From Tue Dec 23 13:15:11 2003
Date: Thu, 2 Oct 2003 09:51:08 -0500 (CDT)
From: Eva Brunner <>
Subject: [EMMAS] Mumia As a Person
Article: 165915
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Mumia As a Person

By William Mandel, 2 October 2003

Pres. Carter, in office, turned to Mumia abu-Jamal and said: Those were some probing questions you asked, young man. I was very impressed. There had been a presidential press conference in Philadelphia, and they had left in the same elevator. Mumia’s employers at a radio station were in it as well. He learned later that they had decided to fire him when he showed up for the event in jeans and a T-shirt, but the president’s remark changed their minds.

I have spent entire days reading legal briefs in his case, and have spoken at a major San Francisco rally on his behalf (the issue is not cop killers, but killer cops), but never saw that story until I read it last night in Terry Bisson’s book, On A Move: The Story of Mumia Abu-Jamal.

To me, Mumia had been an icon, a man of great intellect and leadership qualities, and of insuperable courage: locked for twenty years in solitary confinement, alone for 23 hours a day in a sound-isolated cell the size of a bathroom, not being able to touch even his children and now grandchildren during visits with a Plexiglass window between them. But until I read Bisson last night, I had no idea of him as a person.

Mumia had not come to that presidential press conference out of the clear blue sky. He had three radio shows of his own, plus a weekend job as newscaster on a fourth, because of his marvelous voice (pipes to the trade). Two were paid, the other two unpaid, which he did because they gave him greater freedom to say, and play, what he wanted, to Black audiences. Yet a fifth station tried to steal him from the better-paying, and took out a full-page ad in the Philadelphia Tribune Here’s the voice you’ve been waiting for. Threat of a lawsuit by the other station caused the offer to be canceled.

Before that he was a free-lancer. Stories of his would show up on AP or UPI, complete with byline: ‘By Mumia Abu-Jamal.’ All this in his mid-twenties. This spoke to me personally. I remembered my own satisfaction when, at that age, living in New York, I saw my own byline, United Press Russian Expert, show up on papers in Florida or the midwest.

His night job as a cabbie, during which the shooting took place which has made him the world’s most famous political prisoner, was in its own way another consequence of who he was as a person. He has children by three women, with each of whom he lived, successively. He was totally responsible in his attitude toward the financial obligations this brought, and the radio work simply didn’t pay enough. When his second companion introduced him to credit cards, they were, like so many other young people in our society, thousands of dollars in debt by the time of their marriage. So he took the taxi job and, for the first time in his life, carried a gun, licensed, after he had been held up twice at gunpoint.

Before I read Bisson there had been a blur in my mind about Mumia’s politics. I knew he had been a Black Panther when barely into his teens, but didn’t realize he had left them and was organizationally unaffiliated for years until he encountered an indigenous Philadelphia organization, the Move Family, headed by John Africa.

I knew that one of his controversies with the hanging judge, Sabo, was over the latter’s refusal to allow John Africa, not an attorney, to sit by Mumia’s side and advise him, although that is long-established legal practice and is now one of the bases of Mumia’s appeals (there are two, federal and state). But I did not know why he wanted the advice of someone pictured simply as a cult leader.

Bisson makes that clear, and it makes all the sense in the world. Years earlier, John Africa (Vincent Leaphart), a man who, with his followers, would kill no living thing, even a cockroach, and so ate no meat, was tried on weapons charges. The evidence presented against him was mostly circumstantial. He insisted that the court-appointed lawyers neither cross-examine nor object. He then rose to give the summation for the defense. He said:

I’m fighting for the air you breathe. I’m fighting for the water you drink, and if it gets any worse, you’re not going to be drinking that water. I’m fighting for the food you eat, and if it gets any worse, you’re not going to be eating that food. I’ve been a revolutionary all my life, and I remain a revolutionary, because don’t you see, revolution simply means to turn, to generate, to activate. It simply means to be right.

After an hour, he closed: I just want to say that I don’t have anything against anyone in this courtroom. It isn’t the people I’m against, but the idea that controls the people.

The jury found him not guilty on all three counts. Mumia clearly wanted to wage the same kind of defense, and wanted John Africa at his side to advise him. The judge denied that.

The essence of the Mumia case is the exceptional, possibly unparalleled, at least in the North, conduct of the Philadelphia police department. As early as 1972, the Justice Department was prepared to sue the city’s entire police force for civil rights violations, but was quashed by the Nixon White House.

When Mumia was fourteen, Gov. George Wallace of Alabama was running for president. He had stood in a schoolhouse door vowing segregation forever. Mumia found three friends who went with him to a Wallace-for-President indoor rally. They shouted Black power! People in the crowd attacked them. The kids were naive enough to shout for the police. The police beat them so all four had to be taken to a hospital, and mashed Mumia’s face so badly that when his mother was informed of this, she passed him by in the emergency room, saying: That’s not my boy.

A decade later, as broadcaster, he devoted a great deal of attention to police racism. In 1976, MOVE members just released from jail were greeted by their wives and children in the street. The cops charged, citing disturbing the peace. A newborn baby, Life Africa, was thrown to the pavement and stomped to death. Bisson’s book has a photo showing reporters and legislators viewing it.

A police chief, Rizzo, was elected mayor. In 1978 he decided to starve MOVE out of their house in an integrated, liberal neighborhood where he had won no precinct. A four-block area was sealed off with sandbagged sniper posts and checkpoints. Water and electricity were cut off to the house. A bulldozer, a crane, and thousands of bullets were used. A policeman was killed, apparently by friendly fire.

Mumia, then not yet associated with MOVE, showed up in his radio capacity. The next day he was a reporter at a press conference called by the mayor. He asked why the weapons recovered from the flooded basement were all clean and dry? Why had the crime scene been destroyed so hastily and so completely? Mayor Rizzo exploded and said:

They [the people] believe what you write and what you say—and it’s got to stop. One day—and I hope it’s in my career—you’re going to be held responsible and accountable for what you do.

The mayor was looking directly at him. Mumia attended the trials of the MOVE members and his reporting cost him the well-paying radio job. In 1981, nine MOVE people were sentenced to from thirty to one hundred years in prison for the death of the policeman. The judge took exactly the same attitude as in the sentencing of the Haymarket labor martyrs in Chicago in 1886. He said he hadn’t the faintest idea of who fired the fatal shot. They call themselves a family. I sentenced them as a family.

The ultimate action against MOVE, in 1985, was the police dropping of a bomb from air. Eleven members of the Africa family were killed, including five children. The fire caused by the bomb destroyed not only the house they now occupied but an entire block of homes.

The killing of Officer Faulkner, for which Mumia was convicted, occurred Dec. 9, 1981. This post, attempting to present information mostly not available in the rich literature on the case other than Bisson’s book, will limit itself to the briefest review of the event. Mumia, driving his cab, saw a man spread-eagled over the hood of a police car, being beaten with a flashlight. He recognized it to be his brother Billy, a street vendor. Mumia ran across the street. A shot lifted him off the ground. Very seriously wounded (lung pierced, liver split), he was beaten by the police and taken to the hospital.

When he recovered consciousness, an old buddy from the Panthers (they had left that organization at the same time),Reggie Schell, was one of the first non-relatives allowed to see him. Mumia said: Cap, I didn’t shoot that cop. I’m innocent.

A high police officer who had harassed Mumia from his days as a teen-age Panther was, with his special squad, among the first on the crime scene almost instantly, although it was 4 a.m. The crime scene was not secured. No yellow tape. No patrolmen. Anyone could touch or take or plant anything they wanted.

A Black businessman who said he saw the shooter was harassed to the point at which he left town.

Since the publication of Bisson’s book in 2001, a vital development has occurred. A man, Arnold Beverly, has come forth and told defense attorneys that he was one of two shooters hired to kill Officer Faulkner. Apparently corrupt higher police wanted Faulkner dead because he was talking to the FBI about police corruption. The situation is very similar to that exposed by Officer Serpico in New York City.

Beverly’s statement was videotaped and I have seen it. It is totally convincing. Copies may be bought.

I apologize for the length of this post. I did my best to condense a 215-page book without losing what impressed me so in it.