What word best describes a connection between birthers and those bashing death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal, the activist-author who many worldwide consider a political prison?
Some will quickly say that word is “racism,” and they are right!
Racism definitely drives many birther movement members who incessantly badger President Barack Obama, seeking to delegitimize his presidency with the demeaning contention that he was not born on American soil as required by the U.S. Constitution.
And racism definitely drove Abu-Jamal’s 1982 conviction for killing Philadelphia policeman Daniel Faulkner.
During that controversial trial, the prosecutor improperly excluded potential Black jurors. In addition, the prosecutor pilloried the award-winning journalist for his brief teenaged membership in the Black Panther Party, proclaiming BPP impulses triggered Abu-Jamal’s cop killing, despite Abu-Jamal lacking any criminal record and his leaving the BPP 12 years before his 1981 arrest.
Further, on the eve of that 1982 trial, a court worker overheard presiding Judge Albert Sabo pledging his intent to help prosecutors “fry the nigger,” a declaration reeking of racism and lack of impartiality.
Pennsylvania’s Code of Judicial Conduct requires jurists to perform their duties “impartially” and not succumbing to partisan interests and treating all litigants courteously. Yet, Pennsylvania appellate courts dismissed Sabo’s racist, pro-prosecution remark as irrelevant.
An Amnesty International report on Abu-Jamal’s case released in 2000 stated that the “overt hostility of the trial judge and the appearance of judicial bias during appellate review render Abu-Jamal’s verdict and sentence fundamentally unsound.”
While the word racism appropriately connects birthers and Abu-Jamal bashers, an equally apt word is “fiction.”
Birther claims of Obama’s non-American birth is a malicious fiction as proven by ample evidence, including the president’s recent release of his long-form birth certificate.
The Abu-Jamal case is fraught with fictions factual and legal beginning with the evidence used to convict him and continuing through review by appellate courts. Consider the claim that police did not frame Abu-Jamal–a fictitious assertion based on ample evidence. Philadelphia police framed four other men arrested for murder in 1981. The ordeal of one those four framed men–arrested exactly six months before Abu-Jamal–was described as a “Kafkaesque nightmare” by a judge who criticized the “ruthless conspiracy” by police to convict that man for a mob-related murder.
Seventeen of the 35 police officers investigating Faulkner’s murder left the Philadelphia Police Department under indictment and/or discipline for criminal offenses, including misconduct like manufacturing evidence devised to unfairly secure convictions.
Philadelphians account for three of the six men released from Pennsylvania’s death row based upon legal wrongdoing comparable to that cited by Abu-Jamal’s defense–particularly police and prosecutors illegally withholding evidence of innocence.
The biggest fiction in the Abu-Jamal case is the claim that he has received fair treatment from the courts.
This fraught-with-fiction claim excuses the racism Sabo displayed at Abu-Jamal’s original trial and a pivotal 1995 appeal hearing, which was sabotaged by Pennsylvania’s then-Gov. Tom Ridge, whose aides improperly intercepted Abu-Jamal’s legal mail containing an appeal strategy.
Ridge, exploiting that intercepted legal mail, issued a death warrant against Abu-Jamal, disrupting the 1995 appeal hearing–a gross violation of fair trial procedures that no state or federal appeals court has faulted.
The federal Third Circuit Appeal Court recently reaffirmed its previous ruling, declaring improprieties in Abu-Jamal’s 1982 death sentence due to flawed jury instructions by the trial judge.
However, that ruling leaves Abu-Jamal in the unenviable posture of possibly receiving another death sentence or spending the remainder of his life in prison. The Third Circuit denied Abu-Jamal’s new trial requests, rejecting substantive evidence of misconduct.
The reason why millions around the world constantly rally in support of Abu-Jamal is the documented evidence of mistreatment that courts curtly ignore when rejecting his requests for justice.
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship and has researched the Abu-Jamal case since December 1981.