Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge has now signed Mumia Abu-Jamal’s death warrant. They plan to kill him on 17 August and thus barbourously to satisfy the racist cops who continue to campaign for his death and the blood lust of those who elected Tom Ridge as governor. Time is running out for Mumia Abu-Jamal. Time is short in which to lodge the protests and mount the pickets that may make the difference between life for Mumia-Abu Jama and a horrible death at the hands of the hired killers of the state of Pensylvania.
Ridge is a man in a hurry. He is threatening to deliver on at least one of his election promises. He pledged to the electorate that he, as Governor, would kill everyone on Death Row! It is Indecent haste because Ridge knows Mumia’s lawyers recently lodged the case for a new trial, and that they must now win a stay of execution before they can even begin to put Mumia’s case for justice. This politician is racing ahead in an attempt to cheat justice and deliver Mumia Abu-Jamal’s lifeless body to the baying right wing mob.
This is no more than we should expect. This case has been a frame-up from start to finish.
“Mumia Abu-Jamal never had a trial”. That is how Mumia’s lawyers justly described the legal farce which in 1982 convicted Mumia of the murder of a policeman, and sentenced him to death. He has languished in solitary confinement for 13 years, awaiting infliction of premature death on some undisclosed future date chose by the state of Pennsylvania.
Mumia never had a fair trial because he challenged the oppression which poor people, and especially poor black people, suffer in the United States. Those who do that take on the cops, the politicians, the courts and the whole establishment.
Before he was captured and taken away to be killed by the state Mumia had been challenging oppression for twenty years. He was a member of the Black Panthers in the 1960s when the FBI was infiltrating and smashing up the Panthers. As a journalist and broadcaster championing the oppressed he earned the name “voice of the voiceless.”
He joined MOVE, a black quasi-religious and political organisation in 1978. In 1985 Philadelphia police would bomb MOVE’s headquarters killing 11 people, 5 of them children. Mumia was, by now, a respected journalist, one of Philadelphia Magazine’s “people to watch in 1981.”
Certainly the Philadelphia Police Department thought him a man to watch. They had been watching Mumia for twenty years, waiting for their chance to get him. In 1981 Mumia intervened to help his brother who was being beaten in the street by police officers. Someone shot one of the police.
Mumia came round to find he too had been shot, in the stomach. And he was in the detention of the racist police. The police beat him up in the street and again later in the hospital. Then they accused Mumia of murdering the policeman. Witnesses identified the killer of the cop as a heavily built man; they saw him running away from the scene where the unconscious Mumia lay on the ground beside the dead policemen. That made no difference: the cops wanted Mumia. Mumia had a gun at the scene of the crime. But it was not the sort of gun that killed the policeman! Never mind: Mumia will do!
For his trial Mumia was denied his choice of lawyer. He faced a biased judge and a rigged jury, which included avowed racists.
The grotesque unfairness of the trial was implicitly admitted by the judge himself. In his summing up this gentleman told the jury to convict Mumia. Mumia, he told them, if for no other reason than that he had been a member of the Black Panthers who said power grows out of the barrel of a gun. That instruction alone would have been grounds for a mis-trial had Mumia had decent legal representation.
No one knows better than the American ruling class that power grows out of the barrel of a gun. They put guns in the fists of hired thugs in uniform and point them at the head of anyone who tries to organise people against their system. Why, people like Mumia’s judge ask, indignantly should people oppose a system which keeps the rich insulated in air-conditioned suburbs while the working class and the rest of the and poor rot in the inner-cities, or moulder in rural backwaters? They have created a vast layer which they contemptuously call the underclass and condemn to live in Third World style slums in the margins of the richest country on earth. They need the death penalty to terrorise their victims. The need to “make examples” of “eloquent critics who challenge this system”. They need to silence eloquent voices of protest like Mumia’s and make sure that the “voiceless” remain dumb and unorganised.
Mumia was an ideal candidate for a conspicuous, legal killing, when Philadelphia’s racist police and politicians got him in their power they determined that he would not get out alive.
In spite of Mumia’s strong case for a new trial police are piling pressure on Governor Ridge to go through with the scheduled killing. As we go to press 17 August is the day scheduled for the killing. Governor Ridge does not need that much persuading!
But pressure is also building in Mumia’s favour. The campaign to save his life has built meetings, pickets and demonstrations around the world. It has won the support of many trade unions, including in this country the NUJ, GPMU and T&G. Now that the Day of Death approaches the campaign has to go on to a new and more urgent footing. Time is short!
Tom Ridge is determined to kill Mumia but we can still build a campaign strong enough to force a stay of execution, a new trial, and eventually win Mumia’s release and his restoration to a normal, active, healthy political and personal life.
Mumia is not wealthy. He is not a sporting hero or a star-spangled banner star of stage and screen, like another black American currently on trial in the United States. Mumia now has good lawyers but they are not an OJ Simpson army, they are no legal “dream team”. Mumia’s recently published book of memoirs — Live from Death Row — has aroused interest, but media interest in his case has not been anywhere near round-the-clock, minute-to-minute interest. Mumia is not wealthy, not a sporting hero , not an actor. They would like to put this thorn in the side of the American ruling class out of the way as quietly as possible, exciting as little opposition as possible — to quietly do him to death except for their own final reactionary “rebel yell” of hatred against the poor and against black people.
That is what they plan to do. Whether they can do it depends on how loudly and effectively socialists and others yell back at them.
What can you do?
* Let the racist Governor drown in paper! Send protest faxes and letters to Governor Tom Ridge, Main Capitol Building, Room 225, Harrisburg, PA 17120; fax (717) 772-3155; phone (717) 787-2500. Let Mumia Abu-Jamal know you care. Write to Mumia Abu-Jamal, AM8335, SCI Greene, 1040 E. Roy Furman Highway, Waynesburg, PA 15370-8090.
People sent so many protest messages to the Philadelphia Governor they had to change the fax number. Keep it up.
* Pass motions in your trade union, Labour Party or student union commiting them to protest to Governor Ridge.
* Contribute to Mumia’s legal defence, in Britain send cheques payable to “Partisan Defence Committee” and with “Jamal Legal Defence” written on the back to: Partisan Defence Committee, BCM Box 4986, London WC1N 3XX.
* Read Mumia’s book, Live from Death Row. Order it through the Partisan Defence Committee. They are trying to get it published in Britain. The Partisan Defence Committee phone number in London is: 0171-485 1396, fax 0171-267 3867; in New York, telephone (212) 406 4252.
President Clinton’s crime bill, legalised the death penalty for a further 58 crimes including some which involve no killing, such as attempted assassination of the President, treason, espionage and major drug-trafficking.
Since 1991 seven states have resumed executions, and there is a growing queue for the slaughter. There are now some 3,000 death row inmates in 37 states. The average wait for execution is seven years.
Clinton’s body-count has not quenched the blood-lust of the American right. The Republicans who swept the board in the November elections campaigned for speeding up the killing.
Republican candidates for state governor promised to sign more death warrants if elected. In January, Jesse Dewayne Jacobs was executed in Texas even after the public prosecutor admitted he had not killed anyone, but was only an accomplice.
The victory of Republican George E Pataki as governor of New York looks set to bring the executioner back to New York’s jails for the first time since 1965.
40.3% of those on death row are black, though black people only make up 12.6% of the USA’s population. 84.5% of those executed since 1977 were convicted of killing white victims, although blacks are killed in almost equal numbers.
Many black people on death row were tried by white juries, purged of all black people by prosecutors in jury-vetting procedures.
The poor are far more likely to end up on death row because many states have arbitrary, underfunded and ineffective legal representation for the poor.
The mentally ill or retarded are often unable to defend themselves. In 1994 John Thanos was executed in Maryland after waiving his right to appeal; he was suffering from severe mental disorder and was not fit to make such a decision.
Roy Stewart was executed on the basis of an confession bullied out of him. He had serious mental problems. The confession did not fit the facts.
Maroi Marquez, executed in Texas was so retarded that he put aside the dessert from his last meal “to eat later”.
The USA is one of the few countries in the world that executes juvenile offenders. In 1993 the USA executed four juvenile offenders.
Despite all this, many people claim that the death penalty works. Clinton’s Attorney General Janet Reno welcomed the 1994 Crime Bill claiming it “will mean fewer victims, fewer tragedies, few lost lives.”
However, there is no clear evident that the death penalty reduced crime. It is social conditions, material and cultural, that determine the level and type of crime in a society, not punishment.
For example, the murder rate has dropped by 27% in Canada since abolition of the death penalty in 1993. No one commits a crime like murder thinking about punishment. Either they don’t think about it or they do not think they will get caught.
The death row philosophy of social control is an integral part of the right wing’s social theory of the war of all against all, or an individualistic and greedy human nature curbed by fear and force. Its solutions have always failed, but then the failure is used by the right to justify more of the same, not a new analysis of society.