Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Mumia Abu-Jamal Campaign to End the Death Penalty Circular and extensive case information

Campaign chapters, please distribute to all members and post on local Campaign listserves.

-- Background, Meaning and Reaction to the Recent Decision
-- The Bigger Picture: Importance of the Mumia Case
-- What Can We Do?
-- Other Ideas and Resources

This circular is devoted entirely to the death row prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal. In it, you will find information about his recent legal setback, as well as background information. It is packed with useful information and links to good articles and resources--there are links to petitions, suggested readings and movie showings that chapters can do. Please send around to your local list serves, too.

Thanks to Sandi Jones (Delaware CEDP), Ben Davis (NYC CEDP) and Lawrence Hayes (NYC CEDP) for compiling this circular!


* * * * *
"I have held out hope for the people, because I believe in the people, because the people make change. If the people don't organize and protest, then no change will happen. It doesn't matter who is sitting in what office or in what judgeship or whatever. And that's just a fact. That's just the truth."
-- Mumia Abu-Jamal, speaking with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!, April 2009

* * * * *

The fight to save the life of Mumia Abu-Jamal suffered a huge setback last week. On Tuesday, January 19, the U.S. Supreme Court (USSC) granted the prosecutors' petition to vacate the suspension of Mumia Abu-Jamal's death sentence. This means that Mumia is in acute danger of being executed once more.

In March 2008, the Third Circuit Court affirmed Federal District Court Judge William Yohn's 2001 decision "overturning" the death sentence. Citing the 1988 Mills v. Maryland precedent, Judge Yohn had ruled that Judge Albert Sabo's instructions to the jury in Mumia's trial were potentially confusing. Because of the way Sabo instructed the jury, jurors may have mistakenly believed that they had to unanimously agree on any mitigating circumstances in order to consider them as weighing against a death sentence (in other words, the case involved the count's attempt to force through a death sentence for Mumia). The recent decision undoes this decision.

What happens now? The case has been referred back to the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals, to review Mumia's case in light of another case that the USSC just ruled on last week, Smith v. Spisak. This Ohio case unanimously reinstated the death sentence of a neo-Nazi convicted of murdering three men. The two cases are different, and Mumia's attorneys will argue that they are, and seek relief for Mumia. (To better understand the legal relationship between the two cases, see the summary in an October 2009 online commentary in The Legal Intelligencer, at the EMAJ web site:

It is the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals that will now decide whether they will reimpose the death penalty without a jury trial. The 3rd Circuit could still order a federal trial court to consider Abu-Jamal's case anew on other still-pending defense claims.

Abu-Jamal, a former member of the Black Panther Party, was convicted and sentenced to death in 1982 for the murder of white Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in an early morning confrontation on December 9, 1981. The officer was shot after stopping Abu-Jamal's brother for driving the wrong way down a Philadelphia street. Abu-Jamal was arrested at the scene, and has maintained his innocence since.

Abu-Jamal's jailhouse writings about the justice system have drawn the attention of many people around the world. His case has attracted the support of many death penalty opponents, foreign political leaders and Hollywood celebrities. For decades, supporters of Abu-Jamal have argued that he was wrongfully convicted, as they point to suppressed evidence, perjury, witness intimidation, an admittedly biased judge and a long string of twisted appellate court rulings as evidence of a continuing conspiracy by the state to execute him. In this week's rejection of that decision, supporters of Abu-Jamal see another example of the "Mumia exception": that is, claims that have won the day in other cases that have been repeatedly denied when applied to his highly charged case.

Protests have taken place around the world since the recent news has spread of Mumia Abu Jamal's potentially reinstated death sentence. Just hours after news broke of the January 19th U.S. Supreme Court ruling, protesters gathered in Philadelphia at City Hall, in front of new Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams' office. On January 5, 2010, Williams was sworn in as the first African-American district attorney in Philadelphia. On January 20th, approximately 30 protestors assembled once again in front of Williams' office holding signs that read "Honk for Mumia" or contained messages such as "Demand a New Trial for Mumia" or "Mumia Abu Jamal is STILL Innocent!!"

At this rally, numerous protesters spoke out in support of Mumia, demanding Seth Williams to change his position on Mumia. Pam Africa reminded the crowd assembled that Mr. Williams had run for the office of District Attorney on the platform that when he became district attorney, he would execute Mumia. Africa proclaimed, "Mumia cannot get any fairness in this court system, so we're calling on the U.S. attorney general to do a civil rights investigation into this case, because Mumia is innocent. He is factually innocent!"

She continued, "And I want to point out very clearly, we have no hope whatsoever in the system. Our faith, Mumia's faith, is in the people. Once again, do not be duped by time; time is running out. The time is now for organizing, organizing with all of the strength that you have. People must pull together to abolish the death penalty. Save this brotha who has been on the front lines, from deathrow, on every issue of social justice that there is."


-- "Supreme Court Tosses Re-Sentencing for Mumia Abu-Jamal" (Democracy Now!)

-- "A Supreme Court blow to anti-death penalty icon Mumia Abu-Jamal" (Christian Science Monitor)

-- "A legal setback for Mumia," by Marlene Martin (

* * * * *

Mumia Abu-Jamal is one of the world's most famous death row prisoners. Since his incarceration, he has continued to be a "voice for the voiceless." His journalism and writings about politics and prison conditions--his books, radio commentaries, live addresses and more--have generated a large audience (he has also spoken for the Campaign to End the Death Penalty on our national speaking tour, and written for our newsletter, The New Abolitionist). It is widely recognized that he is a political prisoner, and his case continues to attract international solidarity--representing to hundreds of thousands of people the racism and blatant corruption of the U.S. criminal justice system.

In the 1990s, Mumia's case brought a huge number of people into the anti-death-penalty movement. Demonstrations around his case attracted tens of thousands of people. Two decades of setbacks have had a bruising effect on this movement, wearing away at the forces around him. Today, while many people know Mumia Abu Jamal's case and its importance, there are still many more people we meet who are seriously thinking about the prison crisis or other cases like that of Troy Davis, but who are not clear about the issues in Mumia's case.

It is impossible to know what will come next--but Mumia's case remains of symbolic significance for the right wing in Philadelphia (evidenced by the fact that the new DA actually ran on a "kill Mumia" platform), which would seriously like to see him put to death. Given the history of this case, any attempt to do so will attract wide attention and spark demonstrations.

However, given the persecution and demoralization faced by his supporters over the last decades, many people we meet will also have questions about the case, and want to know more about the background. In order for our chapters to play the best part, it is important to recognize this, and organize actions of solidarity based on answering these questions. Below are some suggestions and resources for CEDP chapters.

* * * * *

The most important single focus for activism right now is the "Civil Rights Petition" to Attorney General Eric Holder. This is the center of Mumia supporters' organizing. It has been getting some press--it is mentioned in the Christian Science Monitor article, above--and recently, several high-profile supporters have signed on: Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, world-famous MIT professor Noam Chomsky, civil rights activist Angela Davis and US Congressman Charles Rangel. In December, over 5,000 signatures on petitions addressed to Holder were delivered to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The petition text reads:

To: U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, U.S. Department of Justice

cc: President Obama, Vice President Biden, Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano, Secretary of State Clinton, the Senate and House Judiciary Committees, Congressional Leaders, the Congressional Black Caucus, U.N. Secy Gen Ban, and members of the media

I write to you with a sense of grave concern and outrage about the U.S. Supreme Court's denial of a hearing to Mumia Abu-Jamal on the issue of racial bias in jury selection, that is, the "Batson issue".

Inasmuch as there is no other court to which Abu-Jamal can appeal for justice, I turn to you for remedy of a 27-year history of gross violations of U.S. constitutional law and international standards of justice as documented by Amnesty International and many other legal groups around the world.

I call on you and the Justice Department to immediately commence a civil rights investigation to examine the many examples of egregious and racist prosecutorial and judicial misconduct dating back to the original trial in 1982 and continuing through to the current inaction of the U.S. Supreme Court. The statute of limitations should not be a factor in this case as there is very strong evidence of an ongoing conspiracy to deny Abu-Jamal his constitutional rights.

I am aware of the many differences that exist between the case of former Senator Ted Stevens and Mumia Abu-Jamal. Still, I note with great interest the actions you have taken with regard to Senator Stevens' conviction to assure that he not be denied his constitutional rights. You were specifically outraged by the fact that the prosecution withheld information critical to the defense's argument for acquittal, a violation clearly committed by the prosecution in Abu-Jamal's case. Mumia Abu-Jamal, though not a U.S. senator of great wealth and power, is a Black man revered around the world for his courage, clarity, and commitment and deserves no less than Senator Stevens.

For more information about the petition (as well as continual updates about the case), see

Chapters should send out the link to their listserves, print out the petition, and encourage people to sign online:

There is a second petition for Mumia, directed to President Obama, which can also be signed. The Mumia Coalition is asking that people sign both:

* * * * *

As stated above, it is important to keep in mind that we might need to refresh people about the issues in Mumia's case, and the extreme injustices that he has faced. Perhaps even people in our chapters could use a refresher on the issues. Can your chapter organize a film screening of one of the movies about Mumia's case? Would it be helpful to do a book club or reading group around one of Mumia's books? Would someone in your chapter do a section at a chapter meeting, presenting on his case, to arm new chapter members with the facts?

Here are some resources:


-- In Prison My Whole Life -- Netflix: Unfortunately, it appears not to be currently in stock--it can be purchased here:

-- A powerful and personal recent (2007) documentary about Mumia Abu-Jamal's case, featuring interviews Noam Chomsky, Alice Walker, Mos Def and Snoop Dogg. It has been shown at festivals worldwide, including at Sundance in 2008, and is a great way to introduce people to the case. (A trailer is here:

-- Mumia Abu Jamal: A Case for Reasonable Doubt?: This older documentary does not have all the newest material about the case, but it will do in a pinch. It is available in six parts on YouTube:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Part 5:

Part 6:

Readings about Mumia's Case:

-- The Framing of Mumia Abu Jamal, by J. Patrick O'Conner -- Amazon:
An excellent recent account of the background of Mumia's case, and his trial, featuring extensive quotations from the actual trial transcripts, and dissecting all the developments up until 2008. It is a quick and engaging read, and makes a persuasive case that new evidence would exonerate Mumia.

-- A Life in the Balance: The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a 2000 report by Amnesty International --
Amnesty International is certainly one of the most famous mainstream organizations to take a stand for Mumia. This 34-page report clearly outlines the reasons that he deserves a new trial, going through the evidence of racism in his case. (As a plus, it is also downloadable in Spanish.)


Prison Radio keeps a complete archive of statements by Mumia, which are on a variety of subjects. Some of these might be suitable to play for an audience --

Books by Mumia:

-- Live From Death Row --

-- Death Blossoms: Reflections from a Prisoner of Conscience --

-- All Things Censored --

Jailhouse Lawyers: Prisoners Defending Prisoners v. the USA --

Mumia in The New Abolitionist:

-- "On Jailhouse Lawyers" --

-- Address to 2008 CEDP Convention: --

-- "The Next Stage (on the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act)" --

-- "Remembering Stan Tookie Williams: A Political Killing" --

No comments: