Monday, December 03, 2007

PRESS CONFERENCE: Was P.O. Daniel Faulkner really "Murdered By Mumia"?

We just released a new EDITED video of the press conference: "This government, using corporate media, is laying the groundwork for a murder." (VIEW PARTS ONE AND TWO)

Our recent slideshow presentation of the newly discovered crime scene photos is now available on You Tube and Google Video.

The press conference is available UNEDITED in two parts on Google Video (1/2, 2/2) and in 11 parts on You Tube: Hans Bennett, David A. Love, Dave Lindorff (1/2, 2/2), Linn Washington, Jr. (1/2, 2/2), Pam Africa (1/2, 2/2), and questions about The Polakoff Photos (1/2, 2/2), Media Bias, and The May 17 Oral Arguments.

Along with The SF Bay View, the photos have now been spotlighted by Reuters, NBC's Today Show, National Public Radio,, Counterpunch, The Philadelphia Tribune, The Black Commentator, Dissident Voice, Media Channel, Workers World, and The Philadelphia Weekly.

Read the Reuters article about the Press Conference!

Listen to the Press Conference audio

Download / View "Murdered by Mumia?" flyer

PRESS CONFERENCE: Was P.O. Daniel Faulkner really "Murdered By Mumia"?


Journalists and activists will present evidence of Mumia's innocence and an unfair trial at NOON, Tuesday, December 4, 2007, at The A-Space, 4722 Baltimore Ave in West Philadelphia (viewable online). Come see a slide-show presentation of newly discovered crime scene photos, as well as presentations by local journalists David A. Love and Dave Lindorff, and Pam Africa of ICFFMAJ.

Coverage of "Murdered By Mumia" began in Sunday's Inquirer, and will continue with the Dec.6 Today Show, and beyond. Please contact the media, urging them to attend our press conference (or view online), so "the other side of the story," can be fairly presented (download press release).

While waiting for an official reponse from NBC's The Today Show (hear KPFK report), ICFFMAJ urges supporters to continue emailing NBC, and to publicize the Dec.6 NYC picket and Dec.8 protest at Philadelphia City Hall (download "MURDERED BY MUMIA?" flyer).



Was Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner really "Murdered By Mumia"?
--Journalists and activists present evidence of innocence and an unfair trial in the death-penalty case of Mumia Abu-Jamal.

NOON, Tuesday, December 4, 2007, at The A-Space, 4722 Baltimore Avenue, West Philadelphia

A press-conference organized by Journalists for Mumia Abu-Jamal will feature an exclusive slide-show presentation of newly discovered crime scene photos, as well as presentations by local journalists David A. Love and Dave Lindorff, and Pam Africa of The International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal.

INVITATION: This week will mark the 26th anniversary of the December 9, 1981 shooting death of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner and the arrest of radical journalist and former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal. December 6 will mark the release of a new book titled "Murdered By Mumia," written by Maureen Faulkner and Michael Smerconish. The Philadelphia Inquirer has already begun a three-part series that features excerpts from "Murdered By Mumia." The media-attention will continue this week with "Murdered By Mumia" scheduled to be featured on such news programs as The Today Show, The O'Reilly Factor, Hardball with Chris Matthews, and many more.

In light of this significant week, we have organized our press conference to present "the other side of the story," to the media so that it can be fairly balanced alongside the story presented by Faulkner, Smerconish, and others who argue that Mumia does not deserve a new trial and should be executed. Come and hear from activists and award-winning journalists who have thoroughly researched the case and concluded that Abu-Jamal's 1982 trial was blatantly unfair, and that there is considerable evidence suggesting that Abu-Jamal is innocent, as he has always maintained. In the interests of fairness and balance, we ask you to come and hear our side, and please be ready to ask our featured speakers challenging questions.

For the national media, and others unable to make it to the press conference, we will have audio and video documentation available shortly afterwards that can be accessed via the internet.

CONTACT US: For more information, email:

This exciting press conference will feature:


Philadelphia journalist Hans Bennett will present a slideshow displaying the crime scene photos recently discovered by German linguist, Michael Schiffmann (University of Heidelberg). Dr. Schiffmann has disclosed his discovery of 26 photographs (never seen by the 1982 jury), taken by press photographer Pedro P. Polakoff, which suggest more evidence that basic investigative protocol was violated by police from the earliest moments of the killing. Schiffmann and Bennett's website,, displays four of the photos to make these key points about the new evidence:

1. Mishandling the Guns - Officer James Forbes holds both Abu-Jamal's and Faulkner's guns, his bare hand touching the metal parts, suggesting perjury when he testified to properly preserving the guns’ ballistics evidence.

2. The Moving Hat - Faulkner's hat is moved from the roof of Billy Cook's VW and placed on the sidewalk, where it remained for the official police photo.

3. The Missing Taxi - Robert Chobert testified to parking directly behind Faulkner's car, but the space is empty.

4. The Missing Divots – On the sidewalk, where Faulkner was found, there are no large bullet divots, or destroyed chunks of cement, which should be visible in the pavement if the prosecution scenario was accurate, according to which Abu-Jamal shot down at Faulkner – and allegedly missed several times – while Faulkner was on his back. Dr. Michael Schiffmann writes: “It is thus no question any more whether the scenario presented by the prosecution at Abu-Jamal’s trial is true. It is clearly not, because it is physically and ballistically impossible.”


In October, 2007, Philadelphia-based lawyer and journalist, David A. Love, wrote about the new crime scene photos for The Black Commentator news website. Love's article titled "Photos Bolster Claims of Mumia’s Innocence and Unfair Trial" was featured in the national Black newspaper, The SF Bay View, where one of the photos was published for the very first time in the US. Love will speak at the press conference about why the new crime scene photos are an important and worthy story for the media to cover.

--David A. Love is a member of the editorial board of, where his Color of Law column appears weekly. He is a contributor to the Progressive Media Project, McClatchy-Tribune News Service, In These Times and Philadelphia Independent Media Center, and board president of Media Tank, a non-profit media reform and education organization. He contributed to the book, States of Confinement: Policing, Detention and Prisons (St. Martin's Press, 2000), and is a former producer of the radio news magazine Democracy Now! Love is also a former spokesperson for the Amnesty International UK National Speakers Tour, and organized the first national police brutality conference as a staff member with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights. He served as a law clerk to two Black federal judges. Love is a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He also attended Harvard Business School, and completed the Joint Programme in International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford.


Dave Lindorff is the author of "Killing Time: An Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal" (Common Courage Press, 2003), an independent examination of this important capital case. In his December 2, 2007 article titled "Maureen Faulkner and Mumia: Vengeance Isn't Sweet," Lindorff responds to the first in a three-part series in The Philadelphia Inquirer, that features experts from Maureen Faulkner's new book, written with Michael Smerconish, titled "Murdered By Mumia." He writes that Faulkner "is entitled to her anger and her grief," but "we are all diminished when justice is so willingly cast aside in the wrongheaded name of vengeance, as has clearly happened in the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. No amount of sympathy for Faulkner’s widow should be permitted to sway society or the courts from a commitment to justice, and there has been no justice in this case."

At the press-conference, Lindorff will address the summary of evidence against Abu-Jamal, presented at the "Murdered By Mumia" website, that "Mumia Abu-Jamal was unanimously convicted of the crime by a racially mixed jury based on: the testimony of several eyewitnesses, his ownership of the murder weapon, matching ballistics, and Abu-Jamal's own confession."

--Award-winning investigative reporter Dave Lindorff has been working as a journalist for 34 years. A regular columnist for CounterPunch, he also writes frequently for Extra! and Salon magazine, as well as for Businessweek, The Nation, and Treasury & Risk Magazine. Over the years he has written for such publications as Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, Village Voice, Forbes, The London Observer and the Australian National Times.


Pam Africa is the head of The International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal (ICFFMAJ). Africa will provide an update on the current media-activist campaign to "ensure fairness" for Abu-Jamal on the upcoming December 6 NBC Today Show, which is spotlighting the release of the book "Murdered By Mumia." Africa and ICFFMAJ are asking that the The Today Show fairly show both sides of the Abu-Jamal / Faulkner story, and give equal time to an expert sympathetic to Abu-Jamal's case for a new trial. On Friday, November 30, Africa had a scheduled telephone conference with NBC's Today Show, and did not make an official decision regarding ICFFMAJ's request, but said they would look at the information and contact Pam Africa this week.

--Journalists for Mumia Abu-Jamal ( was co-founded in May, 2007 by Philadelphia journalist Hans Bennett and German linguist Dr. Michael Schiffmann (University of Heidelberg), who is the author of the new German book about Abu-Jamal's case, "Race Against Death." For more information, please email:

Please download our 50 page PRESS PACK here:

Friday, November 09, 2007

New Videos: Tom Morello for Mumia, McMahon Training Video on Racist Jury Selection, and MORE!

PHOTO: Tom Morello (aka The Night Watchman), the lead guitarist of Rage Against The Machine, was recently in Philadelphia showing support for Mumia. In this still photo taken from the You Tube video, Morello is holding the Journalists for Mumia poster displaying the newly discovered crime scene photos.

New Videos: Tom Morello for Mumia, McMahon Training Video on Racist Jury Selection, and MORE!

by Journalists for Mumia

We have just started our own Journalists for Mumia You Tube Page

And, we are inaugurating it with the release of two new videos:

First is of Tom Morello (aka The Night Watchman), lead guitarist of Rage Against The Machine, who was recently in Philadelphia, where he showed support for Mumia in this short video. He is holding up the Journalists for Mumia poster that displays four of the newly discovered crime scene photos. Watch the video here.

Second, is an excerpt from an official 1986 Philadelphia District Attorney training video for new prosecutors (which publicly surfaced in 1997), where veteran DA prosecutor Jack McMahon lectured in support of removing Blacks from jury panels. Explicitly recognizing this practice's illegality, McMahon explained that “the law” calls for a “'competent, fair, and impartial jury.' Well, that's ridiculous. You're not trying to get that.” Watch the video here.

Click here for more on the issue of racist jury selection.

Also be sure to check out our FAVORITES PAGE where we've selected many excellent pieces about Mumia, including Dynamax feat. Chuck.D: "Get It Started" , I attend Mumia rallies so you don't have to (including excellent footage of the biker counter-protesters) , LGBT forces in the Movement to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal , Mumia Abu Jamal ; Justice Denied , Meditation on Mumia (footage of anti-Ridge demo in Vermont)

We've included several anti-Mumia films including the latest from Michael Smerconish: Michael Smerconish Faulkner Monologue and Michelle Malkin Mumia Abu-Jamal, Cop Killer

On our website, we have just added a VIDEO section, which features several films that can all be viewed directly online. The advantage to these (mostly “Google Video”), instead of You-Tube is that they are longer. Check ‘Em Out!

HBO Special: A Case For Reasonable Doubt?

From Death Row, Mumia Abu-Jamal parts: 1 , 2 , 3

Mumia interviews on: Political Parties, Economy, Prisons

Film on Mumia: "Behind These Walls"

Mumia Rally at Madison Square Garden

Leonard Peltier: "Incident at Oglala", parts 1, 2

SF 8: "Legacy of Torture"

Malcolm X at Oxford University

The Murder of Fred Hampton

Free Huey! / BPP Documentary

COINTELPRO: The FBI's war on Black America

The Spook Who Sat By The Door

Sir! No Sir!--The GI Revolt

Norman Solomon: War Made Easy

Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media

Bill Moyers: "The Secret Government"

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

IN PRISON MY WHOLE LIFE: An interview with William Francome


An interview with William Francome

--British documentary about US death-row journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal presents shocking new evidence

By Hans Bennett

The trailer for the new British documentary about US death-row journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, titled "In Prison My Whole Life," begins with the film's central character, William Francome, explaining that he's "been aware of Mumia for as long as I can remember. That’s because he was arrested on the night I was born, for the murder of a Philadelphia police officer. As my mom would often remind me, every birthday I had, has been another year that Mumia has spent in prison.... I am going on a journey to find out about the man who has been in prison my whole life."

The 90-minute film premieres on October 25 at both The Times BFI 51st London Film Festival and Rome's International Film Festival. With the acclaimed British actor Colin Firth as an executive producer, "In Prison My Whole Life" is directed by Marc Evans and produced by Livia Firth and Nick Goodwin Self. The film has interviews with such figures as Alice Walker, Angela Davis, Noam Chomsky, Amy Goodman, Ramona Africa, and musicians Mos Def, Snoop Dogg and Steve Earle. Amnesty International, who concluded in a previous report that Abu-Jamal's original 1982 trial was unfair, is supporting "In Prison" as part as part of its international campaign to abolish the death penalty. Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen says: "It's shocking that the US justice system has repeatedly failed to address the appalling violation of Mumia Abu-Jamal's fundamental fair trial rights."

In this exclusive interview on the eve of the film's premiere, Francome discloses for the very first time, one of the movies biggest surprises: The film will prominently feature the startling Dec. 9, 1981 crime scene photos that were recently discovered by German author Michael Schiffmann, and are published in his new book. Never presented to the 1982 jury, these new photos (taken by press-photographer Pedro Polakoff) "bolster claims of Mumia's innocence and unfair trial," according to Black Commentator columnist David A. Love.

Polakoff's photos have been shown on the Journalists for Mumia website since Dr. Schiffmann unveiled the photos in May, the same week that The US Third Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments regarding the fairness of Abu-Jamal's 1982 trial (listen to courtroom audio). While waiting for this important court ruling (expected any week), Abu-Jamal's international support network has initiated a media-activist campaign demanding that the major media outlets acknowledge the new crime scene photos. One of Polakoff's photos will be published for the first time in the US, in this week's issue of The San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper, which has previously reported on Abu-Jamal's case.

Francome cannot reveal any more of the film's big surprises, but he does say that "for the first time ever, the film interviews people who have never told their story of the events of that night, and offers new insight and theories as to what happened on Locust Street in 1981. To learn more about this, people ought to go and watch the film."

On October 25, "In Prison" was reviewed by and the UK newspaper The Guardian published an article on Mumia, based on a recent visit/interview with him: I Spend My Days Preparing For Life, Not Death.

Hans Bennett: What can you tell us about the new crime scene photos discovered by German author Michael Schiffmann, and how they appear in your film?

William Francome: The photos of press photographer Pedro Polakoff feature in the film as well as an interview with him and Michael Schiffmann, the German author who found them.

We had been in contact with Michael from the beginning of this project as he is one of the most knowledgeable people on the case. He had been working on his book 'Race Against Death' when he found a photo online that he realized was not taken by the police at the scene. Somehow (Michael is an amazing investigator) he found Pedro who was a press photographer at the time of the shootings in December of 1981. Pedro had arrived on the scene within minutes and captured much of the initial chaos of the scene.

They are quite amazing photographs as they show the complete lack of professionalism by the police who were faced with the task of preserving the crime scene and any forensic evidence that might be inherent within it. There are pictures of a police officer holding both of the weapons at the scene in one hand without gloves, which would therefore completely contaminate any fingerprints or gun powder residue. They also show the police walking in and out of the scene and show that Officer Faulkner’s hat was moved from photo to photo. I may just be a layman in terms of crime scene maintenance but it seems to me that these are grave and almost criminally negligent mistakes to make. There is also the issue of bullet holes or the lack thereof in the pavement. The photos should show where bullet fragments would have been found in the surrounding cement according to the prosecution witnesses’ account, but this is not the case.

Whether or not these acts were made on purpose remains to be seen, but the photos could have helped clear this case up from the very beginning. Now we are 25 years down the line and we are still asking basic questions of the initial evidence that should not have been left for so long unanswered. Meanwhile, a man is on death row who claims he's innocent and it's been a quarter of a century since a policeman was killed and many feel the killing hasn't been sufficiently solved.

What makes the issue of the photos even more important is that they were purposefully ignored by the prosecution and the District Attorney's Office. Pedro says that he rang them and told them of his photographs and offered them for use in the trial, but that the office never got back to him. It is obvious that the prosecution knew that the photographs of the crime scene could have done their case some damage in court and therefore outright ignored them.

HB: Where does the movie go from here? When can people in the US view it?

WF: The film is about to premiere at the London and Rome film festivals and I'm very happy to say that it's sold out all of its screenings. We are still at the early stages and we have to wait and see if and when it gets taken on by a distributor, what happens next. I'm sure at some point in the near future we'll be screening the film in the US. The film was shot in America and mostly deals with American issues so I look forward to seeing the reaction it gets there. I myself am half American, and spent my teenage years in New York, so I have enjoyed making a film about the country I grew up in as well as having been able to look at it as an outsider.

HB: Why is Mumia's case still so important after 25 years?

WF: I think the fact that Mumia's case is still being debated after twenty five years is an issue in itself. It seems unbelievable to me that you could keep someone in solitary confinement for a quarter of a century as well as having a death sentence hanging over him that whole time. The starting point of this film is that it's been my whole life, and considering all the things that I have done and all the memories I have really helps to put the whole thing in perspective. Try thinking back to what you were doing in 1981 and it might have the same effect. In that time, there have been hundreds of people executed and there are still over 3,000 currently sitting on death row in America. However, despite evidence that people innocent of the crimes they were convicted for have been executed and over 100 people who have been exonerated and released from death row because of new evidence, the death penalty system in America still grinds forward.

After 25 years, the questions of race, cost and inadequate legal representation have yet to be fully and honestly addressed and the issues that caused it to be declared unconstitutional in the 70's persist. In short, as long as there is a death penalty in the United States, Mumia's case and the case of all death row inmates will remain vital and important. People should see this movie because they too seek for answers and honesty from the criminal justice system, and they too, want to gain a greater understanding of the inherent flaws in the death penalty system in the U.S.

Even if people can't relate to the story of Mumia Abu-Jamal or are not affected by it, they might still be able to relate to my story. I think for many people, the journey that I'm going on is enough on its own. This is the story of two lives coming together in a sense, and hopefully it will allow many who have previously been uninterested in the issues surrounding the case to sit up, take notice and find out more on their own. In a ninety minute film, it is hard to comprehensively look into any subject, but you hope that it gives the audience enough to go away and delve further.

Read the Spanish translation of this article.

Visit the In Prison My Whole Life website.

View 4 of Polakoff's photos.

--Hans Bennett is an independent journalist and co-founder (with German author Michael Schiffmann) of Journalists for Mumia Abu-Jamal (

All work by photojournalist Hans Bennett

Friday, July 06, 2007

Attention, MOVE! This is America!

Attention, MOVE:

This is America!

At the 22nd anniversary of the May 13 massacre, MOVE organizes for 2008 Parole Hearings

By Hans Bennett

“Attention, MOVE: This Is America!” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sambor declared through a loudspeaker, minutes before the May 13, 1985 police assault on the revolutionary MOVE organization’s home. This assault killed 5 children and 6 adults, including MOVE founder John Africa. After police shot over 10,000 rounds of bullets into their West Philadelphia home, a State Police helicopter dropped a C-4 bomb, illegally supplied by the FBI, on MOVE’s roof. The bomb started a fire that eventually destroyed 60 homes: the entire block of a middle-class black neighborhood. Carrying the young Birdie Africa, the only other survivor, Ramona Africa dodged gunfire and escaped from the fire with permanent burn scars.

Today, Ramona recalls being in the basement with the children when the assault began. “Water started pouring in from the hoses. Then the tear gas came after explosives blew the whole front of the house off. After hearing a lot of gunfire, things became pretty quiet. It was then that they dropped the bomb without any warning.”

“At first, those of us in the basement didn’t realize that the house was on fire because there was so much tear gas that it was hard to recognize smoke. We opened the door and started to yell that we were coming out with the kids. The kids were hollering too. We know they heard us but the instant we were visible in the doorway, they opened fire. You could hear the bullets hitting all around the garage area. They deliberately took aim and shot at us. Anybody can see that their aim, very simply, was to kill MOVE people—not to arrest anybody.”

After surviving the bombing, Ramona was charged with conspiracy, riot, and multiple counts of simple and aggravated assault. Her sentence was 16 months to 7 years, but she served the full 7 years when she was denied parole for not renouncing MOVE. In court, all charges listed on the May 11 arrest warrant, used to justify the assault, were dismissed by the judge. Says Ramona, “This means that they had no valid reason to even be out there, but they did not dismiss the charges placed on me as a result of what happened after they came out.”

Concluding Ramona’s 1986 trial, Judge Stiles explicitly told the jurors not to consider any wrongdoing by police and other government officials, because they would be held accountable in “other” proceedings. This would never happen, as Ramona explains: “not one single official, police officer, or anybody else has ever been held accountable for the murder of my family.”

“People should not be fooled by this government using words like ‘justice.’ My family members, who were parents of most of those children that were murdered on May 13, have been in prison for almost 30 years to this day, for the accusation of a murder that they didn't commit, that nobody saw them commit. Meanwhile, the people who murdered their babies are still collecting paychecks, still seen as respectable, and never did a day in jail.”

Origins of the Confrontation

The 1985 police bombing was the culmination of many years of political repression by Philadelphia authorities. Much has already been written about the events of May 13, 1985, but less is told of the “MOVE 9”: Janine, Debbie, Janet, Merle, Delbert, Mike, Phil, Eddie, and Chuck Africa. These nine MOVE members were jointly sentenced in the 1978 killing of Officer James Ramp after a year-long police stakeout of MOVE’s Powelton Village home. Their parole hearings come up in 2008. Ramona Africa explains, “The government came out to Powelton Village in 1978 not to arrest, but to kill. Having failed to do that, my family was unjustly convicted of a murder that the government knows they didn’t commit, and imprisoned them with 30-100 year sentences. Later, when we as a family dared to speak up against this, they came out to our home again and dropped a bomb on us, burned babies alive.”

First, some history:

Founded in the early 70’s by John Africa, MOVE sought to expose and challenge all injustice and abuse of all forms of life, including animals and nature. Along with neighborhood activism, MOVE also organized nonviolent protests at zoos, animal testing facilities, public forums, corporate media outlets, and other places.

MOVE’s first conflicts with police began at these nonviolent protests when Mayor Frank Rizzo’s police reacted in their typical brutal fashion. From the very beginning, MOVE acted on the principle of self-defense and “met fist with fist.” Defending this today, Ramona Africa explains “I’m sure the police were outraged that these ‘niggers’ had stood up to them, telling them that they couldn’t come and beat on our men, women, and babies without us defending themselves. What are people supposed to do? Sit back and take that shit?”

Given Rizzo’s iron-fist rule, confrontation with MOVE was inevitable. Infamous for his racist brutality
as Police Commissioner from 1968-71, Rizzo once publicly boasted that his police force would be
so repressive that he’d “make Attila the Hun look like a faggot.”
He was elected mayor in 1972, with
campaign slogans like “Vote White.”
By 1979, his police force would become the first PD ever
indicted by the federal government, when the Justice Dept had brought suit against civil authorities--
not just police officials. The suit named Rizzo and 20 other top city officials (inclusive of police
command) for aiding and abetting police brutality.

Police attacks on MOVE escalated on May 9, 1974 when two pregnant MOVE women, Janet and Leesing, miscarried after being beaten by police and jailed overnight without food or water. On April 29, 1975, Alberta Africa lost her baby after she was arrested, dragged from a holding cell, held down, and beaten in the stomach and vagina.

On the night of March 18, 1976, seven MOVE prisoners had just been released and were greeting their family in front of their Powelton Village home in West Philadelphia, when police arrived and set upon the crowd. Six MOVE men were arrested and beaten so badly that they suffered fractured skulls, concussions and chipped bones. Janine Africa was thrown to the ground and stomped on while holding her 3-week old Life Africa. The baby’s skull was crushed and Life was dead.

After MOVE notified the media of the attack and baby’s death, the police publicly claimed that because there was no birth certificate, there was no baby and that MOVE was lying. In response, MOVE invited journalists and political figures to their home to view the corpse. Shortly after the attack, renowned Philadelphia journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal (now on death row) interviewed an eyewitness who had watched from a window directly across the street. "I saw that baby fall," the old man said. "They were clubbing the mother. I knew the baby was going to get hurt. I even reached for the phone to call the police, before I realized that it was the police. You know what I mean?" The District Attorney’s office declined to prosecute the murder.

The Standoff Begins
In response to the escalated police violence, MOVE staged a major demonstration on May 20, 1977. They took to a large platform in front of their house, with several members holding what appeared to be rifles. MOVE explains that: “We told the cops there wasn’t gonna be any more undercover deaths. This time they better be prepared to murder us in full public view ‘cause if they came at us with fists, we were gonna come back at them with fists. If they came at us with clubs, we’d come back at them with clubs, and if they came at us with guns, we’d use guns too. We don’t believe in death-dealing guns. We believe in life, but we knew the cops wouldn’t be too quick to attack us if they had to face the same stuff they dished out so casually on unarmed defenseless folk.”

Speaking through megaphones on the platform, MOVE demanded a release of their political prisoners and an end to violent harassment from the city. Heavily armed police surrounded the house, and a likely police attack was averted when a crowd from the community broke through the police line and stood in front of MOVE’s home to shield the residents from gunfire.

Days later, Judge Lynn Abraham responded by issuing warrants for 11 MOVE members on riot charges and “possession of an instrument of crime.” Police then set up a 24-hour watch around MOVE’s house to arrest members leaving the property, a standoff that lasted for almost a year.

Mayor Rizzo escalated the conflict on March 16, 1978, when police sealed off a four-block perimeter around MOVE headquarters, blocking food and shutting of the water supply. Rizzo boasted the blockade “was so tight, a fly couldn’t get through.” Numerous community residents were beaten and arrested when they attempted to deliver food and water to the pregnant women, nursing babies, and children inside.

After the two-month starvation blockade, MOVE and the City came to a
fragile agreement under pressure from the federal government and a
very sophisticated campaign mounted by a Philly-based community
coalition. On May 8, 1978, MOVE prisoners were released, and the
police searched MOVE’s house for weapons. Police were shocked to find
only inoperable dummy firearms and road flares made to look like
dynamite. In the agreement, the DA agreed to drop all charges against
MOVE and effectively purge MOVE from the court system within 4-6 weeks.
In return, MOVE would move out of their home within a 90-day period,
while the city assisted them in finding a new location.

After searching the MOVE home and finding only inoperable dummy weapons, police began to modify terms of the agreement, focusing on the alleged 90-day “deadline,” for MOVE to leave their home. MOVE says that the 90-day time period had been described to them as “a workable timetable for us to relocate,” but “was misrepresented to the media as an absolute deadline. MOVE made it clear to officials that we’d move to other houses but we were keeping our headquarters open as a school.”

At an August 2, 1978 hearing, Judge Fred DiBona ruled that MOVE had violated the deadline and signed arrest warrants that would justify the police siege the following week.

The morning of August 8, hundreds of riot police moved in, bulldozers toppled their fence & outdoor platform, and cranes smashed their home's windows. Forty-five armed police searched the house and found that MOVE was barricaded in the basement. Police began to flood them out with high-pressure hoses.

Suddenly gunshots fired, likely from a house across the street. Police opened fire on MOVE’s house—using over 2,000 rounds of ammunition. The police and most of the mainstream media would later report that MOVE had fired these first shots. However, KYW Radio reporters John McCullough and Larry Rosen both recalled hearing the first shot come from a house diagonally across the street, where they saw an arm holding a gun out of a third floor window.

The subsequent gunfire was chaotic and mostly directed at the flooded basement. Officer James Ramp was fatally wounded in the melee. Three other policemen and several firemen were also hit. A stake-out officer admitted later, under oath, that he had emptied his carbine shooting into the basement, where he heard screaming women and crying children. At a staff meeting days later, a police captain noted “an excessive amount of unnecessary firing on the part of police personnel when there were no targets per se to shoot at.”

When MOVE eventually surrendered and came out of the house, their children were taken and the adults were viciously beaten. Chuck and Mike Africa had been shot in the basement. Live television documented the violent arrest of Delbert Africa. He was smashed in the head with a rifle butt and metal helmet. While on the ground, he was brutally stomped. Twelve MOVE adults were arrested.

At a press conference that afternoon, asked whether this was the last Philadelphia would see of MOVE, Rizzo proclaimed “the only way we’re going to end them is, get that death penalty back, put them in the electric chair, and I’ll pull the switch.”

Destruction of Evidence
The subsequent case against the “MOVE 9,” was plagued by factual inconsistencies and illegal police manipulation of evidence.

Temple University professor and Philadelphia journalist Linn Washington covered the August 8 confrontation and the trial of the MOVE 9. Interviewed in the recent documentary MOVE, narrated by Howard Zinn, Washington stated that “the police department knows who killed Officer Ramp. It was another police officer, who inadvertently shot the guy. They have fairly substantial evidence that it was a mistake, but again they’ll never admit it. I got this from a number of different sources in the police department, including sources on the SWAT team and sources in ballistics.”

Manipulation of evidence began immediately after the MOVE adults were arrested: Mayor Rizzo ordered the police to bulldoze MOVE’s home by 1:30pm that day. Police did nothing to preserve the crime scene, inscribe chalk marks, or measure ballistics angles. In a preliminary hearing on a Motion to Dismiss, MOVE unsuccessfully argued that destroying their home had prevented them from proving that it was physically impossible for MOVE to have shot Ramp. MOVE cited the case of Illinois Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark where the preservation of the crime scene enabled investigators to prove that all the bullet holes in the walls and doors were the result of police gunfire.

The photographic evidence presented in court was also incomplete. Before demolishing MOVE’s house, police did take photos of empty shelves and claimed they had been used to store their guns. However, there were no photos of MOVE pointing or shooting guns from the basement windows, of police removing weapons from the house, or supporting the claim that police removed guns from the mud of the basement floor. To the contrary, a police video viewed in court actually shows then police commissioner Joseph O’Neill passing guns into MOVE’s front basement window.

Strongly suggesting the deliberate destruction of evidence, police video footage was also blanked out at the point where Ramp was shot on all three police videotapes presented in court.

Ballistics evidence presented about Officer Ramp’s death is also inconsistent. In the documentary film MOVE, Linn Washington recalls the treatment of evidence at the trial. “They had a big problem with the authenticity and thus the validity of the medical examiner’s report. The prosecutor took out a pencil and erased items in the report that he didn’t like. Now MOVE was objecting and the judge was saying ‘sit down and shut up’ and allowed the guy to do that.”

On Aug.8, The Philadelphia Bulletin reported that Ramp had been “shot in the back of the head according to the police log.” The next day, the Daily News instead reported that the bullet head entered his throat at a downward trajectory in the direction towards his heart. Later, in court, the prosecution’s medical examiner, Dr. Marvin Aronson testified that the bullet entered his “chest from in front and coursed horizontally without deviation up or down.”

In their recent newsletter, MOVE argues that if they had shot from the basement, the bullet would have been coming at an “upward” trajectory instead of the “horizontal” and “downward” accounts that had been presented. This crucial point aside, it would have been essentially impossible to take a clean shot at that time. The water in the basement, estimated more than 7 feet deep, forced the adults to hold up children and animals to prevent them from drowning. “The water pressure was so powerful it was picking up 6 foot long railroad ties (beams that were part of our fence) and throwing them through the basement windows in on us. There’s no way anybody could have stood up against this type of water pressure, debris, and shoot a gun, or aim to kill somebody.”

On May 4, 1980, Janine, Debbie, Janet, Merle, Delbert, Mike, Phil, Eddie, and Chuck Africa were convicted of 3rd degree murder, conspiracy, and multiple counts of attempted murder and aggravated assault. Each was given a sentence of 30-100 years. Two other people denounced MOVE and were released. Consuela Africa was tried separately because the prosecutor found no evidence that she was a MOVE member.

Mumia Abu-Jamal writes that the MOVE 9 “were convicted of being united, not in crime, but in rebellion against the system and in resistance to the armed assaults of the state. They were convicted of being MOVE members.”

When Judge Malmed was a guest a few days later on a talk radio show, Abu-Jamal called in and asked him who killed Ramp. The Judge admitted, “I have absolutely no idea” and explained that since MOVE called itself a family, he sentenced them as such.

Preparing for 2008 Parole Hearing
Mike Africa, Jr. wants his parents to come home. The son of MOVE 9 prisoners Mike and Debbie, Mike Jr. was born in prison just weeks after his mother withstood police gunfire and a vicious beating on Aug. 8, 1978. Today, Mike Jr. explains that growing up without parents is “very hard. It’s like missing part of yourself. The system separated MOVE people like they did because they know it’s hard to deal with being separated from your family.”

After the May 13, 1985 bombing, Mike Jr’s grandmother decided to leave MOVE, and brought him and his sister with her. “Not being in MOVE and not having parents was especially hard because I didn’t understand why my parents were in prison I was ashamed. It was never really explained to me until Ramona brought me back to MOVE following her 1992 release.” Since returning to MOVE, Mike Jr. has traveled around the world publicizing the struggle to release his parents and the other MOVE 9 prisoners.

August 2008 will mark the 30th year of the MOVE 9’s imprisonment, and they will be eligible for parole for the first time. MOVE has begun to organize and raise public support for their release. Ramona Africa is particularly concerned about two possible clauses that can be implemented to deny parole.

First is the “taking responsibility” clause, which basically demands a prisoner admit guilt in order to be granted parole. “That is not acceptable, because it is patently illegal. If a person was convicted in court, to then demand that they admit guilt -- even when they are maintaining their innocence, as the MOVE 9 are -- is ridiculous. The only issue for parole should be issues of misconduct in prison that could indicate one’s not ready for parole. Other than that, an inmate should be paroled,” explains Ramona.

Second is the “serious nature of offense” clause. “This is patently illegal too because the judge took this into consideration and when the sentence was issued, it meant that barring any misconduct, problems, new charges, etc. this prisoner was to be released on their minimum. To deny that is basically a re-sentence. We’re dealing with these issues because when our family comes up for parole, we don’t want to hear this nonsense.”

MOVE held a conference May 12, and is organizing another for later in August, dealing with this issue of parole for political prisoners. Ramona also urges to people to support Mumia Abu-Jamal’s appeal before the Federal 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals: “This brother’s life is on the line here. … He became a target of the government because he was the only journalist that consistently reported on the truth about what was going on with MOVE. Mumia gave us his support uncompromisingly throughout the years and that is why we give him our support and loyalty now.”

Mumia Abu-Jamal writes today, “The muted public response to the mass murder of MOVE members has set the stage for acceptable state violence against radicals, against blacks, and against all deemed socially unacceptable. … The twisted mentalities at work here are akin to those of Nazi Germany, or perhaps more appropriately, of My Lai, of Vietnam, of Baghdad, the spirit behind the mindlessly murderous mantra that echoed out of Da Nang: ‘We had to destroy the village in order to save it.’ ”

Over the years, MOVE has never been left in peace. The 1978 and 1985 police destruction of MOVE’s homes; the arrest and capital sentence of reporter Mumia Abu-Jamal, who covered the MOVE conflicts; the 1998 death of Merle Africa in prison; and the 2002 custody battle over Zachary Gilbride Africa are only a few examples of MOVE’s long history of confronting the system. This tradition is best summed up by MOVE founder John Africa in his 1981 speech to the jury before he was acquitted of federal weapons charges in the famous criminal trial, “John Africa vs. The System”:

“It is past time for all poor people to release themselves from the deceptive strangulation of society…This system has failed you yesterday, failed you today, and has created conditions for failure tomorrow, for society is wrong, the system is reeling, the courts of this complex are filled with imbalance. Cops are insane, the judges enslaving, the lawyers are just as the judges they confront. … trained by the system to be as the system, to do for the system, exploit with the system, and MOVE ain’t gonna close our eyes to this monster.”

This article appears in the July issue of WW4 Report.

View the new documentary MOVE online

Read or listen to the new interview with Linn Washington Jr. about MOVE and Philly media coverage. He elaborates on several points made in the MOVE documentary.

MOVE’s website is

All work by photojournalist Hans Bennett

Thursday, May 24, 2007

AUDIO & PRESS RELEASE: New Mumia Crime Scene Photos Unveiled for First Time in the US!




MAY 18 AT JOURNALISTS FOR MUMIA EVENT: Along with original ballistics analysis, Dr. Michael Schiffmann unveiled explosive new crime scene photos from the morning of December 9, 1981, taken by press photographer Pedro P. Polakoff, III.

Contact Michael Schiffmann at:

Linn Washington, Jr. documented local media racism and explained how the same person (eventually fired for making false death certificates) wrote the mysterious death certificates for both Ken Freeman and Cynthia White.

Note: refer to the front page to view the crime scene photos that Schiffmann refers to in his presentation

(LISTENING TO AUDIO: “Right click” on the link and “save link as” to download directly to your computer , or otherwise, listen directly from by “left clicking”)



1) Linn Washington, Jr. on the Philly media’s racist bias against Abu-Jamal

2) Michael Schiffmann presents (part one)

3) Michael Schiffmann presents (part two) and begins to talk about Pedro Polakoff’s new crime scene photos

4) Question: “Testing” Abu-Jamal’s gun

5) Question: The Missing Witnesses

6) Question: What Happened to Kenneth Freeman and Cynthia White? Linn Washington, Jr. details how the same person (eventually fired for making false death certificates) wrote the mysterious death certificates for both Freeman and White.

7) Question: What Other Cases Show

8) Question: Where Was Robert Chobert and What Did He Tell Police?

9) Question: Getting the Facts Out to the Public

10) Question: The Media’s “Response” to the New Crime Scene Photos

11) Question: Linn Washington, Jr, Reflects on Watching the May 17 Oral Arguments

12) Question: The Three Judges Deciding on Abu-Jamal’s Case


PRESS RELEASE: New Mumia Abu-Jamal crime scene photos unveiled for the first time in the United States, during the week of Abu-Jamal’s May 17 oral arguments at the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

View the photos at:

Speaking in Philadelphia on Friday, May 18, German author, Dr. Michael Schiffmann presented findings from his new book (not yet published in the US) “Race Against Death. Mumia Abu-Jamal: a Black Revolutionary in White America,” an expansion of Schiffmann’s PhD dissertation at the University of Heidelberg, just released in Germany. Professor Michael Schiffmann traveled from Germany to Philadelphia to observe Abu-Jamal’s May 17 oral arguments before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

Along with original ballistics analysis, Schiffmann unveiled explosive new crime scene photos from the morning of December 9, 1981, taken by press photographer Pedro P. Polakoff, III.

In 1982, Abu-Jamal was convicted of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner and sentenced to death in a trial that Amnesty International has declared a “violation of minimum international standards that govern fair trial procedures and the use of the death penalty.”

Below are quotes about the crime scene photos from Robert R. Bryan, Linn Washington, Jr., and Dave Lindorff.


The newly discovered photographs reveal the fact that the police were actively manipulating evidence at the homicide scene. For example, their moving the police officer's hat from the roof of Billy Cook's vehicle to the sidewalk to make the scene more emotionally dramatic was fraudulent and criminal. It was as if they were setting up a scene, putting in props for a movie to be shot. That is incredible.

Further, the incompetent manner in which the police at the scene dealt with the evidence is mind-boggling. You would expect better from cops in some little town in Alabama or Mississippi, than what we see in this case in Philadelphia. The most stunning example was the photograph in which one sees Police Officer James Forbes holding both pistols found at the scene in one hand, bare-handed! This is unthinkable. A nitwit could do better. Why were there no fingerprint tests? Why no ballistic examinations? It reminds me of a scene from "The Keystone Cops," the way the evidence was being handled and manipulated, except this was not funny. The fraud and incompetence of the police had very tragic consequences for my client. Today Mumia Abu-Jamal continues to sit on Pennsylvania's death row.

Mumia was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death. The police and prosecution trampled upon his constitutional rights. It is disgusting and shameful, as I pointed out on May 17 to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

My goal is to win a new trial and walk Mumia Abu-Jamal out of that courtroom a free person. I want an acquittal, so that my client can go home to his wife and family.

--Robert R. Bryan is the lead attorney for Mumia Abu-Jamal. He can be contacted via email:


This series of photographs damage the prosecution's case significantly because they graphically show police tampering with and manipulating the crime scene...which
is totally improper. Of particular significance is the fact that these photographs provide graphic evidence contradicting the core of the case against Abu-Jamal. The account of Abu-Jamal firing at the fallen officer is shown to be false because there are no bullet holes and/or embedded bullets consistent with the physics of this account. Further, claims that the eyewitness cab driver, Robert Chobert, was parked behind the officer's car are also shown false because there is no cab in any of the photos.

Given the ole “picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words” dynamic, it is not surprising that the prosecutor repeatedly rejected this photographer's offers of assistance because his photos expose the structural flaws in the case presented in court against Abu-Jamal. These photos provide additional evidence that the jury did not consider all of the available evidence due to misconduct by police and prosecutors. This misconduct fuels demands for a fair trial in this case.

Sadly, this newly rediscovered photographic evidence has yet to stimulate interest in mainstream media...showing once again how this supposed information seeking institution shirks its ethical duties in the Abu-Jamal case to “seek truth and report it.”

--Linn Washington, Jr. is a veteran Philadelphia journalist who has been covering the Abu-Jamal case for over 25 years. He is a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune newspaper and an Associate Professor of Journalism at Temple University.


I've seen these photos. They are explosive.

Of course, the key at this point is getting Mumia Abu-Jamal a new trial, so that all this incredible evidence can come out. Clearly, if there is a new trial, there would be a quite different verdict.

If there is not a new trial, then of course, the new evidence will have to be used in an effort to reopen the case at the state level.

--Dave Lindorff is the author of "Killing Time: An Investigation into the Death Penalty Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal"


In May, 2006, Schiffmann discovered two photographs on the Internet that were taken by the only press photographer immediately present at the 1981 crime scene – Pedro P. Polakoff, III. Polakoff arrived within 12 minutes of hearing about the shooting on the police radio and about ten minutes before the Mobile Crime Unit (responsible for forensics and photographs) arrived. According to Polakoff, this unit had still not taken any photos when Polakoff left after 30-45 minutes at the scene.

Upon contacting Polakoff, Schiffmann learned that three of his 31 original shots were published in Philadelphia newspapers at the time, and five others were lost. Schiffmann told me that he “published five of the 26 remaining photos to show the following three points:

1) “The cops manipulated evidence and supplied the trial court with stuff that was simply stage-managed. On Polakoff’s photos, P.O. Faulkner’s police hat at first is clearly on the roof of Billy Cook’s VW, and only later on the sidewalk in front of 1234 Locust where it was photographed by the police photographer who arrived 10 minutes after Polakoff!

2) “In court Police Officer James Forbes claimed that he had ‘secured’ the weapons of both Faulkner and Abu-Jamal without touching them on their metal parts in order to not destroy potential fingerprints. However, in the single photo reprinted in the book you can see that Forbes is touching the weapons on their metal parts, and quite a few of Polakoff’s other photos make it clear that Forbes touched and smudged these weapons all over, destroying any potential fingerprint evidence that may have been on them.

3) “The second-most important prosecution witness, cab driver Robert Chobert, simply was not parked in the spot, allegedly right behind Officer Faulkner’s police squad car, where he claimed to have been and from where he claimed to have observed Abu-Jamal fire the shot that killed the officer.”

Polakoff’s observations don’t stop there. Schiffmann writes in Race: “According to Polakoff, at that time all the officers present expressed the firm conviction that Abu-Jamal had been the passenger in Billy Cook's VW and had fired and killed Faulkner by a single shot fired from the passenger seat of the car.”

“Polakoff further reports that this opinion on the part of the police about what had happened was apparently based on the testimony of three witnesses who were still present at the crime scene, namely, by the parking lot attendant in charge of the parking lot on the Northern side of Locust Street, by a drug addicted woman apparently acquainted with the parking lot attendant, and another woman. As Polakoff later heard from colleagues in the media, the parking lot attendant had disappeared the day after, while the drug-addicted witness died a couple of days later from an overdose. Whatever it was that these witnesses saw or did not see, we will probably never know – the interesting fact in any case is that neither of them ever appeared in any report presented by the police or the prosecution.”

Polakoff told Schiffmann that he was simply ignored when he repeatedly contacted the DA’s office to give them his account--and his photos--of the crime scene.




Note: refer to the front page to view the crime scene photos that Schiffmann refers to in his presentation

(“Right click” on the link and “save link as” to download directly to your laptop, or otherwise, listen directly from by “left clicking”)



1) Linn Washington, Jr. on the Philly media’s racist bias against Abu-Jamal

2) Michael Schiffmann presents (part one)

3) Michael Schiffmann presents (part two) and begins to talk about Pedro Polakoff’s new crime scene photos

4) Question: “Testing” Abu-Jamal’s gun

5) Question: The Missing Witnesses

6) Question: What Happened to Kenneth Freeman and Cynthia White? Linn Washington, Jr. details how the same person (eventually fired for making false death certificates) wrote the mysterious death certificates for both Freeman and White.

7) Question: What Other Cases Show

8) Question: Where Was Robert Chobert and What Did He Tell Police?

9) Question: Getting the Facts Out to the Public

10) Question: The Media’s “Response” to the New Crime Scene Photos

11) Question: Linn Washington, Jr, Reflects on Watching the May 17 Oral Arguments

12) Question: The Three Judges Deciding on Abu-Jamal’s Case


--This press release is from Abu-Jamal News. For more, contact co-founder Hans Bennett, whose email is:

--Read the complete summary of Schiffmann’s findings

--Read a summary of the four issues currently before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals

All work by photojournalist Hans Bennett

Friday, May 11, 2007

INTERVIEW: Linn Washington, Jr. on Mumia, MOVE, and the Philly Media

"I think the level of fanaticism with Mumia’s case is a reaction to the level of support that he has received internationally. Further, I think the intense reactions revolve around race, specifically racism…plus Abu-Jamal’s identification with the Black Panther Party and MOVE. 'Law & Order' types hate the Black Panthers. And Philly police hate MOVE. Focusing anger on Abu-Jamal gives police a counter to criticism directed against them for persistent police brutality."
---Linn Washington, Jr.

PHOTO above: 6200 Block of Osage Avenue today

PHOTO below: MOVE women (including Pam and Ramona Africa) guard MOVE's West Philadelphia HQ (note windows boarded in background) during the recent 2002 confrontation.

Linn Washington, Jr. on Mumia, MOVE, and the Philly Media

---Dissecting May 13, 1985, Mumia Abu-Jamal’s May 17 oral arguments, the FOP, racism, police brutality, and mainstream media bias

Interview by Hans Bennett

This interview was conducted on May 8, 2007. While the full text transcript of the interview is available below, here is the audio, available in three featured short selections and in a five-part version of the complete one hour interview.


Mumia, Racism, and the FOP

May 13, 1985 and American Justice

Reporting on MOVE


Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Also, listen to Linn Washington, Jr.’s recent speech given at an April 24, 2007 rally for Abu-Jamal in Philadelphia

In this interview, veteran black journalist Linn Washington, Jr. talks about reporting on the city of Philadelphia’s confrontations with MOVE, mostly focusing on the August 8, 1978 standoff, and the subsequent evidence used to convict the MOVE 9 prisoners. Washington passionately critiques the mainstream Philadelphia media’s bias against MOVE: “when you look at the media coverage of MOVE, everything that was perceived as MOVE doing something wrong, was publicized. In contrast, the attacks on MOVE, the injustices, and the deprivations that they endured never found any coverage in the mainstream media.”

On May 17, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the case of Linn Washington’s former colleague, black death-row journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal. Widely considered to be a political prisoner, Abu-Jamal was convicted of killing white Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in a 1982 trial that Amnesty International has declared a "violation of minimum international standards that govern fair trial procedures and the use of the death penalty."

Abu-Jamal is a longtime supporter of the MOVE organization, dating back to his days as a Philadelphia journalist in the 1970s. Since his imprisonment, MOVE has spearheaded the international support network for Abu-Jamal that is now organizing for a new trial.

Concerning the injustice in Abu-Jamal’s case, Washington is just as passionate in calling for a new trial, and in this interview, he documents the bias of the Philadelphia media: “It’s not for the press to take a position one way or the other, but it is the responsibility of the press to scrutinize all sides with the same rigor. One side (the Danny Faulkner side) can say anything they want, even if it makes no sense at all, yet it gets credibility and traction in the media. On the other side, Abu-Jamal’s side can say anything they want, and irrespective of the substance and factual accuracy, and they get no coverage at all.”

Washington concludes: “Where’s the journalistic fairness, balance, and accuracy? These are the three things that are supposed to be fundamental to journalism. Are they happening in this case? No, they are not.”

Linn Washington, Jr. is currently a columnist for the Philadelphia Tribune newspaper and a freelance journalist for publications nationwide. He writes extensively on matters involving the criminal justice system and racism. An Associate Professor in the Journalism Department at Temple University in Philadelphia, he holds a Master Degree from the Yale Law School and a B.S. in Communications from Temple University.

This interview was conducted on May 8, 2007.

Hans Bennett: You recently traveled to France with recently exonerated death-row prisoner Harold Wilson and others?

Linn Washington, Jr.: I was over there for the one year anniversary of the naming of a street for Mumia, Rue Mumia Abu-Jamal, in St. Denis, just outside of Paris.

HB: How did that go?

LW: First, it was fascinating to me to actually see the street, considering the fact that the Philadelphia City Council, Pennsylvania State Senate, and US Congress were so outraged. This is the same US Congress that does nothing about global warming, health care for people without insurance, the Iraq war, etc., but it could take the time to order a town 3500 miles away to take a name off a street.

The incredible thing is that this street is about 150 paces long and sits between two one-way streets in a secluded section of St. Denis. This is not a place that The Tour de France or any tour buses will be going through because the streets are so small that you could not get a tour bus to the area. For this to cause so much consternation I think takes absurd into the level of obscene. The significance of the street for people in St. Denis is not its size but the symbolism of it standing for the notions of equal justice and a fair trial as represented in Abu-Jamal's struggle. So that’s my personal reaction.

In terms of the overall visit, there was a brief ceremony with 20-30 people that included the current Mayor of St. Denis and the previous Mayor who is now the equivalent of a congressman of that whole area, also one of the deputy Mayors, in a little park about a block away from the street. They were reaffirming why they had dedicated the street, and explained that they feel Mumia has not received a fair trial and they are calling on the United States to live up to the constitutional mandate that everyone receive a fair trial.

The US contingent included Suzanne Ross from the NYC Free Mumia Coalition, and Sundiata Sadiq, who is the President of the Ossining, NY chapter of the NAACP. Sadiq was the one that spearheaded the efforts that led to the national NAACP adopting a resolution calling on all of its chapters around the country to support Mumia getting a new trial. Curiously, for a civil rights organization that prides itself on being progressive, the President of the NY state chapter, Hazel Dukes, filed some very specious reason to suspend the Ossining chapter, which again takes absurdity into obscene dimensions.

HB: How do you explain such an intense reaction here at home?

LW: It typifies US arrogance where we can tell everyone what to do but we don’t actually practice what we preach. We are all over the world “installing democracy” literally at the barrel of a gun, or at the tip of a cruise missile, depending on which goes in first, yet we do not practice democracy here at home.

A couple examples:

There are strong reactions to this street and very little concern about what the case represents. There are fundamental flaws in our criminal justice system. Not only from the perspective of the death penalty, but all the way down to minor crimes like “breaking and entering,” where justice is not fair. Justice in America is a matter of how much money you have, where there is not “equal justice under the law” (which is THE PHRASE chiseled in stone at the entrance to the Supreme Court in Washington).

We don’t have equal justice under the law. There are some people who commit crimes and get virtually no criminal penalties, if they face any at all. Meanwhile, others get severe penalties for the same crimes committed under similar circumstances.

Let me give you an example close to home.

May 13, 1985, what happened? Police conducted a raid in the 6200 block of Osage Avenue in West Philadelphia. Essentially to fulfill misdemeanor warrants, the Police Commissioner authorized the dropping of a bomb that caused a fire, and the Ppolice Commissioner gave the unconscionable order to let the fire burn. MOVE members attempted to exit the building with temperatures as high as 2000 degrees, according to subsequent investigations, but were shot at and forced back inside. In the end, 11 people in the house were incinerated, including 5 children. 61 homes were completely destroyed and 250 people were homeless.

Not a single police officer or city official even faced any kind of criminal prosecution. Note that this is totally separate from whether they should have been convicted of crimes committed that day. Given the fact that there were a series of crimes committed, they should have at least faced their day in court. That is equal justice where no one is above the law. The District Attorney, Ed Rendell (now Governor) initially refused to do a Grand Jury investigation. That was a dereliction of duty. The subsequent DA, Ron Castille, who now sits on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, did do an investigation and just white-washed it. He claimed nobody that day had criminal intent that day, which is a very specious argument.

However, there are crimes that could have been brought against the Police and Fire Commissioners which were not “intent based” crimes. Maybe murder and arson are intent based, but “risking catastrophe” and “reckless endangerment” are based on what happened as a result of the actions.

This grand jury, under the control of the DA’s office issued a report written by the DA’s office stating that charges won’t even be brought against police officers, who had been caught lying to the grand jury. Lying to a grand jury is a crime called perjury, and perjury is a crime all day and every day. The Grand Jury Report stated it would be unfair to bring perjury charges against low-ranking police officers, when, in fact, top city officials were at least morally responsible for what had happened on Osage Ave. on May 13th.

Well a crime is a crime, and equal justice would mean that you bring charges against all who committed crimes…particularly since most major investigations begin with charges against lowly folks who provide evidence on higher ups. So, on many levels, America doesn’t practice what it preaches. So that is under girding the reaction to Rue Mumia.

Let me give you another example.

In the early 90’s in New York City an Irish Republican Army operative, named Joe Doherty, was being held at a jail in NYC. He had been convicted in Northern Ireland of murdering a British Special Forces officer during one of the IRA’s clashes with the British. Set aside for the moment the propriety of what was going on there, and whether the IRA were actually terrorists or were fighting for their homeland. The fact of the matter is that Britain is a major US ally and Dogherty had been convicted of murdering a British military officer. He escapes from Northern Ireland and comes to the US as a fugitive, hides out a couple years and is eventually arrested, and is being held in a federal detention facility. Efforts by the US government to deport him and send him back, were countered by officials in NYC and about 100 members of Congress.

They’re standing up for this convicted murderer on the claim that he did not receive a fair trial in Northern Ireland. In 1990, as a part of this effort to Free Joe Doherty, his supporters authorized the renaming of the street in front of the federal prison in Manhattan, and renamed it to Joe Doherty Corner.

Here you have officials rename a street for a convicted murderer, but then people are outraged when France does the same thing for an alleged cop-killer on the same basis, that they don’t feel that Abu-Jamal received a fair trial. Hypocrisy, contradictions, double-standards of justice, you choose the name.

HB: What do you think it is about Mumia’s case in particular that causes such a fanatical reaction?

LW: I think the level of fanaticism with Mumia’s case is a reaction to the level of support that he has received internationally. Further, I think the intense reactions revolve around race, specifically racism…plus Abu-Jamal’s identification with the Black Panther Party and MOVE. “Law & Order” types hate the Black Panthers. And Philly police hate MOVE. Focusing anger on Abu-Jamal gives police a counter to criticism directed against them for persistent police brutality.

The police are taking it on the chin all the time for continuing brutality, and this is the case that they have decided to dig in on. You get all this police rage against Abu-Jamal despite the fact that he’s not the only person that allegedly shot and killed a police officer in US history. There were at least three police officers shot and killed in Philadelphia in 1981, do you know about that?

Yes, you’ve been researching that, and the two others in Philadelphia were black police officers?

LW: Yes.

HB: Do you feel that the Fraternal Order of Police’s behavior is racially motivated?

LW: Yes, and it has always been racially motivated. This is one of the most outrageous aspects of it, because that organization is racist. I became a full time reporter in Philadelphia in October of 1975. One of the first big stories that I covered was a protest in front of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) headquarters, by members of the black police officer organization, The Guardian Civic League. Some of the people who participated in that demonstration are now State Rep Harold James, who was a police officer at the time, and also the current Sheriff of the City of Philadelphia, John Greene.

Why were these black police officers out in front of the FOP headquarters?

Because there is a bar in the basement of the FOP building, and black police officers (including ones there with their wives) would receive racist treatment when they went to the bar at their union headquarters and they were protesting against that. That type of racism didn’t end in the 1970s. Do a lot of officers find themselves treated badly on a
bureaucratic level within the PPD? Yes, but who does the FOP stand up for?

Invariably, it’s white police officers.

One example, a couple years ago, the FOP made some public statements about the unfairness of the police departments in terms of their refusal to allow a police officer, I think his name is Flemming, to move up to become a detective. Flemming has cost the City of Philadelphia over one million dollars in legal settlements because of police brutality. Just a year or so before this controversy about his being promoted to detective, the City had to pay out $750,000 because Flemming beat up a man at the airport without provocation. So here’s the FOP standing up for a chronically brutal cop, instead of saying, “No, this isn’t the type of behavior that we as an organization want to endorse.”

But, it gets worse.

This officer Flemming also beat up a former police officer in 1995, an ex-cop named Gary Wakshul, days before that officer became a witness for the prosecution during the appeals hearing for Mumia Abu-Jamal. Flemming and one of his partners on the police force beat the stuffings out of Gary Wakshul in the hallway of Philadelphia’s Criminal Justice Center, beating him so bad that he sustained multiple injuries. Wakshul subsequently sued the City for the beating and got $60,000 for it.

As you know, Wakshul was a police officer involved in the Mumia Abu-Jamal case. He was the one who brought Abu-Jamal from the scene to the hospital on the morning of Dec. 9, 1981 and Wakshul stayed with him until he was brought in for surgery. Initially, Wakshul filed an official report stating that “the negro male made no comment.” Two months later, he came out and said that he had heard Abu-Jamal confess. Then, when the
police asked him about the contradiction between his official report and the later confession claim, Wakshul came up with the absurd response that he “didn’t know the confession had any importance until today.”

Now, why was Wakshul working for the court system in 1995?

Because, in 1984 Wakshul almost beat a man to death in a hospital emergency room, and
he was fired. When he was put on trial for this, the judge said, “Well, I think Wakshul’s a good guy and since this happened in the heat of battle,” he chose to acquit him of this unjustified beating. Now, the man he almost killed was in handcuffs, so there wasn’t any battle. And then, guess what? The FOP tried to get Wakshul’s job back.

I will raise the question: what type of law enforcement does the FOP represent? Good lawful law enforcement, or does it support unlawful acts of brutality, many of which are tinged, if not saturated, with racism?

HB: Going back to the Wakshul beating, what do you think was going on there just days before his testimony at Mumia’s PCRA hearing?

LW: The short answer is that I don’t know.

There’s been speculation that the beating was meant to send a message to Wakshul, not to deviate from his testimony that Abu-Jamal actually confessed.

Given all the solid and verifiable facts in Abu-Jamal’s case, I feel that it’s counter-productive and detrimental to engage in a lot of speculation. The factual record is this: Wakshul was beaten up and came to court and gave absurd testimony. The importance is this: Judge Sabo’s 153 page opinion rejected all of Abu-Jamal’s appeal items including claims that Wakshul lied. Incredibly Sabo’s opinion was issued just three days after the hearing, and incredibly Sabo’s opinion was a verbatim copy of the DA’s finding of facts that had been submitted (including grammatical and factual errors).

Sabo ruled that there was no such thing as police brutality in Philadelphia, and that in making that claim, Abu-Jamal was making one more absurd claim to deflect his guilt. Here we have a former police officer who testified for the prosecution during the hearing, who was a victim of police brutality within days of the hearing. That just is yet another
example of the manifest unfairness and factual distortion in Sabo’s ruling and his entire presence throughout the case.

HB: Sabo’s fairness in the PCRA hearings is one of the issues being considered on May 17 by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Any thoughts on next week’s oral arguments?

LW: Clearly Mumia deserves a new trial and I think it is bogus for people to argue that he doesn’t deserve a fair trial because he disrupted his original trial. If you look, his disruptions occurred after it was clear that Sabo in collusion with Prosecutor McGill was intent on violating all of his rights, not just the right to self-representation.

They also hamstrung his attorney by not providing adequate resources, and they tried to sabotage his efforts at every turn. That is when Abu-Jamal started “acting out.” Did he take the right tact in doing that? It’s arguable, but the fact is that everyone is entitled to a fair trial.

In 1959, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a ruling in a murder case from Philadelphia where a guy pled guilty to the murder, and the judge and prosecutor tried to cut corners. The court said that even with evidence of guilt piled as high as Mount Everest, everybody is entitled to a fair trial.

Now, with the hearing coming up on May 17, I think it’s interesting to note that there are a couple of items that this court wanted to hear in oral arguments that the federal District Court Judge had not certified for appeal. One of the items is the bias of Sabo in the 1995 hearing.

Here’s something interesting.

Sabo’s bias has always been obvious and objectionable to anyone with their eyes open, but in 1995, Sabo was so bad that both the Daily News and Philadelphia Inquirer harshly criticized his behavior. The New York Times criticized Sabo’s behavior and was joined by other national publications like the Christian Science Monitor and also an article came out in the American Lawyer, where a lawyer/journalist named Stuart Taylor observed the entire proceedings and concluded that Sabo was thoroughly biased and also concluded that he thought Abu-Jamal did it, but did not receive a fair trial.

There is this incredible record of Sabo’s biases, and the importance of the criticism from the Philly media about Sabo’s bias is that normally these people are rabidly anti-Abu-Jamal and they felt that because of Sabo’s continuing presence on this case and his obvious and detestable bias, that it would undermine any credibility of a fair trial. By
undermining that, it would give further credence to criticism that Abu-Jamal did not receive a fair trial.

They were saying, “Take this clown off the case so you don’t give more ammunition to the Mumidiots.” So when it got to the State Supreme Court and when that Court issued their rejection of Abu-Jamal’s appeal in Oct. 1998, there was a paragraph in there talking about Sabo’s bias, and it said the opinions of a handful of journalists “do not convince us” that Sabo was biased. The court said yes, he was intemperate, and made remarks
he shouldn’t have, etc., but the Court declared that Sabo wasn’t biased.”

The law and the logic that has been used consistently by the Pa Supreme Court in their rulings on this case would make a Philly pretzel look straight. The Court has bent and broken law and legal precedents in their rulings on the Abu-Jamal case.

HB: Given all of this that you lay out, how is it today that the media is still so biased and does not report the key facts that expose all this injustice?

LW: Because the media of today is like the mainstream white media has always
been in this country. They accept a basic narrative and do not deviate from that.

You have to understand that in 1970, a group published a report on the Philly media and it said they reflexively take the side of the police and the prosecutors anytime there is an allegation of police brutality. This is 1970. It wasn’t until the late 1970s that Philadelphia’s media started covering police brutality. The local white media started reporting on brutality after the Inquirer started reporting on it. The Inquirer subsequently won a Pulitzer Prize for that coverage. But before that, they ignored it.

Now I’m not just telling you that from scholarly research and examination. I’m telling you what I know from experience.

From 1975 on, I worked as a reporter covering police brutality. From 1975-78 when I
worked for the Philadelphia Tribune (a black newspaper), almost every other day people would come into our office beaten and bloody. The blood was dried on their faces and clothes.

The police refused to allow these brutality victims to file brutality complaints. They would go to the Inquirer in an attempt to talk to a reporter, but they couldn’t get through the door. The Daily News was the same way. Then, they’d go across town to the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, and still couldn’t get through the door. Finally they’d come to the Philadelphia Tribune and they would get through the door. So, I know from personal experience that the mainstream Philadelphia media refused to cover police brutality and really many other issues involving race. They’ll only write about it superficially.

Listen. Why is it that the media in Philadelphia can occasionally cover issues involving police brutality, but never say that there is a pattern and practice of it? Why do they treat these incidents of police brutality as “isolated incidents” instead of examples of an endemic problem?

The Inquirer also won a Pulitzer Prize writing a story about a man who had been falsely convicted of murder, and their coverage got him out of jail and others. So all these examples they’ve written about people being falsely incarcerated, mistreated by police and prosecutors—which shows a pattern—why is it, then, that they stop and say “Yes, all these improprieties have happened, but it doesn’t have any effect at all on the Mumia Abu-Jamal case.”

HB: You and Mumia both covered the MOVE 9 trial. Looking back at it, what things about the trial remain most vivid in your mind?

LW: To clarify, I covered the preliminary aspects of the MOVE 9 trial, but I did not cover the trial itself. I covered a few parts of the trial when MOVE was actually representing itself. That right of self-representation was revoked, and I think correctly because MOVE was not really trying to represent themselves, but rather to “put the system on trial.” That may be okay, but when your body is in danger of going to jail for a long time, I think you should direct your attention to the evidence (or lack thereof ) and try to get yourself off.

One of my most vivid memories was of MOVE’s house being destroyed around 1:30 that afternoon, just hours after MOVE’s arrest. The shoot out had stopped around 10:30, and the last MOVE person was out around 11:00.

The police had dumped 250,000 gallons of water into the basement. I know this because I was hiding behind the pumping truck that they used for the water cannon when the shooting started. I was talking to the guy as he was pumping the water in. So I know how much water went into that basement. It was a darkened basement filled with water and tear gas, and you can not adequately do an investigation of that within a few hours. Yet police claimed they conducted a thorough investigation and then they tore the compound down.

So, the destruction of evidence alone raises serious questions about the propriety of the evidence used for the charges against them.

Why do you think they destroyed it?

LW: I think they tore down the house in part because they wanted to destroy evidence. Mayor Frank “the racist” Rizzo’s administration and Police Commissioner O’Neill claimed they tore it down because they didn’t want it to become a shrine for MOVE and they felt that they could not maintain security around the house to prevent MOVE people from occupying it again.

The patent absurdity of that is shown by this: From the beginning of March to around the middle of April, 1978, the police enacted a starvation blockade around the house where they sealed off a whole section of Powelton Village, and did not let anyone in or out. People that lived there had to have special passes like in South Africa to get in and out of their homes. So the notion that police couldn’t adequately secure the house is absolutely absurd.

One point of view is that the destruction of evidence destroyed any semblance of a fair trial.

You asked about “vivid memories,” and I remember covering one of the early preliminary hearings. It was held in prison, where they brought in a mini-courtroom and a presiding judge (who was later fired for corruption). I remember vividly when the medical examiner came in and gave his testimony based on the autopsy report related to James Ramp, the officer who was killed.

The medical examiner testified to one thing, in terms of how the bullet entered the body and such. Then, when the prosecutor was getting ready to introduce the medical examiner’s report as evidence, he looked at the first couple paragraphs, and said “Oh, your honor, the medical report here does not conform with the testimony you just heard, let me correct it right here.” This dude pulled out a pencil and changed the damn report right in the courtroom, and then introduced it as evidence. Unbelievably, the judge accepted it!

Once again, this was a very fundamental and egregious violation of procedures. I left the courtroom and called my boss at the Philadelphia Journal, where I was working at the time. I was told, “Yeah, okay, well, we’ll talk about it when you get back.” I was also covering it for the United Press International (UPI) news service, so I called them up, but they told me they weren’t interested.

I said, “Wait a minute. This whole confrontation between the city of Philadelphia and MOVE, starting from 1972, has been about double-standards of justice and violations of
rules and procedures. Here you have a clear example of one, and it’s not newsworthy?” UPI answered: “No. It’s not newsworthy, Linn. If you find something else out, give me a call back.”

HB: So, did anybody use your story?

LW: No!

Nobody used it because they didn’t think it was important. This is a separate argument from whether MOVE is right or wrong, but when you look at the media coverage of MOVE, everything that was perceived as MOVE doing something wrong, was publicized. In contrast, the attacks on MOVE, the injustices, and the deprivations that they endured never found any coverage in the mainstream media. I know it was covered in the Tribune because I was covering for them. It was also on black radio stations because there were black reporters that believed that you should be fair and balanced, and we were criticized for it, Mumia being one of them. This was just because we felt that there were two sides to the story. We weren’t taking MOVE’s side, but we felt they had a legitimate side that needed to be accurately presented.

If they’re getting beaten up, the women getting kicked in the vagina and having miscarried babies, that should be a news story.

February of 1978, there were MOVE members being held in the Philadelphia prisons. The guards jumped on these guys and beat them horribly and then turned around and charged them with assault on the prison guards.

Now, MOVE would normally say, “No, we don’t participate in any kind of cooperation with the system, because we know the system is corrupt.” But, in this particular instance, they said “We’ll cooperate just to show that even if we do cooperate, it won’t mean anything.” So they cooperated with the DA’s office (then headed by Ed Rendell), and after a lengthy investigation, the DA concluded that the victims had indeed been MOVE, who had been attacked by the guards.

So, that meant that the prison guards should have been charged with assault and other crimes. However, Rendell’s office concluded that the appropriate action was not to take any action against the guards, but rather to simply drop the false charges against the MOVE members.

Now, filing a false police report is a crime, as well as lying about something in the
report. There are many crimes short of assault (that had been proven in the investigation) that could have been brought against them, but they didn’t do anything.

And, you know what? Little of this that I just told you about that confrontation at the prison ever got into the news media.

In the recent documentary on MOVE, you cite your sources within the police department who told you that the police know Ramp was killed by police gunfire. Can you say anything more about this?

LW: I will confirm that I was told that by my sources in the police department. However, I have never identified the sources to MOVE, and I will never identify them to anyone else.

But I will tell you this.

Officer Ramp was allegedly shot and killed by a bullet that came from a weapon that fired a .223 caliber round. .223 is the same caliber used in an M-16. Inside MOVE’s house, police claimed that they found four carbines called Mini-14’s, made by Ruger and they fired this .223 round.

The day immediately after the shootout, police were claiming that not a single officer out there that day carried that particular type of weapon. About three weeks later, during the pre-trial proceedings, the police department began to acknowledge the fact that there were police officers who had the Mini-14s firing the .223 rounds. They first said that they had just been out there, but not near the scene. Then, subsequent reports put the officers with those guns closer to the scene, however the official version was “Yes, they were part of the assault, but no, they never fired their weapon.”

So, if in fact, there were no improprieties, why the constantly changing stories and why the heavy-handed cover-up?

There’s another thing, and this is where the destruction of the property precluded a thorough examination, as well as how the trial was handled by MOVE and when the court-appointed attorneys came in, it really became a circus.

But let’s think about this for a minute. You don’t have to be a ballistician to figure this one out. It’s just common sense. You’ve got four male MOVE members in the basement allegedly armed, according to police testimony. A basement by its very nature means it’s below ground level. They’re allegedly firing out of windows, and let’s understand, this was not like The Alamo where people are close up at the window and shooting out. They’re away from the windows, hiding behind pillars in the basement. So, anything they’re shooting out of the windows has to be at an upward trajectory. They would have to shoot up to get out the window.

Ramp was directly across the street at ground level. So how could something hit him in what was said to be a downward type angle when MOVE members were firing upward from that basement?

Okay, maybe the bullet could have ricocheted a little bit. The apartment building across the street from the old MOVE compound is a brick building. However, their compound was made of wood, so the idea that the bullet ricocheted off the brick, back towards MOVE’s house, and then back again to hit Ramp somewhere near ground level, is highly problematic.

Furthermore, the .223 bullet is actually a very small, light weight bullet. Since it’s a very light bullet it will likely break up bouncing back and forth off a brick wall. It’s not going to maintain its integrity and be able to ricochet back and forth a couple times. Unless this was a bullet like the one that Arlen Specter, when he worked for the Warren Commission, said killed Kennedy. You know, one able to change directions in the air a couple times? It’s questionable to unlikely that the bullet that killed Ramp came from that basement.

But, it’s hard for anyone to ever know, because police destroyed evidence. Earlier that year, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that it’s illegal for authorities to destroy a crime scene before the defense has a chance to examine it.

Furthermore, a couple days before the Aug. 8, raid, a Philadelphia judge signed an order barring the city from destroying the MOVE house. Yet, the city did it in violation of this order.

And guess what? They were never called to account for violating that court order. There are copies of the court order too, so they can’t say that it does not exist. That’s bullshit.

HB: Do you think the MOVE 9 should be granted parole in 2008?

LW: Parole is supposedly based on adjustment to prison. From what I understand, there have been few infractions, if any at all. So, the short answer is yes.

They’ve served 30 years in jail for a third-degree murder conviction. The average sentence for third-degree murder is 10-15 years, so they’ve already served twice that. So, yes, they should be released.

Will that happen? I don’t think so.

The Parole Board has a couple of arguably illegal standards in place. One of them says you have to accept responsibility for your crime. But, if you’ve maintained your innocence the whole time you’re in there, how can you say “Okay, I did it?”

This next standard is clearly illegal. It will demand that for MOVE members to be released without serving their full sentence, they will have to renounce membership in MOVE. This is something that would easily happen in China, North Korea, or Russia, saying “You have to denounce these un-communist feelings that you have.” But in America, we’re not supposed to do that. But we do that in Pennsylvania with MOVE members, and nobody says that it’s a problem.

Once again, this is another example of what I was saying at the beginning of our conversation, that there is a big gap between what America says it is and what it actually does.

HB: Anything else on your mind?

LW: Looking at Abu-Jamal’s appeal with the Third Circuit, I hope that the court follows its own legal precedent in a case involving Abu-Jamal. The legal precedent is this: there is a rule that courts are supposed to follow previous rulings because this keeps some stability in the law, so a Judge doesn’t wake up one morning with a bad hair day and change everything, and then the next day change it back. Had the Pa Supreme Court followed its own previous rulings, Abu-Jamal would have had a new trial and/or been released over a decade ago.

The Third Circuit has an opportunity to show whether the rule of law actually means something. The Third Circuit has granted hearings that have led to new trials to individuals on the issue of jury discrimination. So, if they follow their own precedent, then Abu-Jamal will receive a new hearing, if not a new trial.

Earlier on, you mentioned a guy named Harold Wilson. One of the legal victories that eventually led to his release was the a claim of jury discrimination and in this case it was a local Philadelphia judge who called for a new trial and the Philadelphia DA didn’t even oppose it.

HB: We have to hope, and of course keep raising awareness and applying pressure.

LW: But for the international movement supporting him, Abu-Jamal would have been executed by now. Let’s look at 1995. Pa prison authorities were illegally opening Abu-Jamal’s mail as a result of the FOP complaints about him writing articles and a book while in prison. So, the Pa prisons, who had previously allowed prisoners to work with authors to publish accounts of their crimes, and actually helped facilitate interviews for them, are now cracking down on Abu-Jamal.

It was bad enough that they were opening his mail, and not just mail from family and friends, but mail from his lawyer, which is fundamentally illegal. They were copying his stuff and sending copies to the Governor’s office. So, when Gov. Ridge signed the death warrant on Mumia in June of 1995, he was doing it with the full knowledge that Mumia’s attorney’s were preparing to formally file an appeal.

What Ridge did was fundamentally illegal. But he later became the first Homeland Security Czar. So what does that say about America’s adherence to law?

These are findings of fact from a lawsuit that was filed by Mumia, and these findings of fact are contained in a ruling favoring Abu-Jamal that was issued by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. So, these are rulings from federal judges in the late 1990s.

HB: It at least seems like the DA is afraid of the Third Circuit, with their recent request for the court to recuse itself from Abu-Jamal’s case, which the court denied.

LW: That was so patently absurd. They initially started that with a letter, saying “Listen, we think all you guys should step aside.” Abu-Jamal’s attorney, Robert R. Bryan wrote a letter in response, which cited numerous rulings and precedents. The Third Circuit then told the DA that if they wanted to challenge it, they’d have to file a formal legal brief. The DA filed the formal brief, but it still contained all of the factual inaccuracies and inappropriate law that they had alleged in the letter brief. The court threw it out.

Let me tell you something that is of relevance. If they really cared about a fair trial, why did the DA’s office not oppose Sabo sitting on the 1995 appeals, when one of the appeal items was his bias in 1982. If the judge was biased in 1982, would you not think that he’d be biased in 1995? The DA fought that and said that they wanted Sabo on the case.

When the Pa Supreme Court was deciding on the appeal that came out of the 95 hearing,
the defense said, “Listen, we seek the recusal of one member of the Pa Supreme Court: Justice Ron Castille, who had been a Philadelphia DA.” They wanted his recusal on grounds of the Judicial Code of Conduct, section 3D, it says that any judge who was a lawyer for a governmental agency, and through that position, has knowledge of the facts of the case in front of him, must recuse himself. So, here we have Castille, who was DA of Philadelphia, who signed papers to oppose Abu-Jamal’s appeals, and is now sitting on the deliberation. That is a violation of ethics and the DA office didn’t care about that at all.

So, when the Pa Supreme Court issued its second rejection of Abu-Jamal’s appeals, Castille wrote a second opinion explaining why he had refused to recuse himself. In there he says (paraphrased), “Abu-Jamal’s attorney’s are jumping all over me because I took campaign funds from the Fop because the FOP worked on my campaign to become a Supreme Court Justice, and a few years ago the FOP named me as their ‘Man of the Year,’ well that’s unfair to focus on me, because four other members of this court received campaign financing and campaign support from the FOP.”

So we have five members of a seven member court, and all were saying that it did not show any kind of impropriety. On issues of recusal of judges, its not just impropriety, but it is the appearance of impropriety. If you have five members of a seven member court receiving money and support from the prime organization seeking the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal, does that not raise the issue of appearance of impropriety?

HB: What other examples are there of media bias?

LW: In this Mumia affair there have been many allegations of his misconduct, including allegations of him confessing. In 1995, there was an article in the Washington Post, which featured an interview with Maureen Faulkner, and it was talking about how she was outraged that Abu-Jamal had been able to publish a book. The article started with an anecdote from her where she claimed that in court, during the trial, when her husband’s bloody shirt was displayed, Mumia turned around, looked at her, pulled his dreadlocks back, and smiled at her.

However, the official court transcript documented that Mumia was not even in the courtroom on the day that Mrs. Faulkner claimed this smiling incident took place. So, I wrote a column questioning this account and others. Maureen Faulkner wrote me a three page, single-spaced letter calling me everything but a child of God.

I wrote her back and said, “Ms. Faulkner, listen, if there are any ambiguities in this matter, it’s because of you and what you said.” So she then claimed that the Washington Post reporter had gotten the wrong date. She then cited an Inquirer article that says she left the courtroom after the shirt was displayed. However, when I checked it, the article did not say anything about Mumia turning around and smiling at her.

When you look at the rest of the articles from the trial, nowhere does Ms. Faulkner say that she had to leave the courtroom because Mumia smiled at her.

Interestingly, that article Mrs. Faulkner cited did quote the trial prosecutor telling the jury that his Office had made no deals with key prosecution witness Cynthia White. Of course, after the trial, the DA drop a lot of criminal cases filed against White. If the deal didn’t exist on that date, it happened soon after. The jury never knew White was getting special deals from the DA – which is another element undermining a fair trial.

This smiling incident and other incidents are things where I fault reporters. The problem with much of the media is that due to turnover, there is not much institutional memory, and not enough people who have the expertise to write intelligently about such things. Apparently, that Washington Post writer must have never covered a trial, because otherwise she’d have known that at a high profile trial such as this, there are many people and 80 percent of those people are looking at every twitch, movement, smile, or frown from the defendant. A question should have been asked as to who else saw this and why it wasn’t reported. But that article didn’t contain that type of question.

No one saw this allegedly objectionable action.

That seems so consistent in a parallel to the alleged confession. No one heard this confession, except for Gary Bell (who was Faulkner’s partner) and he didn’t remember it until over two months later. Gary Wakshul initially reported that the “negro male made no comment,” but after a police brutality complaint by Abu-Jamal, he suddenly remembers the confession. Wakshul and Bell allege that there were over a dozen officers in the area who also heard the confession, and in 25 years not a single one came forward.

In 1995, the defense tried to get Judge Sabo to issue subpoenas to bring them in and ask them what they heard, and why they didn’t report it. Sabo refused. He said “These are officers. They’re honorable people, so I’m sure if you ask them, they’ll come in.” They were asked and didn’t come in. Then, in his opinion, Sabo wrote that there was no contrary evidence that the confession didn’t take place, because all the people who testified in court said there was a confession. By his rulings, Sabo made certain that officers would not come in and testify.

The first person to allegedly report the confession was hospital security guard Priscilla Durham. Interestingly, she claims to hear a confession to a murder, but does she talk to a detective, uniformed officers, or police internal affairs?


She claims that she went to her supervisor and allegedly writes this down on a hand-written report. Did her supervisor give this report to the police? No. So what does that say about the validity of the confession?

HB: Did you follow how the week of December 9, two more accounts came out from William Colarulo (now a Chief Inspector for the Philadelphia police) and Kathleen Gerrow (now an executive producer at NBC 10)?

LW: Hans, let me tell you something. These two accounts sound suspicious like dog dirt…dropping on a sidewalk.

Let’s think logically here. William Colarulo was the head of the police department’s press office for over two years, and he never once said anything about this? That’s ridiculous!

But when you read his news media statements about this confession, what he said about what Abu-Jamal was wearing is totally different from what Wakshul said he was wearing, when Wakshul voluntarily went to police on Dec. 16, 1981 and volunteered more information where he was able to remember the type of clothing, the color, and the texture. The last question the police asked Wakshul on 12/16/81 was, “Is there anything else that you would like to add?” He said no. There was nothing about a confession. It is absurd.

Furthermore, what Colarulo said was not based on what he saw or heard himself, but was based on what someone told him. Has the police officer that Colarulo cites as having heard the confession ever come forward and said anything about it?

Absolutely not.

Now, reporter Kathleen Gerrow. This is what’s really strange. We have a reporter that claims to have heard a confession in the largest murder case that was going on in Philadelphia at the time, and she said nothing about it? Journalistic careers are made on bits of information like hearing a major piece of information in a major murder case. If she had this information, it could have made her career. Why did she not say anything about it for 25 years?

These sorts of things defy logic and common sense. But this is what passes as journalism in Philadelphia…and evidence of Abu-Jamal’s guilt. Why didn’t the so-called reporter interviewing Gerrow ask a follow-up question, like “Why didn’t you say something earlier? It could have made your career?” These questions should be asked.

It’s not for the press to take a position one way or the other, but it is the responsibility of the press to scrutinize all sides with the same rigor. One side (the Danny Faulkner side) can say anything they want, even if it makes no sense at all, yet it gets credibility and traction in the media. On the other side, Abu-Jamal’s side can say anything they want, and irrespective of the substance and factual accuracy, and they get no coverage at all.

Where is the journalistic fairness, balance, and accuracy? These are the three things that are supposed to be fundamental to journalism. Are they happening in this case?

No, they are not.


Hans Bennett ( is a Philadelphia-based photojournalist and co-founder of “Journalists for Mumia,” whose new website is:

Check out Bennett’s recent report on the April 24 rally for Abu-Jamal:

All work by photojournalist Hans Bennett