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Mumia: '[We've] made one step. We have one more to go'

NAYABA ARINDE Amsterdam News Editor | 3/16/2012, 1:05 p.m.
All out for Mumia Abu-Jamal in Philadelphia

"Getting Mumia moved into general population is a victory, but the real victory-and what we are working toward-is to bring him home. We are steadily working on that," said Pam Africa from Philadelphia's MOVE organization.

While supporters mull over the victory of getting Mumia Abu-Jamal off death row and into the general population of the medium-security facility SCI Mahanoy in Frackville, Pa., it is as Abu-Jamal himself said: "One step. We have one more to go."

For almost two months, the worldwide army of supporters of the iconic "political prisoner" waited for news about the Mahanoy prison authority's ultimatum that Abu-Jamal must cut his decades-old locks in order to enter general population.

The movement, being what it is, refuses to be predictable but is always strategic. And so, after having endured nine years in solitary confinement in protest and refusing to cut his hair, Abu-Jamal decided to trim his hair to the shoulder-length requirement and indeed come out of solitary.

"We pick our battles," said Africa, speaking to the AmNews at the 16th annual Political Prisoner Dinner held at 1199SEIU's Martin Luther King Jr. Labor Center in Midtown on Saturday. "They had him for nine years in the Restrictive Housing Unit-we got him out of solitary confinement in just seven weeks this time around."

The development came in the wake of prosecutor Seth Williams' decision seven weeks ago that he would no longer pursue the death penalty against Abu-Jamal 10 years after federal Judge William H. Yohn originally overturned his death sentence.

Speaking to Noelle Hanrahan of PrisonRadio.org on Sunday, Abu-Jamal declared, "You know, it's back to the drawing board, as the old saying goes. We have to work and take the next step, which is, of course, not this. So that's the job that has to be done.

"I trust we will do it," he said. "I believe we will do it. Give my love to everybody and tell them I'm thankful for all of our people. They've made one step. We have one more to go. On the move."

Supporters were thrilled that he was able to hug his wife for the very first time in 30 years earlier this week.

"The ideal is to get him home and out of the prison, where he never should have been to begin with," said Herman Ferguson, 91, a former political prisoner and prisoner in exile in Guyana. "Mumia is in prison for a crime they know he did not commit. The real victory would be to get him out of there altogether."

A former Black Panther and journalist, Abu-Jamal has always maintained his innocence and has said that it was his political convictions and writing that really had him convicted and sentenced to death for the 1981 murder of officer.

Meanwhile, for years, witnesses have recanted their initial "coerced" statements against Abu-Jamal, and an alleged mafia hitman, Arnold Beverly, has even admitted to shooting the officer.

At the dinner on Saturday were families like those of Russell Shoats and Sekou Odinga, who went in to prison as young men and remain behind the wall as grandparents.