On Sunday, April 24, political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal celebrates his 58th birthday. Suzanne Ross, co-chair of the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition (NYC), told the AmNews that “this is a day of resurrection for Mumia’s case,” referring to the fact that April 24 of this year is also being celebrated as Easter Sunday.
Before getting any deeper into the details surrounding the Philadelphia activist’s case, the AmNews must share an exclusive email from Julia Wright, daughter of famed writer Richard Wright, who lives in Paris, France. Five years ago, a small town called Saint-Denis defied the Fraternal Order of Police and a U.S. Congressional Resolution by naming a street after Mumia, known as rue Mumia Abu-Jamal. Julia Wright recalled a phone call she received:
“Five years ago, on a premature spring afternoon, I received a phone call in my Paris apartment (my family and I have continued to live in exile after Richard Wright’s death in 1960). An official-sounding voice asked me if I was the spokesperson in France for International Concerned Family and Friends for Mumia Abu Jamal.
“Puzzled, I concurred,” Wright said.
“The voice then identified itself as speaking for the cultural Department of the City Hall of the town of Saint-Denis, better known for its church, where all the kings and queens of France are buried–some beheaded. ‘Would you kindly get in touch with Mr. Jamal on death row and ask him for his written permission to enable our municipality to name a street for him?’
“I blinked in amazement and finally managed to say, ‘I was under the impression streets could only be named after dead people.’”
She continued, “The official voice softened as it answered: ‘That is just why we want to name a street after him; so that we can keep him alive.’
“Today, five years later, Mumia is still alive and rue Mumia Abu-Jamal is still alive and kicking.”
According to Ross, what is really significant is that he still is alive some 30 years after being sent to a Pennsylvania death row cell. Abu-Jamal was sentenced to death row in 1983, after his 1982 conviction in the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. The man known as “the voice of the people” has always maintained his innocence.
Abu-Jamal was a radio journalist, activist with the Black Panther Party and part-time cab driver at the time of Faulkner’s murder. He was also active in defending MOVE, the naturalist organization residing in the West Philadelphia section of the “City of Brotherly Love.”
In 2001, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania upheld the original conviction but voided the death sentence, citing irregularities in the original sentencing procedure, according to Wikipedia.
In December of 2005, the Third Circuit Court allowed for an appeal of the ruling of the District Court on four issues: that the jury form had been flawed, that there had potentially been a racial bias in jury selection, that the prosecutor’s instructions to the jury were misleading and that the presiding judge demonstrated unacceptable bias.
According to reports, the presiding judge stated at the time, “Yeah, and I’m going to help them fry the nigger.”
On March 27, 2008, a three-judge panel issued a majority 2-1 opinion that upheld the 2001 opinion but rejected the bias issue. They said that if the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania chose not to hold a new hearing, Abu-Jamal would automatically be sentenced to life in prison.
In July of 2008, Abu-Jamal’s petition seeking a reconsideration of the decision by the full Third Circuit panel of 12 judges was denied. On April 6, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal, and on Jan. 19, 2010, the Supreme Court ordered the appeals court to reconsider the decision to rescind the death penalty, also ordering them to hear submissions for that purpose. That is where the case stands now.
Abu-Jamal addressed a standing-room only gathering of his supporters at Riverside Church on April 3. When a questioner asked him what has kept him going for the past 30 years, he said, “It has been a long, hard struggle. I have been blessed with a loving family. I am inspired when I see people organize against neo-colonial imperialism.”
So, one might ask, what does Ross mean by a resurrection? The purpose for the gathering at Riverside Church was to introduce Abu-Jamal’s new legal team to his supporters: attorney Christine Swarms, director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund’s Criminal Justice Project, and attorney Judith Ritter, professor at Widener Law School in Wilmington, Del.
“No question, the criminal justice system has failed him and that has everything to do with race,” Swarms said, adding, “That is why the LDF is in this case.”
The spirit in the room on April 3 showed the significance of the “Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Movement” 30 years later, said Ross. In her exclusive interview with the AmNews she noted that the support for Abu-Jamal in France was very significant moment.
Ross said that the two attorneys are going for the April 30 street-renaming celebration along with Bill Bachmann, a union activist with the American Postal Workers Union and member of the NYC Free Mumia Coalition; a two-member delegation from Germany’s “Free Mumia Movement”; and a 12-member delegation from the Pan-African Society in London, England.
Last but not least, Ramona Africa and Pam Africa from the International Coalition out of Philadelphia will be in attendance. “We have to agitate and make people stay on the move,” Pam Africa said. “The fact of it is we are all on death row.”