“Mumia Abu-Jamal has been on Death Row for almost 30 years in Pennsylvania. He’s currently sitting in a very small dark cell on death row. He is in solitary confinement as are all on Death Row. Mumia only gets to bathe three times a week. He is allowed outside five days a week for a little over an hour. However, when he is allowed outside, he is isolated in a cage. He has a bleak existence.”
So explained Robert Bryan, Mumia’s lead attorney at a meeting in the European Parliament hosted by the European United Left.
Mumia faces the death penalty for the killing of a police officer in December 1981. As Robert explained, everything that could be unjust in a trial was unjust for Mumia. There was a racist jury selection process. His original lawyer did no investigation and little preparation. The court room was packed with police officers carrying their guns, where the message to the jury was clear – they had to do their duty.
The judge in Mumia’s case was a notorious racist and the man responsible for the largest number of death sentences in the US. In the course of the trial, according to a sworn affidavit by the court stenographer, he said “I’m going to help them fry the nigger.”
This is a case where to say there was reasonable doubt would be a dramatic understatement. Since the trial, several prosecution witnesses in the original trial have withdrawn their testimony and another man has come forward saying that he killed the policeman. There is no question that Mumia is an innocent man.
His case goes to the heart of the racist and class-based nature of the US justice system. Incredibly, one in six black men in America are currently or were formerly inmates in prison (compared to one in 37 for the entire population) and 42% of the 3,000 inmates on death row in the US are black.
Mumia was targeted because he was an outspoken opponent of oppression and injustice before his arrest. As early as 15 years of age, he was targeted by the FBI for his activity with the Black Panthers. He then became a well known radio journalist, known as the “Voice of the Voiceless” because of his passionate exposes of countless government and police abuses. At the meeting, Robert Bryan recounted how the authorities warned him before he was arrested that, “one of these days, we will get you.”
There has been a series of appeals to various courts, with the US judicial establishment proving unwilling to reconsider the injustice that has been perpetrated against Mumia. The latest is a decision by the US Supreme Court on 19 January which overturned the ruling of an appeals court that granted Mumia the right to a new sentencing hearing. There will then be another hearing at the appeals court, followed by another appeal to the Supreme Court by the side that loses.
However, time is now growing short – Mumia will face execution if these cases are lost. What is needed is a re-ignition of mass mobilisations around Mumia, with the crucial involvement of the labour movement in the US and around the world.
Such a movement could scare the establishment off and save Mumia’s life as well. Joe Higgins, Socialist Party MEP, will be working in the European Parliament with others in the European United Left to try to publicise Mumia’s case and to co-ordinate action. The Socialist Party and the Committee for a Workers’ International will be to the fore in trying to develop an international movement to free Mumia and abolish the death penalty. To get the latest legal updates on the case of Mumia and sign the online petition to Barack Obama go to www.mumialegal.org.