Betsey Piette, Workers World, April 24, 2008
Philadelphia - Over a thousand people voiced their collective outrage here April 19 that political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal was once again denied the right to a fair hearing by an injustice system determined to keep this innocent man imprisoned for life if it can’t silence him outright through execution.
Protesters filled all four corners of a major intersection near the Federal Court building for a brief rally before marching around the Liberty Bell and up Market Street to City Hall for a closing rally. Along the way the march stopped for street meetings where speakers explained the case to passers-by.
The demonstrators filled all four lanes of Market Street, bringing traffic on this busy downtown street to a halt for over an hour. Drivers of stalled buses eagerly received materials to read about the case.
Groups of students in Philadelphia for class trips also stopped to listen. One teacher tried to keep students from taking handouts about the case. When a protester pointed out that the teacher was trying to keep them from getting information, one student responded, “Yeah, it happens all the time!”
Another teacher, however, encouraged her students to take literature and asked questions about the case so the youth could get a better understanding.
In addition to a strong turnout from Philadelphia, protesters came from Boston, New York City, California and there was also a delegation from France. Solidarity demonstrations also took place in other countries.
A threatened counterprotest by neo-Nazi skinheads turned out to be a dozen or so white men who looked more like off-duty police. The pro-Mumia protesters did not allow them to disrupt and passed them by without incident.
Denied fair trial
On March 27, a three-judge panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals denied Abu-Jamal’s appeal of racism in jury selection, going against its own precedent on this issue. The appellant court panel also rejected appeals concerning prosecutorial misconduct and pro-prosecution judicial bias that could have led to a new trial.
Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther Party activist, has been on Pennsylvania’s death row for 26 years in connection with the shooting death of a Philadelphia police officer.
The panel also upheld a 2001 ruling by Federal Judge William Yohn that overturned the death sentence in this case. Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham can still call for a new penalty-phase jury trial to attempt to reinstate a death sentence.
Abu-Jamal’s lawyer is refusing to accept the ruling against a new trial that could determine guilt or innocence. Instead, the attorney, Robert R. Bryan, is now appealing to the entire Third Circuit Court of Appeals, and if necessary, he will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The strong outpouring of support for Mumia comes at a crucial time. It follows earlier protests in cities around the country in the aftermath of this judicial panel’s outrageous decision. Even one of the panel’s members, Judge Thomas Ambro, took strong exception in a 41-page dissent strongly criticizing his colleagues for denying Abu-Jamal the courtesy of their own legal precedents concerning racism in jury selection.
‘Keep on fighting’
Rally speakers included former U.S. Congressmember Cynthia McKinney, who is currently running for president of the United States and who has long been an advocate for Abu-Jamal and other political prisoners.
Attorney Lynne Stewart, currently appealing her own conspiracy conviction, challenged people to “keep on fighting.” Stewart pointed out that while this case goes through the courts there is a tremendous amount of work for people to do in fundraising and getting out publicity on the case.
Larry Holmes, of the International Action Center and the recently formed Ad Hoc Network to Stop Foreclosures and Evictions, stressed the need for solidarity to free brother Mumia, and to stop the onslaught of economic attacks against poor and working people evidenced by widespread foreclosures, evictions and layoffs.
Pam Africa of the MOVE organization and International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal challenged the courts to release Mumia now on the grounds that they have consistently denied his right to a fair trial. “We have absolutely no faith in the judicial system,” she said, “but if Mumia does have a court proceeding, we’ll continue to mobilize and pack the courtroom and the streets. However, if Mumia gets justice, we know it will not come from the courts, only from the pressure generated by the people.”
¡Sí, se puede! – Free Mumia!
Latin@s for Mumia brought two buses from New York, and Esperanza Martell of ProLibertad Freedom Campaign had the crowd cheering as she exclaimed: “Mumia is Dominican! Mumia is Puerto Rican! Mumia is Mexicano! Mumia is all of us! ¡Sí, se puede! (Yes we can) Free Mumia!”
Political prisoner and Lakota activist Leonard Peltier, recently moved to a federal prison in Pennsylvania, sent a message of solidarity in which he stated: “We are one, and we are many. We are forever, we are timeless. We are Crazy Horse, we are Geronimo, we are Mumia, we are Leonard Peltier, we are Malcolm X, and we are Martin Luther King. ... We are the American Indian Movement, we are the Black Panthers, we are MOVE, we are the Viet Cong, we are the Irish Republican Army, and the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
“We are every man, woman and child who desires to see a sunrise in a land of freedom and opportunity, a land of plenty and not hunger, a land of choices without fear, a land of progress without brutality.”