Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Rue Mumia Abu-Jamal

Link to Bennett's new "Voice of the Voiceless" series on Abu-Jamal, published in the weeks leading up to December 9--the 25th anniversary of Abu-Jamal's arrest.

“Mumia's writing is so powerful. He's writing on death row against US imperial wars, all the while he's got guards looking over his shoulder. This is a magnificent example of resistance, and France thinks this too.”

Drawn to Mumia Abu-Jamal's death row case because of his inspiring resistance in the face of blatant injustice, Julia Wright is the daughter of the late, famed black writer Richard Wright. The author of such searing indictments of US racism as Native Son and Black Boy, Wright eventually exiled himself and his family to France when US racism became too much. The last straw for Wright was when a three year-old Julia was denied to use of a toilet inside a department store. Julia recounts how she was forced to pee outside and “wet the sidewalk like a dog. But my father was in a rage that took him to Paris with me and my mother.”

Julia Wright founded the French branch of Abu-Jamal's support network in 1995 when he came within ten days of execution. As Wright has continued organizing against the same US racism she experienced as a child, the support for Abu-Jamal in France and throughout the world has only grown. A few of his many international supporters include the Japanese Diet, the European Parliament, and members of both the British & German Parliaments.

Support from France has been extensive. In November, 2002 a delegation of more than 40 French supporters of Abu-Jamal traveled to Philadelphia to hand-deliver a 250,000 signature petition (demanding a new trial) to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania office at City Hall. However, the Supreme Court ultimately rejected the petition on grounds that it was not done on the official form created by the courts.

In 2003 he was declared an honorary citizen of Paris—the first time since Pablo Picasso was similarly honored in the 1970s. Furthermore, students in France now must study and write about Mumia's case as a high school graduation requirement.

Mumia Abu-Jamal has arguably become the world's most famous political prisoner.

Rue Mumia Abu-Jamal

In April, 2006, the Paris suburb St. Denis named a major street after Abu-Jamal. Located in the Cristino Garcia District of the city (named after an anti-Franco Spanish Republican), Rue Mumia Abu-Jamal leads directly to the largest sports stadium in Europe: “Nelson Mandela Stadium.”

Speaking at the inauguration ceremony, the Mayor of St. Denis, Didier Paillard declared that Mumia's struggle “is a symbol for justice, for the abolition of the Death Penalty, and for the respect of the fundamental rights of a human being. It is a symbol of resistance against a system which has the arrogance to reign over the world in the name of those same human rights that it tramples with complete impunity on its own soil.”

More than just a symbolic gesture, Palliard explained that the street-naming has a practical political objective. “International pressure can create the possibility of a significant advance, thus eliminating the risk of killing an innocent person.”

The reaction to Rue Mumia within Philadelphia and the US was predictable given the controversial history of Abu-Jamal's case. The national Fraternal Order of Police organization (longtime advocates of Abu-Jamal's execution) teamed up with local and state politicians to intimidate the city of St. Denis. Resolutions condemning St. Denis were introduced in the US Congress, the Pennsylvania State Senate, and the Philadelphia City Council. The resolutions demand the street name be changed. While the resolution was passed unanimously in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper reported that the State Senate's passage with a 44-4 vote was “split along racial lines. The only 'no' votes came from African- American senators, all from Philadelphia.”

In early September, Julia Wright and two others traveled from France to confront those in the US condemning Rue Mumia. Joined by Pam Africa (coordinator of Mumia's support network) and other local supporters, the French contingent attempted to meet with Philadelphia Mayor John Street. After several hours of waiting for a meeting at the mayor's office, the delegates left in disgust so they could speak at the town meeting several blocks from City Hall that was organized by Abu-Jamal's local supporters.

At the town meeting, the visitors affirmed St. Denis' decision and refused to change the street name. “As long as the city of St. Denis exists, we will have Rue Mumia Abu-Jamal.”

The Voice of the Voiceless

In a 1982 trial replete with both well-documented racism, prosecutorial & judicial misconduct, coerced witnesses, and a denial of his constitutional right to represent himself, Abu-Jamal was convicted of killing white Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. Calling for a new trial, the international human rights organization Amnesty International recently declared the 1982 trial to be a "violation of minimum international standards that govern fair trial procedures and the use of the death penalty,"

Early in his life Mumia was a public advocate of revolutionary political organizing and a harsh critic of the Philadelphia Police Department's white supremacist behavior. At the age of 15 he became the Lieutenant of Information for the Philadelphia chapter of the Black Panther Party. Besides writing locally for the Philly BPP, he also traveled to Oakland, California to work directly on the national BPP newspaper.

In the years before his arrest, he reported for the nation-wide NPR radio station as well as Philadelphia's WHAT, WKDU, WRTI, and WPEN stations. In early 1981 Mumia was featured as one of Philadelphia Magazine's “People to Watch,” recognized for bringing a “unique dimension to radio reporting.” The President of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists at the time of his Dec., 1981 arrest, Mumia's obvious sympathy for the underdog everywhere earned him the nickname “Voice of the Voiceless.”

Since his incarceration, the “Voice of the Voiceless” has only become more famous and influential. He has now written five books from death row. The most recent is a history of the Black Panther Party, titled We Want Freedom. He records weekly radio essays covering topics as diverse as US military aggression, feminism, popular culture, labor organizing, spirituality, police brutality, and the plight of other political prisoners.

Mumia's struggle has become a lighting rod for activists around the world organizing against racism, poverty, corporate media censorship, mass incarceration, political repression, and the death penalty. Many supporters see the attempted execution as the ultimate form of state censorship—demonstrating the revolutionary potential of alternative media and the subsequent lengths to which the powers that be will go to silence dissent.

The Struggle Continues

As the battle in the courts is heating up, so to is the battle in the streets to apply pressure to the court system. Calling for people to “rise up” and make the courts accountable to the people, Pam Africa (coordinator of Mumia's support network) declared: “We understand that they're getting ready to kill another black revolutionary who has refused to bow down and suck up to his oppressor. Mumia's case represents all that is wrong with this system. We must take action now before it is too late!”

Pam Africa and other supporters wrote their own City Council Resolution to counter the previous one condemning French support for Mumia and presented it at the Philadelphia City Council opening session in September. After listing twelve points of fact, the resolution concludes by stating:

FURTHER RESOLVED, That the Council-

  1. Continues to condemn and lament the murder of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner.

  2. Urges legal and legislative officials and bodies to allow hearing of all evidence pertinent to Mr. Faulkner's murder and to Mr Abu-Jamal's claim of innocence.

  3. Affirms that different city government entities such as those in Saint-Denis, France, and different sovereign national governments throughout the world, have a right to varying viewpoints, and to express them as they see fit, on the internationally case of Mumia Abu-Jamal and on the death penalty.

Link to Bennett's new "Voice of the Voiceless" series on Abu-Jamal, published in the weeks leading up to December 9--the 25th anniversary of Abu-Jamal's arrest.