Pam Africa, the noted activist and fervent advocate for the freedom of the ailing political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, handed copies of last year’s annual report from Prison Radio before settling among a cadre of speakers at a press conference on the condition of Abu-Jamal last week at the Madiba Restaurant in Harlem.
“Will we ever listen to, and learn from, our bloodstained prophets? Mumia Abu-Jamal speaks to us of the institutional injustice and spiritual impoverishment of our culture,” were the first words leaping from the page of the report, read by Dr. Cornel West.
Not a few moments after seeing these words, West was beckoned to the microphone by the tireless coordination of the event, Suzanne Ross of the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, and while it’s always a pleasure to read West, to hear him is an aural treat.
“We are here because we have a deep love for our dear brother, Mumia,” West said, his voice packed with a passionate urgency. “And we love the people who he loves; and we love the tradition of struggle which he is part of.” West cited a litany of “towering historical figures,” freedom fighters from Harriet Tubman to Malcolm X, which Abu-Jamal now embodies.
West said of Abu-Jamal, who turned 60 last month, though physically weakened by neglect of proper medical treatment, misdiagnosis of his diabetes and given the wrong medication, “his spirit is unconquerable … his witness is unconquerable, and his love is unstoppable.”
And the love for Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther and a celebrated journalist, has taken on a global dimension since his incarceration in 1982, when he was convicted of killing Daniel Faulkner, a Philadelphia policeman. So much so that in 2006, a street in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis was named “Rue Mumia Abu-Jamal” in his honor.
Juliette Seydi, a resident of Saint-Denis and assistant to Mayor Didier Paiillard, who authorized the street naming, participated in the conference. She said that people in France were shocked to learn of Abu-Jamal’s current condition.
“Mumia’s struggle is our struggle,” she said through Ross’ translation. “The struggle against racism is an ongoing struggle.”
Abu-Jamal’s imprisonment and current sickness are gradually seeping into the corporate corridors, and a good instance of this occurred two weeks ago when a half-page ad about his condition and the demand for medical assistance appeared in The New York Times. This is but one element of the movement that has been gathering for more than a generation now, something that former Black Panther Jamal Joseph has witnessed intimately and addressed during the press conference.
“Mumia is a hero to young people,” Joseph said, referring to the growing activism from Ferguson, Mo., to Baltimore. “They see the example of his life as a young activist and they see the example of his life now as an elder … that expresses, love, inspiration and hope.”
Abu-Jamal, through various forms of communication, via radio, the Internet and his writings, “let us know that he is part of our living history,” Joseph added.
Many people are not aware that Assemblyman Charles Barron was also a Panther. He recounted some of the turbulent times during the party’s struggle in Harlem and Brooklyn, where he was among the stalwart leaders. “So many of our brothers and sisters are languishing in prison, and our young people don’t even know they exist,” Barron lamented. He related the excitement and enthusiasm generated in East New York when the recently liberated political prisoner, Sekou Odinga, came and spoke to residents there. “They hung on his every word.” Likewise, folks at the press conference clung to each demand Barron voiced, none more fervent than when he said “that our Brother Mumia must be released to our community so that we can take care of him.”
Among the most dedicated fighters for Abu-Jamal’s freedom has been Noelle Hanrahan, whose publication and broadcast on Prison Radio complements her indefatigable communication on Abu-Jamal’s day-to-day status. Her report of Abu-Jamal’s physical condition was replete with a veritable dictionary of ailments, including diabetes, an excruciatingly painful rash and open sores. “There were times when he couldn’t bend over, couldn’t even tie his own shoes,” she said.
At this perilous moment for Abu-Jamal, Hanrahan continued, “Mumia needs access to doctors he can trust.” She also explained that the legal team is moving ahead with great speed. She played a recording from Abu-Jamal, in which he thanked all of those who have been involved in his plight. He apologized for not being conscious when many came to visit, but even so, he said, “I love all of you from the bottom of my heart.”Dr. Joseph Harris, who went to medical school in Cuba and is now a member of MDs for Mumia, strongly demanded that Abu-Jamal be released on “humanitarian” grounds. “He shouldn’t be in prison … I can see the negligence … and how can he be healthy if he’s being tortured?”
The medical neglect Abu-Jamal is experiencing, according to Estela Vasquez, executive vice president of Local 1199, “is a form of genocide … Mumia’s human rights are being violated.” She assailed the U.S.’s hypocrisy on the question of human rights. “This country worries about human rights in other countries when right here, our human rights are being violated. And it takes place, not only in jails, but when our children are being shot and killed by police officers.”
In the words of veteran activist Larry Holmes, “Mumia is a brilliant revolutionary, and we need him more than he needs us.” Holmes said the reason they are trying to kill Abu-Jamal through medical neglect is because he is a “dangerous” man. He said that if anything happens to Abu-Jamal, “we hold you [the state] responsible.”
Africa, of the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal and MOVE, had a different take on the issue of the medical neglect Abu-Jamal is enduring. “It’s not medical neglect,” she charged. “This is attempted murder. We got to call it what it is … they are deliberately trying to kill him.
Africa repeated “We must continue to stand up for Mumia.” It was a feeling that resonated throughout the room in the same way it’s beginning to touch practically every corner of the globe.