist founder of contemporary China. Hill’s film harps on Mao being a prime influence driving Abu-Jamal’s radical behaviors.
That police campaign to slay BPP members — 28 deaths between January 1968 and December 1969 — is what outraged leaders like the NAACP’s Wilkins and former U.S. United Nations Ambassador Arthur Goldberg.
During Abu-Jamal’s 1982 murder trial the prosecutor perverted that power-gun remark, shifting from Abu-Jamal applying it to police killing Black Panthers to proclaiming Abu-Jamal’s intent to kill police — one of many factual mischaracterizations that millions worldwide constantly cite when charging Abu-Jamal received an unfair trial.
During last week’s tense Q-&-A audience members assailed Hill for his one-sided depiction of Panthers as crazed cop killers without referencing any campaigns to kill Panthers like the FBI’s COINTELPRO later exposed as operative in Hampton’s murder.
Hill’s film portrays police as victims without referencing police brutality historically victimizing Blacks.
That brutality problem still persists including in Philadelphia — a problem Mondesire raised when deflecting audience criticism by rightly praising the local NAACP for constantly filing lawsuits against “police brutality.”
Less than six months before Hampton’s murder the Chicago Black Police Officer’s Association blasted the Chicago Police Department for conducting “racial genocide against Black people” through brutal beatings, fatal shootings and false arrests.
Eighteen years before that 1969 Chicago Black police condemnation an interracial group filed a petition with the United Nations charging the U.S. government with committing “Genocide” against Blacks.
That petition listed “the policeman’s bullet” as the new form of lynching. Two of the first eight police brutality cases cited in that 1951 petition came from Philadelphia.
In 1969, the NAACP’s Wilkins dismissed Chicago police explanations defending their Hampton killing as “not even plausible.”
Last week attorney Coard and audience critics lambasted Hill for his film’s implausible construction omitting evidence questioning Abu-Jamal’s guilt.
One example is Hill using former Philadelphia Police Inspector Alfonzo Giordano as his film’s featured expert on Abu-Jamal crime without revealing Giordano’s corruption conviction and/or emphasizing Giordano’s intimate involvement in the two-tiered emergence of Abu-Jamal’s alleged confession.
The confession prosecutors used during Abu-Jamal’s 1982 trial suspiciously surfaced during a Police Department investigation into Abu-Jamal’s charge that Giordano beat him at the crime scene.
Mondesire drew fire from audience members by declaring the national NAACP had “never taken a position” on Abu-Jamal’s case during his pre-Q-&-A panel presentation.
Audience critics produced resolutions adopted at NAACP annual national conventions supporting investigations into Abu-Jamal’s disputed conviction and statements by former NAACP board chairman Julian Bond supporting Abu-Jamal.
Mondesire, responding to those critics, said he said the NAACP never picked up the Abu-Jamal case as a “major matter.”
Filmmaker Hill, under questioning from panel moderator Annette John-Hall, a Philadelphia Inquirer columnist, grudgingly admitted that Philly’s police union initially refused to assist him believing he was pro-Abu-Jamal simply because he is Black.
Racism evidenced by police-prosecutorial and judicial misconduct against Abu-Jamal, while dismissed by appellate courts and many like Philadelphia’s first Black DA Seth Williams, fuels doubts worldwide about Abu-Jamal’s guilt.
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program.