“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.
Supporters and family members call them political prisoners because they believe that the only reason they are in prison is because of their political beliefs or membership in organizations like the Black Panther Party, the Black Liberation Army, MOVE or even Malcolm X’s Organization of Afro-American Unity.
“We have to remain forever vigilant for Mumia,” said Iyaluua Ferguson, wife of Herman Ferguson. “In many ways, they have greater access to him now, and we have to make sure that they understand that nothing can happen to him.”
“John Africa taught us that you never allow the government to misuse your religion against you,” said Pam Africa.
“The desire of this government is to keep Mumia in restrictive housing under its tortuous conditions-where he is subjected to body searches and has to sleep under blinking lights so you have no idea what time it is, where they tried to block his communication, where he couldn’t do the radio. For nine years, he was in a worse hell than death row-in restrictive housing. They just knew the position would be the same.”
Surrounded by the families and supporters of political prisoners, Africa continued proudly, “Mumia has proven his point. He is strong in his religion. He is strong in his beliefs. He is still fighting for all life, and we will not allow the government to use his religion against him. Long live strategic revolution!”