It has been 34 years since nine members of the radical group MOVE were convicted for the 1978 murder of Philadelphia police officer James J. Ramp during a police seizure in Powelton Village, and four years since eight members of the original MOVE 9 — Debbie Sims Africa, Janet Hollaway Africa, Janine Philips Africa, Williams Philips Africa, Delbert Orr Africa, Michael Davis Africa, Charles Sims Africa and Edward Goodman Africa — became eligible for parole.
The ninth member, Merle Austin Africa, died in prison in March 1998.
And depending on who is telling the story, the MOVE 9 are either guilty as charged, or a symbol of an oppressive judicial system hell-bent on silencing its critics and stamping out left-wing revolutionaries.
“Charles Africa’s parole hearing is coming up, and Debbie saw the parole board in June and was denied,” said MOVE spokesperson Ramona Africa. “The issue MOVE has is the demand for MOVE people to ‘take responsibility for the crime.’ MOVE people did not kill Ramp; we were in our own home when we were surrounded by thousands of cops. We didn’t go to [former Mayor Frank] Rizzo’s house, and we didn’t go to [former Police Commissioner Joseph F. O’Neill’s] house; they came to our house and attacked us in warlike fashion.”
Ramp was killed by a shot to the back of the head, and all members of the MOVE 9 were convicted of third degree murder.
The August 8, 1978, shooting of Ramp was the culmination of several confrontations MOVE had with the police department, and a chilling precursor to the infamous May 1985 Osage Avenue clash that resulted in a bomb being dropped on MOVE’s Osage Avenue compound, which led to the death of 11 people, including MOVE founder John Africa, and the decimation of several city blocks containing 65 homes.
Ramona Africa contends that “MOVE people didn’t kill anybody,” and believes there are holes in the theory that points to her organization as the culprits.
“If officials really believed MOVE killed Ramp, they wouldn’t have demolished the scene of the crime — but they demolished it within hours,” Africa said. “There should never have even been a trial once [the city] demolished the scene — that’s destroying evidence, leaving MOVE with no way to adequately defend itself.”
Africa contends MOVE 9 opted for a bench trial in front of late trial Judge Edward Malmed because the group didn’t want to appear before a slanted jury. But that decision came at a price.
“The burden was put squarely on the shoulders of Malmed, who is supposed to be learned in the law, objective and sworn to simply follow the legality that dictates procedure,” Africa said. “The judge did not do that, because if he had, he would have dismissed the case because of destruction of evidence.
“After the trial, Malmed convicted nine of my family members of third degree murder and conspiracy,” Africa continued. “And that is a contradiction. If he’s saying they conspired to kill a cop, wouldn’t that be first degree and not third? There are numerous inconsistencies here that clarify that my family was convicted and sentenced to 30 to 100 years, not because they committed any crime or any officials believe they did, but because they are MOVE people and committed revolutionaries.” Africa also contends that MOVE member and current life sentence prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal once asked Malmed to name the person responsible for Ramp’s murder, and Malmed allegedly responded that he hadn’t the faintest idea.
Officials with the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole wouldn’t comment further than confirming the hearing dates, and the minimum and maximum time each member must serve. While all remaining MOVE 9 members have been denied parole at their most recent hearing, two were denied parole for curious reasons. Edward Goodman Africa was denied due to a negative recommendation by the Department of Corrections, while Michael Davis Africa was denied due to his “denial of offenses committed,” according to parole board spokesperson Leo Dunn.
“Most people know, if nothing else, that in order to convict someone, whether judge or jury, you have to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Africa, who has been denied visitation rights with her incarcerated family members, despite being out of jail herself for 20 years and has had a clean criminal record since her 1992 release. “Judge Malmed, obviously, was not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The fallout from the 1985 bombing of MOVE’s compound resulted in former Mayor W. Wilson Goode authorizing a commission to investigate the decision-making of officials involved, and make recommendations on ways to avoid such confrontations in the future.
Africa contends that both the mayor and district attorney’s offices aren’t adhering to the commission’s suggestion of keeping open the lines of communication.
“For a little over a month now, we’ve been trying to get a meeting with [District Attorney] Seth Williams and Mayor Michael Nutter to discuss the issues pertaining to my family,” Africa said. “Nutter is the mayor of this city and needs to know what’s going on. We are not going to allow him to feign ignorance; we want to meet them.
“We want to meet with Williams because as district attorney he has authority over any criminal case, and because he gave a negative recommendation as district attorney to the parole board,” Africa continued. “Seth Williams doesn’t even know my family, as he was just a kid in 1978.
“The thing is that commission Wilson Goode put together said the city made a terrible mistake by not meeting with us and keeping lines of communication open — that it never happens again and to keep lines of communication open. The mayor is not doing that, and the district attorney is not doing that.”
District Attorney Spokesperson Tasha Jamerson draws a stark contradiction to Africa’s claims. While not commenting on the merits of the MOVE 9’s conviction and subsequent parole denials, Jamerson did take issue with Africa’s claim of communication misfires.
“The district attorney gets swamped by piles of mail and requests, and anyone who requests to meet, I go over it with [Williams],” Jamerson said, noting the process calls for anyone wishing to meet with Williams to submit a formal written request — something Jamerson said Africa failed to do. “If Ramona Africa sent any kind of request, I would have asked about it. If she asked for a meeting, I think [Williams] would meet with her, but no letter has come, and no phone call has come.”
Jamerson noted that Williams isn’t ducking any confrontation; rather, he and Africa have been in the same building at the same time on numerous occasions, one being at a recent screening and discussion about Tigre Hill’s controversial film, “The Barrel of A Gun,” and said there was a time when Williams tried to approach Africa — only to be shunned.
“There has been some communication back and forth,” Jamerson said. “But I’d point out that before the election in November, Williams was at an event in Old City and wanted to shake her hand and talk to her a little bit.
“She brushed him aside.”
Mayor Michael Nutter’s spokesperson Mark McDonald confirmed that Nutter will not meet with Africa, as Nutter has no leverage or dealings in the matter.
“Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison handled the matter, and he says, what he learned from Africa is that her fight is with the parole board, and the mayor has no jurisdiction in this matter,” McDonald said. “Having a meeting for meeting’s sake doesn’t make sense. Ramona Africa has been informed of this some time ago. The mayor is polite and respectful of her, but won’t be meeting.”
In terms of release, Africa doubts her compatriots will ever be released before maxing out, meaning all MOVE 9 members are facing the prospect of dying in prison. And Africa doubts any of the incarcerated MOVE 9 members will ever cop a plea to somehow earn an early release.
“Our aim is not simply to get out of prison. Our aim is to expose and eliminate the rotten system that is the root of such injustices, so they will never say they are guilty. We continue to fight because we know our work is the same, whether we’re on the prison block or street block,” Africa said. “Guilt or innocence is not an issue with parole. What is supposed to determine parole is whether or not you’ve completed any designated programs, and my family has — they’ve even taught lessons. They also need an acceptable home and work plan, …
“None of my family members have bad conduct records,” Africa continued, allowing that one or two of her brothers may have had minor skirmishes while locked up. “Most importantly, their parole sheets don’t include any write-ups for misconduct. MOVE people aren’t going to lie, and more importantly, should not have to lie and say we are guilty if we are not.”
Although small in physical statue at 4’ 11’’ tall, her presence looms large worldwide where her organizational savvy plus sheer persistence helped pull off what many leaders, luminaries and laymen alike consider one of the most monumental equal rights victories in recent decades.
The advocacy of Pam Africa on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal — constructing support networks while confronting incessant opposition — contributed to the climate where U.S. federal courts killed the death sentence Abu-Jamal received following his controversial 1982 conviction for killing a police officer.
That elimination of Abu-Jamal’s government-endorsed death chagrined powerful figures across Pennsylvania and around America who had shamefully bent and broken laws (deliberately sabotaging court proceedings) in their various efforts to execute Abu-Jamal, known as the “voice of the voiceless.”
Pam Africa is the head of International Concerned Friends and Family of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the Philadelphia-based organization at the center of the international movement seeking Abu-Jamal’s release.
Africa is the dynamo whom most Philadelphia police, prosecutors, politicians and many pastors love to hate because of her strident advocacy on behalf of imprisoned journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal and MOVE members sentenced for a fatal 1978 shootout.
While winning freedom for Abu-Jamal and the MOVE Nine is a definitive focus of Pam Africa’s advocacy, she is frequently found on “front lines” nationwide fighting for ending mistreatment of people regardless of their color and creed.
“Pam Africa is in each and every struggle for social justice in Philadelphia, the U.S. and abroad. It’s not just Mumia,” said activist/writer Berta Joubert-Ceci while chairing a program in West Philadelphia a few weeks ago.
During that West Philly program Africa received praise from another warrior for right, former U.S. representative Cynthia McKinney, whose praise also highlighted Africa’s often overlooked soft side.
McKinney proudly displayed a stylish African-themed jacket Africa had given her as a present that evening, a garment McKinney had complimented Africa for wearing at an event in Atlanta that McKinney attended.
Interestingly, vicious beatings by Philadelphia police played pivotal roles in transforming Africa from a person committed to helping others work within the system to a vigorous opponent of the system that Africa sees as structurally unjust and irreparably corrupted.
Africa recalls her first beating by Philadelphia police as occurring when she politely questioned unprovoked police mistreatment of young male members of a Philadelphia youth organization where she worked in the early 1970s. At the time, Africa still used her birth name, Jeanette Knighton.
“We were coming from a citywide youth meeting when an officer stopped us and began roughing up the youth. I told the officer those young men did nothing wrong and when I attempted to take his badge number I got beat,” Africa said during a recent interview.
“During that time, I believed if you just talked to police they’d do the right thing. At the time I used to wear red, white and blue clothes all the time and a blonde wig. I was so far to the right politically,” she said.
“The police tore my wig off during that beating. I was beat up and locked up for doing nothing.”
Temple University African-American history professor Dr. Tony Monterio first met Pam Africa during an ugly June 1979 incident where police beat Africa. Police pummeled Africa with nightsticks with one stick-strike knocking out some of her teeth.
Monterio said police attacked Africa after she courageously shielded a man enduring a savage police assault during a protest near a South Philadelphia public housing development where police sided with racist whites who were attacking blacks.
The scholar in Dr. Monterio sees Pam Africa as a unique figure whose contributions locally, nationally and internationally merit both examination and recognition.
“She’s made history but she didn’t set out to make history. She started initially just to do the right thing,” Monterio said during a recent interview.
“I see her as one of the most significant rights leaders in the past forty-years. Where other black leaders have sought acceptance from ‘the system’ she never left the battlefield. She never retreated. She was never broken.”
Monterio is a force behind two events this weekend honoring both Pam Africa’s accomplishments and starting a process for what Monterio envisions as a study of Africa’s life works.
The first event is a reception this Friday (3-6PM) at Temple University’s Blockson Collection. The second event is a day-long colloquium on Saturday (11-5PM) at the Church of the Advocate.
“With this being the end of Women’s History Month I thought we needed to do a conference on Pam’s life. There is an importance in archiving her life. This is a step in establishing a way to study her life.”
Africa has a history of providing service to others. There is a 1960 photo in The Philadelphia Tribune of a young Jeanette Knighton receiving an ‘Outstanding Service’ award from the principal of a North Philadelphia public school she attended.
Dr. Suzanne Ross, a NYC psychologist whose worked with Africa on the Mumia and MOVE cases, calls her both a “spiritual leaders and general” able to connect with people through “her love” while providing direction by knowing when “to engage” and when to regroup.
Ross stresses that hers is not “some idealized version of Pam [because] I disagree with her A LOT.”
Pam Africa, provoking chuckles during that West Philly program, said, “People used to call me a foul-mouthed radical. But there is a method to that.”
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program.
If one instant is too long to endure an injustice imagine the anguish of suffering nearly one billion seconds locked inside a solitary confinement prison cell for a crime evidence indicates you did not commit.
That is the plight of the most recognized death-row inmate in the world, Mumia Abu-Jamal, the Philadelphia-born journalist whose imprisonment reaches the thirty-year mark this Friday, Dec. 9, 2011.
For many in Philadelphia, Abu-Jamal’s guilt is solid fact so Abu-Jamal spending 946-million-plus-seconds inside a cell since his arrest for killing a Philadelphia policeman constitutes just punishment.
However, for millions around the world, the 15.7-million-plus minutes of Abu-Jamal’s incarceration constitutes a horrific miscarriage of justice staining America’s cultivated image of commitment to legal fairness.
“Every time I demonstrate for Mumia down in London’s financial district I see this guy who says he’s from Philadelphia, and he always shouts that Mumia is guilty as hell,” said Osagyefo Tongogara, the head of Britain’s Free Mumia Coalition.
“But when I ask this guy to debate, putting his facts out and I presenting my facts, this guy just runs away,” said Tongogara said during an interview last week.
Those convinced of Abu-Jamal’s guilt cite facts like Pennsylvania courts constantly confirming Abu-Jamal’s guilt by dismissing all of his appeals.
Yet, those convinced of Abu-Jamal’s mistreatment question the propriety of Pennsylvania courts voiding more than 200 death penalty convictions citing various factual and procedural errors while claiming that not a single legal error exists anywhere in the most controversial murder case in Pennsylvania’s 300-year-plus history.
Pennsylvania courts, for example, have eliminated over two dozen death sentences on the sole procedural issue of defense lawyers failing to present mitigating evidence against capital punishment during the trial’s death penalty phase.
Although Abu-Jamal’s overwhelmed/undermined defense lawyer presented no mitigating evidence during the 1982 trial, state courts claim no error exists like in similar cases receiving relief by contending Abu-Jamal “controlled” his defense.
That rationale of Abu-Jamal controlling his defense contradicts the reality that the 1982 trial judge snatched away Abu-Jamal’s self-defense right days before that trial began and then barred Abu-Jamal from attending most of his trial because of Abu-Jamal’s protests against having his self-defense right robbed.
That asserted “control” is legal fiction marauding as fact.
But that assertion is consistent with court patterns twisting established law to speciously justify rejecting Abu-Jamal’s valid appeal claims.
While Abu-Jamal detractors say disruptions rightly resulted Abu-Jamal losing self-defense rights, news accounts from 1982 contradict that contention.
Those news accounts depict Abu-Jamal’s courtroom behavior as “business like” and non-disruptive until the trial judge revoked self-representation, granting the prosecutor’s unproven assertion that some potential jurors found Abu-Jamal’s dreadlocks scary.
“Mumia has been a popular hero for many French people [because] he is the victim of a corrupt justice system,” said Claude Gillaumaud, a professor in France who began campaigning for Abu-Jamal in 1995 by organizing her college students.
Abu-Jamal is an honorary citizen in more than 20 French cities, Gillaumaud said, and a street in the Paris suburb of St. Denis carries his name. Similar support for Abu-Jamal exists across Europe and beyond from South America to the African nation of Ghana.
“He’s an example to all of us because he remains an activist even after spending 30-years in hell,” said Gillaumaud, who published a 2007 Abu-Jamal biography “A Free Man on Death Row.”
Typical of tensions in this scrutinized case Abu-Jamal opponents and proponents see different things in the same set of facts.
Opponents cite the eyewitness who testified he saw Abu-Jamal shoot Officer Daniel Faulkner from his cab that was parked behind Faulkner’s patrol car.
Proponents question this eyewitness account by citing the failure of any official police crime scene photographs to show the parked cab.
Some opponents say police immediately took the cab and its driver to homicide headquarters for questioning.
But police crime scene investigation regulations operative in 1981 forbade removal of that cab and if removed required chalk-marks listing its location.
If police, in fact, moved the cab they improperly tampered with the crime scene, enhancing error by failing to make regulation required chalk-marks.
Police even failed to follow standard procedure by testing Abu-Jamal’s hands to confirm he fired a gun that night.
Police claim they just forgot to perform that standard test — curiously the same test police didn’t forget to perform on others initially suspected of possible involvement in Faulkner’s fatal shooting.
That failure to perform such a basic and crucial test evidences either sloppy police work or police hiding results of a test proving Abu-Jamal’s innocence.
“This is ridiculous and disgraceful that the government ignores evidence of innocence in this case,” said Demitry Lapidus, a student at the prestigious London School of Economics. “I am from Russia, and it makes me sad to see political prisoners in the U.S. the same as in Russia.”
Despite questions about what did or didn’t happen at the 1981 crime scene or during years of appellate court review, it is unquestionable that they jury convicting Abu-Jamal in 1982 did not hear all available evidence.
Will Francome, the Englishman at the center of the award-winning 2007 film “In Prison My Whole Life” examining the Abu-Jamal case, criticized this inauspicious 30th anniversary.
“It’s clear to me that there are and always have been major questions surrounding the case, and a grave injustice has been done.”
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program.
Given the polarization in American politics today, it’s interesting that some conservatives and liberals share the view that Philadelphia-born death row journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal receives too much attention.
Deflating the international attention generated by Abu-Jamal’s controversial conviction is one reason cited last week by Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams when announcing he would not continue seek to reinstate Abu-Jamal’s death sentence struck down by federal courts.
For conservatives, any mention of Abu-Jamal is one mention too many.
Federal courts determined Abu-Jamal endured a legally flawed death sentence for over 20 years — an injustice now aggravated by a life sentence.
Hatred for Abu-Jamal is so intense among some “law-and-order champions they often damage things they adore protesting against attention given to one of the world’s most well-known inmates.
Consider the cops in the motorcycle club that frequently show up at events for Abu-Jamal seeking to disrupt by loudly roaring engines on their beloved Harley bikes.
During an Abu-Jamal event at the Constitution Center last Friday evening, a motor gunning session by club members intended to aurally overwhelm that event resulted in one cyclist blowing the engine on his bike, according to an account by journalist Dave Lindorff, author of the 2003 book on the Abu-Jamal case “Killing Time.”
During a similar engine gunning session a few years ago another anti-Abu-Jamal biker blew an engine — a costly form of protest.
Some liberals spouting their Mumia-gets-too-much-attention chime claim their contention is not a criticism of Abu-Jamal but a concern about the cases of other persons languishing in obscurity on death row.
Some liberals advance this assertion despite the fact that Abu-Jamal persistently uses his public platform to raise attention about justice system injustices generally and the specific plight of others dealing with the death penalty.
Although blasting Abu-Jamal as an attention grabber, when pressed to name one among the 3,000-plus on America’s death rows more worthy of attention most liberals in this line fail to utter a single name.
Well, here’s the name of a Texas death row inmate facing imminent execution on a flimsy set of facts — Linda Carty.
Carty, born in the Caribbean, stands convicted of masterminding the 2001 murder of Joana Rodriguez.
Prosecutors claimed Carty wanted Rodriguez’s baby because Carty wanted a baby for her scheme to keep her common-law husband from leaving her.
At the time of the crime Carty had a child of her own, a 22-year-old daughter.
Prosecutors successfully claimed in court that Carty was prepared to kidnap Rodriguez and cut the baby from her body.
Carty, according to prosecutors, enlisted three men to break into the apartment Rodriguez occupied with her boyfriend, a unit located a few doors from Carty’s apartment.
The strongest evidence presented against Carty at trial came from the three men arrested for kidnapping and killing Rodriguez during a crime to steal drugs and money. Rodriguez’s four-day-old son was found unharmed.
Those prime prosecution witnesses got plea deals leading to prison sentences for their accusing Carty, who did not participate in the kidnap or killing of Rodriguez, landing her on death row.
Like the Abu-Jamal case and too many other death-row injustices, Carty’s case reeks with the standard flaws of a poor defense lawyer, convict-at-all-costs police and prosecutors plus appellate courts that give a cold shoulder to obvious illegalities.
Carty’s court appointed attorney has the dubious distinction of having more of his clients (20) on death row than any lawyer in America. (Abu-Jamal’s pro-prosecution trial judge presided over more death sentences that any judge in America.)
Carty’s lawyer, Jerry Guerinot, critics point out, only spent fifteen minutes with his client before the murder trial, did not investigate the case in any depth, did not interview any of the key witnesses and failed to present any evidence on his client’s behalf.
Guerinot did not attack inconsistencies in the prosecution’s case like the claim of her purchasing surgical scissors in preparation for cutting the baby from the victim’s stomach. The scissors the prosecution presented as evidence at trial were blunt bandage cutters incapable to penetrating skin.
Further, Guerinot did not seek assistance from the British government since Carty is a British citizen. She lived in Houston, Texas, at the time of the crime.
The British government, brought into Carty’s case during a late stage appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, filed an amicus brief arguing Guerinot failed to comply with his professional obligations to utilize all resources available to him inclusive of getting treaty-required assistance from the British government.
Guerinot’s “failure” to contact a British consular before the trial “prevented the jury from hearing important and directly relevant mitigation evidence, and, together with other failures…undermined the fairness of the proceeding that resulted in the sentence of death for Ms Carty,” stated that British amicus.
The mitigating evidence referenced in the British amicus included Carty being raped in 1988 while attending a Houston university, her suffering PTS from that rape and abusive relationships, her previous work as a school teacher and her work as a DEA informant.
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Carty’s appeal in May 2010, a supremely obscene sanctioning of derelict inactions by Guerinot. Other federal and Texas appellate courts also cold-shouldered the mistreatment of Carty.
Carty needs a new trial not an execution needle that Texas authorities are preparing to place in her arm.
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program.
NEWARK, N.J. — Basketball star Shaquille O’Neal learned early in his legendary career that cheers and jeers are all part of the game.
However when O’Neal received caustic jeers last Friday, outside of the movie complex O’Neal co-owns in downtown Newark, N.J., those taunts were different, directed against O’Neal’s business practices, not his basketball prowess.
Protestors condemned O’Neal for the decision by his CityPlex-12 to cancel a critically acclaimed documentary movie scheduled to screen at that facility last Friday.
CityPlex-12 management, when cancelling the documentary three weeks ago, also fired a theater staff member that worked on the scheduled screening with director of this documentary, Stephen Vittoria, who like O’Neal, was born in Newark.
Vittoria’s documentary – “Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary” – examines the prisoner at the core of Philadelphia’s most contentious murder case – Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Vittoria’s documentary departs from previous films about Abu-Jamal that examined ‘whodunit’ aspects of the journalist’s controversial 1982 conviction for killing Philadelphia Police officer Daniel Faulkner.
“Long Distance” explores who the proudly radical Abu-Jamal is and how he’s managed to produce applauded books/political commentaries/social critiques while enduring nearly decades of isolation. “Long Distance is scheduled for a Philadelphia screening this Friday.
Renowned Newark poet/activist Amiri Baraka, who participated in Friday’s protest, called the cancellation “shameful.” The program originally planned for the “Long Distance” screening, included a question and answer session led by Baraka.
“Long Distance” has sold-out theaters during screenings in New York City, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area as well as garnering favorable reviews including one in the New York Times.
Filmmaker Vittoria said sources told him the cancellation of his documentary occurred during an April 11 meeting at CityPlex-12 about the screening involving theater co-owners Boraie Development and O’Neal.
“No one has the guts to say why this film was cancelled,” Vittoria, who participated in the Friday protest, said about CityPlex’s refusal to respond to his inquiries for explanation about the cancellation.
CityPlex-12 officials, during an interview last Friday at the complex, declined comment on the cancellation - stating it was their policy to screen only Hollywood-produced films.
O’Neal and Boraie did not respond to requests for comment.
Newark activist Lawrence Hamm, chairman of the People’s Organization for Progress, stated management told him the cancellation was a “cold” business decision when he met with them.
“This is not about money. It is about cultural imperialism, others deciding what we will see,” Hamm said during Friday’s protest, promising more protests to come. “This cancellation is a gag rule on free expression.”
Pam Africa, head of a Philadelphia-based international support organization for Abu-Jamal, criticized the movie cancellation during that protest, lashing out at O’Neal for being on the “wrong side” of important issues for Blacks like police brutality and mass incarceration.
Hundreds of supporters of Mumia Abu Jamal gathered at the National Constitution Center to hold Friday to attend the “We the People” forum hosted by the National Lawyers Guild and held in honor of Troy Davis, who was recently executed in Georgia and death row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.
The hall of the Constitution Center filled to overflowing as attendants gathered, some wearing shirts bearing the photo of Abu-Jamal and carrying small signs in support of his relief. Hosted by Pam Africa and Johanna Fernandez, the event featured well-known activists including attorney Michael Coard, poet laureate Amiri Baraka, and Monica Moorehead, who ran for president of the United States under the socialist party.
“Recently the Supreme Court has told us what we have known all along, that the cops, the prosecutor’s office and the judges in this country railroaded Mumia onto death row, and they did it unlawfully,” said Fernandez. “We are here today to say to the city of Philadelphia and the nation of the United States and to the world that we will not stand for life in prison without parole for Mumia Abu-Jamal.”
This was the resounding cry of most of the speakers of the evening, many of who vowed to continue their pursuit of Jamal’s release.
The event opened with a tribute by Pam Africa to Troy Davis, Mumia Abu-Jamal and other political prisoners.
Fernandez called on District Attorney Seth Williams to fulfill a promise, which she said was made by former D.A. Lynne Abraham whom Williams refer to as “Mama Lynne.”
“In 1995, ‘Mama Lynne’ said that if she discovered that there was only one incident of a police officer lying in a case, she would throw out the case. I want to tell Seth Williams to make good on Abraham’s promise,” said Fernandez who went on to state that several officers in the Mumia case made fraudulent and false statements during the original Mumia trial.
“She [Abraham] was identified at the time as America’s deadliest D.A. She was the deadliest D.A. because she put more Black people, more Latino people, more poor people on death row than any other D.A. in America,” said Fernandez.
Those gathered at the event represented a wide cross section of society including judges and a videotaped message from former state Representative David Richardson.
“They [the authorities] will continue to do what they do to Mumia, because they think we don’t have any heart,” said Richardson taped at a previously held rally. Richardson railed at the Fraternal Order of Police and other government agencies that he believes often discriminate against poor people of color.
“To the FOP [Fraternal Order of Police] I ain’t scared of ya’ll.”
A videotaped message from television judge, Judge Greg Mathis, was made the day after the execution of Troy Davis, who was convicted in the 1989 murder of a police officer despite the fact that, according to Mathis, seven of the nine witnesses against Davis later recanted their testimony. Davis himself maintained his innocence until his execution earlier this year.
“Despite overwhelming doubt surrounding his case, Davis never received a new trial. Davis should have received a new trial and was unjustly put to death by lethal injection. I don’t like to contradict other judges, but Davis should have received a new trial,” said Mathis.
The audience applauded when Mathis described the justice system as broken and called for a nationwide ban on the death penalty.
“Too often prosecutors and the parole board refuse to admit when they are wrong or have doubts about the guilt of the accused,” said Mathis who said Davis was failed in every step of the judicial process.
The highlight of the evening appeared to be when Jamal himself called from prison to address the audience. The crowd stood to their feet in cheers and applause when they heard the live voice of Jamal himself who spoke to the audience via telephone.
“There has to be a mass movement against mass incarceration,” said Mumia in reference to the book “The New Jim Crow: America in the Age of Mass Incarceration” written by Michelle Alexander who also spoke to the crowd via videotape.
Attorney activist Michael Coard railed against the district attorney whom he repeatedly referred to as Mr. Lynne Abraham during his presentation.
“The same system which tried to murder Mumia Abu-Jamal is the same system which incarcerates more juveniles in prison to life than any other state in the United States. More than Mississippi, more than Alabama — and has more juveniles sentenced to life in prison without parole than any country in the world,” said Coard.
The event marked the 30th anniversary of the incarceration of Mumia Abu-Jamal who was convicted of the murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner, and has been on Death Row since 1982.
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.
With Olympics mania, more mass shooting mayhem, presidential election antics and withering heat dominating recent news coverage it’s easy to understand how the American media could miss the mission of one man currently kayaking across the Caribbean Ocean.
This man known as “Tito Kayak” is on his solo paddle voyage to protest against political prisoners held in the United States, particularly one Puerto Rican nationalist languishing in prison for more than thirty-years.
This political prisoner topic — driving Puerto Rican environmental activist Alberto de Jesus into making his cross-Caribbean trek in a tiny kayak during hurricane season — is not a subject of interest for the American media which concentrates inordinately on covering celebrity in political, financial, sports and entertainment circles.
The rare times most American news media get interested in coverage of political prisoners is when those political prisoners are held by enemies of the United States.
Political prisoners in Cuba or Iran — the U.S. news media affords coverage.
Political prisoners in Pennsylvania prison cells, like Philadelphia’s MOVE 9 and Mumia Abu-Jamal — not news fit to broadcast, print or post by most mainstream American news entities.
“Tito Kayak” is paddling to increase awareness about the plight of elderly Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar Lopez Rivera who received a 70-year sentence in the early 1980s following a conviction for conspiring to overthrow the governments of the United States and Puerto Rico — the Caribbean island considered by some as a U.S. colony.
Many Puerto Ricans, including Rivera and the thirteen colleagues convicted with him, want Puerto Rico to become an independent country.
Other Puerto Ricans favor statehood within the United States for their island nation, while many like the current status of Puerto Rico being a commonwealth connected to the United States.
Oscar Lopez Rivera’s offense, according to federal officials, was his membership in FALN, a Puerto Rican nationalist organization seeking independence for the country by any means necessary, including arms.
Federal authorities linked FALN to a series of bombings but did not specifically tie Rivera to any of those bombings, resting instead on the elastic, easy-to-win-conviction charge of conspiracy. Rivera continues to deny having any role in bombings or violence.
In 1999, then-U.S. President Bill Clinton granted clemency to Rivera and 11 of the 14 people convicted with him. Rivera refused the clemency offer citing the offer not covering all 14 and his disagreement with post-release restrictions.
The United Nations, in 2006, called for the release of Rivera. A U.S. congressional subcommittee and Amnesty International have criticized the prison conditions endured by those FALN inmates including assaults and denial of medical attention.
In March 2011, authorities slapped down Rivera’s parole request ordering Rivera to wait another fifteen years before permitting him another parole hearing.
Recalcitrant, manipulative parole procedures also mark the case the MOVE 9 — persons serving sentences arising from an August 8, 1978, incident involving the deaths of a Philadelphia policeman that dismissed evidence strongly indicates they did not commit.
The MOVE 9 (now 8 due to the in-prison death of one) have served the minimum of their 30- to 100-year prison sentence, but state parole authorities routinely reject their parole requests on specious grounds.
Parole authorities, for example, rejected the release requests of two imprisoned male MOVE members citing their failure to take anger management training when that pair had both taken the training and were instructing other prisoners in anger management with the approval of prison officials.
The topic of political prisoners in the U.S. is apparently taboo for most American mainstream news media.
In the late 1970s, for example, the U.S. news media routinely carried stories of Amnesty International adopting political prisoners held in torturous conditions by Soviet communists.
But in the late ’70s when AI released its first-ever list of American political prisoners, the U.S. news media all but blacked out that news.
That list included one Philadelphian, Imari Obadele, a Black nationalist and reparations advocate then serving a federal prison sentence arising from a conviction secured through misconduct by federal prosecutors and FBI agents — misconduct proven through detailed FBI documents grudgingly released years after Obadele’s trial.
Philadelphia news media ignored that AI report listing Obadele.
The news media’s general “see-no-evil” coverage practices regarding rights denials/injustices involving politically active non-whites extends across the Atlantic Ocean.
During last year’s rioting in England — which began in London on August 6 — British media was in lock-step with the view of British Prime Minister David Cameron who angrily declared rioters represented “mindless criminality, pure and simple.”
During the height of that August 2011 rioting, a BBC interviewer created controversy by castigating respected Black journalist/activist Darcus Howe for correctly showing that some of the rioting was an “insurrection” by young people upset with police abuses and economic deprivations similar to the Arab Spring.
The BBC later publicly apologized to Howe for the tacky behavior of its interviewer.
Howe, an elder statesman in London’s Afro-Caribbean community, said during a December 2011 Philadelphia Tribune interview, that his “opposing the political line of the BBC” produced the interviewer’s “insult.”
Tito Kayak’s 1,400-mile trek from Venezuela to Puerto Rico, stopping at islands along the way, has news value from just showing one man covering such a distance.
If Tito Kayak paddled to show strength from drinking bullion broth and not the plight of political prisoners he’d receive featured network and cable news coverage.
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program.
“The Mis-education of the Negro” — that 1933 classic authored by historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson — is widely respected as a seminal examination of detrimental, discriminatory shortcomings within America’s educational system and its wider society.
No surprise that some Pennsylvania prison system officials consider Woodson’s work inflammatory (radically and racially) deeming it inappropriate for inmates to read despite the book’s intent of inspiring elevation through education.
Some officials have barred some inmates from receiving “Mis-education” — using Pennsylvania Department of Corrections directives for banning publications — directives utilized to also block books containing little known information about Black history and Islam.
There’s unchained irony in banning “Mis-education” from a prison system where Blacks comprise 49 percent of the 51,000+ inmates.
Mis-educating is obviously a problem within Pennsylvania state prisons since over 42 percent of all inmates have less than a 12th-grade education with the average inmate reading at slightly less than an 8th-grade level.
Apparently the rehabilitation of inmates that the DoC receives over $1.7 billion dollars annually to achieve does not include allowing some inmates exposing themselves to the mentally elevating insights contained in “Mis-education.”
In “Mis-education” Dr. Woodson observed that the “greatest indictment” of the education Blacks receive is that “they have learned little as to making a living…”
Woodson’s observation is evident in Pennsylvania prison data detailing that 77 percent of all inmates in the system “were unskilled or possessed no skills” when they entered prison.
Most know Dr. Woodson as the founder of “Negro History Week” — an annual observance he conceived in the early 1920s for highlighting the overlooked contributions Blacks made to America’s development.
Since 1976, Dr. Woodson’s original one-week observance now extends throughout the entire month of February.
Mis-education, interestingly, drives misconceptions some Blacks hold about the holding of Black History Month in February. Some mistakenly think “someone” maliciously shunted this observance to February as a sly insult since February is the shortest month of the year.
Dr. Woodson scheduled his week-long observance to coincide with the February birthdays of legendary Black activist Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln.
For prison officials intent on totally controlling all aspects of an inmate’s existence, banning “Mis-education” makes sense.
As Dr. Woodson observed in that book, “When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his action. … If you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it himself.”
Apparently from the perspective of some state prisons’ officials “Mis-education” falls into one of the many categories the DoC has for determining the ban of books, magazines, newspapers and newsletters.
Since “Mis-education” does not contain ban-triggering instruction on making explosives, creating escape devices or manufacturing intoxicating beverages perhaps some officials consider it in the prohibited categories of being “racially inflammatory material” and/or a writing that advocates “insurrection … against the government or any of its facilities…”
Those who banned “Mis-education” obviously didn’t read it closely because Woodson’s most intense criticism falls on the failures of Blacks not whites. One chapter in the book is entitled “The Educated Negro Leaves the Masses.”
As perplexing as it is to identify the rationale and reasons prison officials have for banning a book like “Mis-education,” it’s even more baffling why prison officials have banned Oprah Winfrey’s O magazine and Essence magazine.
Earlier this month, the Harrisburg Patriot-News newspaper published an article examining the arbitrariness of DoC banning procedures.
That article reported that prison officials banned a book titled “Astral Travel for Beginners” presumably fearing inmates could employ the technique to escape — albeit leaving their bodies behind since astral projection is out-of-body flight.
And that article referenced officials banning a state-funded tourism brochure claiming it advocated insurrection and barring the State Employees’ Retirement Code claiming it was evidence of criminal activity.
From April 2008 to October 2009, prison officials banned 37 newspapers, 203 magazines, 17 newsletters and over 670 books, according to an account written by inmate Reginald Lewis. Prison officials, Lewis wrote, want “to nail shut our only little dusky window to the world.”
Books written by one acclaimed Pennsylvania author are on the DoC’s banned list. That author is journalist and inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal.
While Abu-Jamal’s books do not advocate violence or other activities prohibited by DoC publications banning directives, it’s easy to understand prison officials seeing Abu-Jamal’s piercing critiques as providing a “road-map” for mental liberation since maps (geographic) are banned items for inmates.
Last Friday, Abu-Jamal laughed with two visitors from Germany telling them about the bizarre banning practices. Abu-Jamal is now held in a state prison near Hazelton, Pa., after implementation last December of a court ruling converting his death sentence to life without parole.
In the late 1980s Abu-Jamal mounted an unsuccessful lawsuit against prison authorities for barring his receipt of a newspaper published by a socialist organization.
Prison authorities barred that newspaper by speciously deeming it a “danger” to prison security, despite their allowing non-isolation-cell inmates to receive white racist hate literature and pornography.
Those racist and pornographic publications then approved for inmates clearly harmed security throughout the prison system by spurring interracial tensions and homosexual rapes.
Conversely, a leftist newspaper sent to one inmate in death-row isolation presented no real “potential threat to security” — a principal reason frequently cited for banning a publication.
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program.
PHILADELPHIA — Prosecutors on Wednesday abandoned their 30-year push to execute convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, the former Black Panther whose claim that he was the victim of a racist legal system made him an international cause celebre.
Abu-Jamal, 58, will instead spend the rest of his life in prison.
Flanked by police Officer Daniel Faulkner's widow, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams announced his decision two days short of the 30th anniversary of the white patrolman's killing.
He said that continuing to seek the death penalty could lead to "an unknowable number of years" of appeals, and that some witnesses have died or are unavailable after nearly three decades.
"There's never been any doubt in my mind that Mumia Abu-Jamal shot and killed Officer Faulkner. I believe that the appropriate sentence was handed down by a jury of his peers in 1982," said Williams, the city's first black district attorney. "While Abu-Jamal will no longer be facing the death penalty, he will remain behind bars for the rest of his life, and that is where he belongs."
Abu-Jamal was originally sentenced to death. His murder conviction was upheld through years of appeals. But in 2008, a federal appeals court ordered a new sentencing hearing on the grounds that the instructions given to the jury were potentially misleading.
After the U.S. Supreme Court declined to weigh in two months ago, prosecutors were forced to decide whether to pursue the death penalty again or accept a life sentence without parole.
Williams said he reached the decision with the blessing of Faulkner's widow, Maureen.
"Another penalty proceeding would open the case to the repetition of the state appeals process and an unknowable number of years of federal review again, even if we were successful," the district attorney said.
Widener University law professor Judith Ritter, who represented Abu-Jamal in recent appeals, welcomed the move.
"There is no question that justice is served when a death sentence from a misinformed jury is overturned," Ritter said. "Thirty years later, the district attorney's decision not to seek a new death sentence also furthers the interests of justice."
According to trial testimony, Abu-Jamal saw his brother scuffle with the patrolman during a 4 a.m. traffic stop in 1981 and ran toward the scene. Police found Abu-Jamal wounded by a round from Faulkner's gun. Faulkner, shot several times, was killed. A .38-caliber revolver registered to Abu-Jamal was found at the scene with five spent shell casings.
Over the years, Abu-Jamal challenged the predominantly white makeup of the jury, the instructions given to the jurors and the accounts of eyewitnesses. He also complained that his lawyer was ineffective, that the judge was racist and that another man confessed to the crime.
His writings and radio broadcasts from death row put him at the center of an international debate over capital punishment and made him the subject of books and movies. The one-time journalist's own 1995 book, "Live From Death Row," depicts prison life and calls the justice system racist.
He garnered worldwide support from the "Free Mumia" movement, with hundreds of vocal supporters and death-penalty opponents regularly turning out for court hearings in his case.
His message resonated on college campuses and in Hollywood. Actors Mike Farrell and Tim Robbins were among dozens of luminaries who used a New York Times ad to call for a new trial, and the Beastie Boys played a concert to raise money for Abu-Jamal's defense.
Faulkner's widow labored to ensure her husband was not forgotten.
"My family and I have endured a three-decade ordeal at the hands of Mumia Abu-Jamal, his attorneys and his supporters, who in many cases never even took the time to educate themselves about the case before lending their names, giving their support and advocating for his freedom," she said Wednesday. "All of this has taken an unimaginable physical, emotional and financial toll on each of us."
Amnesty International, which maintains that Abu-Jamal's trial was "manifestly unfair and failed to meet international fair trial standards," said the district attorney's decision does not go far enough. Abu-Jamal still has an appeal pending before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court over the validity of ballistics evidence.
"Amnesty International continues to believe that justice would best be served by granting Mumia Abu-Jamal a new trial," said Laura Moye, director of the human rights group's Campaign to Abolish the Death Penalty.
Members of Philadelphia's police community stood with Williams and Maureen Faulkner as the decision was announced. Former police union president Rich Costello blasted the courts for ordering a new sentencing hearing.
"Where do Maureen and the Faulkner family go for a reduction in their sentence?" Costello said. "For 30 years now, they have been forced to suffer grief, anguish, abuse, insults, intimidation, threats and every other sort of indignity that can be visited on a family already in grief."
Faulkner lashed out at the judges who overturned the death sentence, calling them "dishonest cowards" who, she said, oppose the death penalty. The widow also vowed to fight any special treatment for Abu-Jamal behind bars, saying he should be moved to the general population after being taken off death row.
"I will not stand by and see him coddled, as he has been in the past," Faulkner said. "And I am heartened that he will be taken from the protective cloister he has been living in all these years and begin living among his own kind — the thugs and common criminals that infest our prisons." -- (AP)