To kill a Mumia: Racism still prevails in the U.S. legal system

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John Doe, an acclaimed journalist and scholar, is driving around Philadelphia one night when he sees his brother being arrested. He stops his car; the curtain falls. Curtain rises — more police arrive at the scene. The man arresting Doe’s brother is shot dead, and Doe is sitting on the curb, bleeding badly from a bullet wound. The police beat Doe brutally, smashing his head against the curb and a light post and delay getting him medical attention. Doe’s registered gun is found near the scene.

An initial report from the autopsy reveals that the bullet that killed the police officer was of a different caliber than Doe’s gun: It could not have been fired from the gun registered to Doe. Several days later, the forensic pathologist retracts his statement, saying that the bullet was in fact the same caliber. The bullet mysteriously disappeared from the evidence collected.

Doe’s lawyer says he doesn’t want the case. The judge forces him to keep it. Doe requests to represent himself in the courtroom. The judge denies this request, and instead removes Doe from the courtroom. Much of the trial is held without the defendant present. The judge is heard by witnesses — a court stenographer and another judge — saying “I’m going to help [the jury] fry the nigger.”

Yes, John is black. His real name is Mumia Abu-Jamal, he has dreadlocks, he was driving a cab when he saw his brother, and he’s a political activist. He has been on death row for 25 years, and now sits an hour south of Pittsburgh in a maximum-security prison waiting to die.

I first learned of this case when I went to hear Abu-Jamal’s current lawyer, Robert Bryan, speak on the topic. I was incredulous. How could an American citizen be so blatantly denied his basic constitutional rights? How could outright racism be supported by entire respected groups of people, like the Fraternal Order of Police?

On December 6, 2006, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution “condemning” the city of St. Denis, France, for naming a street “Mumia Abu-Jamal.” The resolution also “commends all police officers in the United States and throughout the world for their commitment to public service and public safety” (HR407). While I commend the House for its sense of priority (glad that whole war situation is out of the way), I condemn them for actively supporting racism and injustice in the legal system.

I cannot fathom how this man is still in prison. There stands very clear evidence that, at the least, Abu-Jamal was not given a fair trial, to which all Americans are entitled. A man is sitting on death row because he is outspoken, educated, and black. If he can be given a fair trial in which it can be proven beyond question that he shot and killed police officer Danny Faulkner, then we can talk about punishment. I, for one, still have reasonable doubt.

Even if Abu-Jamal were undeniably guilty — even if he were recorded on video — he should not be on death row. Death row is reserved for first-degree murderers. Even if Mumia Abu-Jamal had shot and killed the police officer, how could it, given the situation, be counted as premeditated murder? Easily! By using exorbitantly circumstantial evidence. In Abu-Jamal’s trial, the prosecutor quoted Abu-Jamal as saying (over 12 years prior), “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun,” and used the statement as evidence of his violent state of mind. Abu-Jamal fully admits saying this. It’s a quote from Mao Tse-Tung, and Abu-Jamal says that America has proven it correct (referring to taking America from Native Americans). This quote served as Abu-Jamal’s premeditation for the murder of Danny Faulkner. Again I raise the question: How can this man possibly still be sitting on death row?

Something has to be done. This is a man’s life we’re talking about. Whether you want to view him as a political symbol or not, he is in line to be unjustifiably executed. Regardless of your views on capital punishment (I’m not sure, myself), this man cannot be killed by our judicial system.

I’m calling on anyone reading this article to at least educate yourselves about the case. Keep in mind that there is no real story (see the film Rashomon). So much evidence has been fabricated, lost, twisted, and come from people who have later admitted to lying, that there is no definite answer to the crime. It’s hard to find an unbiased record of it. But just because we don’t know who did it doesn’t mean Mumia Abu-Jamal has to die.

I’m calling on Carnegie Mellon to release a public statement condemning the injustice of Mumia’s trial. Listen, I know Governor Rendell won’t like you as much, but some things have to go beyond outside political perspective. We should set a precedent, especially because of our proximity to Waynesburg (where Abu-Jamal sits).

I’m calling on the Free Mumia movement to revitalize itself. Yes, the case has lasted quite a long time, and may seem slow at times (welcome to the judicial branch), but you must keep active. Mumia must be given a retrial and taken off death row if the American judicial system wants to retain its dignity.

I’m calling on Governor Rendell to reverse his support for Abu-Jamal’s execution. Seriously, look at the facts. You cannot sign this man’s death warrant and still call yourself an American. Please read the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.

Lock up all the murderers you want, if you can catch them, but remember: It’s a sin to kill Mumia.