Date: Tue, 24 Oct 1995 00:09:47 -0400
Appeal for Mumia Abu-Jamal
Letter from Equal Justice USA, 13 October 1995
"The real, final court and judge is the American people. They are the guardians of our rights, liberty, and yes, our lives."
It was a cold December night in 1981. Mumia Abu-Jamal was moonlighting as a cabbie on the mean streets of Philadelphia. These were hard times in the city, with racial tensions on the rise.
Yet, for Mumia, the year had begun with promise. "Voice of the voiceless," the Philadelphia Enquirer had called him; the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists had elected him president, and the Philadelphia Magazine had named him as one of its "people to watch in 1981."
Mumia used this prominence to tell the stories of people without money or power. His hard-hitting, investigative journalism challenged police brutality, especially against the black community. He often visited the city jail to get the unofficial side of the story, even when the source was the controversial and uncompromising largely black political group known as MOVE.
Mumia and the issues he covered became too hot for any city radio station to handle. Mayor Rizzo publicly blamed "a new breed of advocacy journalism" for fueling tensions between poor and black people and the city's police. Faced with editorial constraints, he left his regular broadcast job. While freelancing, he drove a cab at night to feed his family.
It was about 4:00 a.m. when Mumia came on a chilling sight: a police officer beating a black man. Mumia rushed to protest the beating. Shock became anguish when he realized that the man was his own brother Bill, who had been stopped for a traffic violation.
In the fateful minutes that followed, the police officer was killed and Mumia took a bullet in the abdomen. Nearly dead, he was beaten by police both at the scene and in the hospital.
The District Attorney charged Mumia with murdering the police officer and sought the death penalty. The case was quickly brought before Judge Albert Sabo, who is known for having sentenced more than twice as many people to death (32 total) than any other judge in the country -- all but two of them persons of color. Mumia originally sought and was granted his right to defend himself. But in the middle of jury selection, the court suddenly removed Mumia and forced on him a defense attorney who protested that he had neither the time nor the experience to handle the case. Mumia, too, protested, and was banished from much of the trial.
The prosecution argued that Mumia was the killer, even though a police ballistics expert testified that the bullets could not be matched to what the prosecution claimed was the murder weapon -- a gun legally registered in Mumia's name. According to police reports, no fewer than four eyewitnesses reported hearing shots and then seeing an individual flee the scene. These reports were never investigated. Two of these witnesses have criminal records and later retracted their statements under pressure from the police, while another passed a police administered lie detector test.
The trial was fraught with bias. The prosecution excluded 11 of 16 potential black jurors without cause. Violating Mumia's First Amendment rights of free speech and association, the prosecutor cross-examined Mumia about his youthful participation in the Black Panther Party, arguing that his political background demonstrated his propensity to kill a cop.
With the deck stacked against him, Mumia never had a chance. The jury of ten whites and two blacks convicted him and sentenced him to death.
Help Equal Justice USA Save Mumia's life
This dramatic story is a mere sketch of the saga of Mumia Abu-Jamal -- a grim tale one might expect to have heard from a place like South Africa rather than the United States.
A talented young community spokesman, Mumia was plucked from his family and community. His only defense was an ineffective, court-appointed counselor and $150 to investigate the case. His accusers were the powerful staff of the District Attorney's office who seek the death penalty in more than 50% of the city's homicide cases and are responsible for well over half of those now on the state's death row. Such is the Pennsylvania reality where African Americans, representing only 9% of state residents, make up 61% of its death row. Ranking fourth in the nation, the state recently carried out its first two executions in 33 years.
A rare travesty of justice? Such travesties are at the heart of the death penalty and the tough talk that surrounds it. Mumia's case graphically illustrates what happens when the death penalty is levied by a justice system plagued by racism and injustice.
This is why we write to ask your financial support and involvement in Equal Justice USA's work. Not only do we firmly believe that Mumia is innocent, but the campaign on his behalf is putting a human face on the death penalty and dramatically demonstrates why it should be abolished. Your help is essential.
In supporting Mumia, you will find good company. The ACLU, Amnesty International, U.S. Representative Ron Dellums, Southern Christian Leadership Conference President Rev. Joseph Lowery, and members of the Pennsylvania legislature have expressed their concern to Pennsylvania authorities. Ossie Davis, Mike Farrell, Whoopi Goldberg, Harry Belafonte and Ed Asner support Mumia's cause.
Beating Back a Death Warrant
On June 1, 1995, Pennsylvania Governor Thomas Ridge signed Mumia's death warrant, and had he had his way, Mumia would have been executed on August 17. But international pressure forced Judge Sabo -- who now presides over Mumia's appeal -- to stay the execution on August 7.
Equal Justice USA has mobilized hundreds of thousands of people to protest the execution and Judge Sabo's continued involvement in Mumia's appeal. Since January, we have distributed over 80,000 postcards, targeting the Governor and Department of Corrections. Answering hundreds of phone calls a day, our office serves as a clearinghouse for information requests from around the globe.
Appeal for a New Trial
On June 5, Mumia's legal team -- headed by renowned defense attorney Leonard Weinglass -- filed his post-conviction appeal for a new trial. Despite public pressure, Sabo has refused to recuse himself from the case. Instead, he rushed forward with a hearing on the appeal, denying the defense the usual time granted for preparation and discovery. Ruling with the prosecution 100% of the time, Sabo has denied every defense motion. He also stopped the defense from calling critical witnesses and, as with the original trial, restricted the defense's questioning of witnesses who took the stand.
Despite Sabo's actions, the defense team is making a strong case for a new trial for Mumia. Should Sabo deny it as expected, the defense will appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and, if necessary, to federal court.
Equal Justice USA provides ongoing support for the legal team, working in partnership with International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, based in Philadelphia, to raise money for Mumia's legal fund at the Black United Fund of Pennsylvania.
Making Mumia's Name a Household Word!
Equal Justice USA is behind the multitude of headlines that have surrounded Mumia's name in recent months. The groundswell of grassroots protest sparked by Mumia's death warrant attracted intense media interest. We developed and have distributed hundreds of press packets and logged hundreds of hours on the phone, pitching stories and providing information to hundreds of journalists.
We have also played a central role in raising Mumia's voice from death row. In 1994, NPR's All Things Considered caved in to right-wing threats and reneged on a deal to air radio commentaries coproduced by the Prison Radio Project/Equal Justice USA. The proposed airing and ensuing controversy generated coverage in over 500 national, regional and local papers and convinced Addison-Wesley Publishing to issue a book of Mumia's essays. Titled Live from Death Row, the collection was released in April 1995. We help groups to organize local readings and promote Mumia's radio commentaries produced by the Prison Radio Project. We have already convinced over 200 radio stations -- including NPR affiliates -- to defy NPR and to air Mumia's recordings.
The law and the facts are on Mumia's side, but he seeks a new trial in a climate of death and denial. This is why your action is so important. We ask you to do two things:
Send a donation -- whatever you can afford, be it $500 or $5. Your contribution will help us multiply the public pressure for a new trial. For a gift of $100 or more, we will send you a copy of Live from Death Row.
Your involvement and financial contribution are crucial to this life-saving effort. Mumia Abu-Jamal is our brother, a journalist committed to his community, to the pursuit of justice and the inviolability of the truth. We believe him innocent, a victim of a racist and corrupt justice system. If he is killed, a part of us will die with him -- the conscience of a nation.
We cannot allow this miscarriage of justice to silence this "voice of the voiceless" who continues to pay a high price for speaking out. Please respond with your strong support to save Mumia's life and to prevent future such injustices.
Jane Henderson-Coordinator, Equal Justice USA
(Transcriber's Note: shortly before 9/25/95 Judge Sabo denied the request for a new trial.)