Date: Wed, 29 Nov 1995 19:17:38 GMT
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Talk in Support of Mumia Abu-Jamal

By Kathleen Cleaver, Paris, France, 27 November 1995

[Publisher’s note: Translation from the French original.]

I am honored to have the opportunity to speak to those who have shown such warm support for Mumia Abu-Jamal. Truly, your mass mobilization here in France was crucial to the unprecedented stay that: Judge Sabo granted Mumia during his hearing conducted after the Governor of Pennsylvania signed the death warrant,

Too many Americans seem to have lost their shock at the barbarism of the death penalty, and it’s overtly racist application. In fact, the highest court in America has admitted that racism deflects the application of the death penalty, but that is no reason to abandon it. Further, our Supreme Court has ruled that innocence is not reason enough to stop a planned execution. It is so encouraging to know that all countries have not become so cynical, and that in France people can be shocked at the death penalty, and will rise to support a black American unfairly sentenced to death.

I work with the International Committee to Defend Geronimo Pratt, a former Black Panther the FBI and the Los Angeles police Department framed twenty five years ago on a murder charge, for which he was convicted and given a life sentence. Last Spring we were planning a meeting to create a Citizens Commission to insist that the Los Angeles District Attorney reopen the Pratt case, but Geronimo insisted we had to work to save Mumia, We can’t let them kill a Panther, he said. At the meeting we organized in Santa Monica, the actor Giancarlo Esposito read a letter to Geronimo from Mumia. He recalled the time that Geronimo had invited him to come out to Los Angeles, but Mumia decided he wouldn’t go out there because the Los Angeles Police were so dangerous. He decided to stay at home in Philadelphia.

That was back in the late sixties, when the confrontation between the state and revolutionary black Fighters produced numerous political trials and political prisoners. Back then I was the Communications Secretary for the Black Panther Party and a candidate for the California State Assembly, and my election platform included freedom for all political prisoners. Back then, the Chairman of the Black Panther Party, Bobby Seale, defined the political prisoners in this way: To be a revolutionary is to be an enemy of the state. To be arrested for the struggle is to be a political prisoner.

That was when the FBI in carrying out its secret Counter Intelligence Program was compiling its dossier on Mumia, a fifteen year old high school student, the FBI file describes Mumia, then known as Wesley Cook, as the Black Panther Party’s Communications Secretary, which meant he had, made public speeches and has written several articles expounding the ultra militant revolutionary views of the Black Panther Party. The FBI recommended on that basis that he be included in its Security Index, that is, the list of individuals to be identified for arrest in the case of a national emergency.

But he also fell into another category that worried the FBI. In a March 1968 memorandum to the FBI director which detailed all the black nationalist groups in the San Francisco Bay Area that should become COINTELPRO targets, the Special Agent who wrote the memo stated that the Negro youth wanted something to be proud of, but had to be made to understand that if he turned to revolutionary views, he would become a dead revolutionary,

Even though Mumia left the Black Panther Party, his name was not deleted from the Security Index, nor did the FBI stop its investigation of his activities. Following the successful split of the Black Panther Party induced by COINTELPRO, the Algiers based International Section of which I was a part published a newspaper entitled BABYL0N. The FBI noted that Mumia was the Philadelphia correspondent for the Revolutionary Peoples Communications Network which we created to publish the newspaper. At that point in 1971, the FBI ordered the case on Cook reopened, since it appeared that he had aligned himself with what they called the Cleaver faction. Mumia was placed in Category II of the Administrative Index as a result.

What is it about Mumia that makes the government single him out?

As a journalist, he became the spokesperson for those people the state wanted to silence. He followed the brutal actions against the MOVE organization and presented their views on his radio station,

The Voice of the Voiceless. He was arrested, accused of murdering a Philadelphia policeman who actually shot him, processed through a kangaroo court and convicted. Mumia has come to symbolize for the brutal Philadelphia police everything they fear.

He was, at the time of his conviction in 1981, a young, articulate black man who was conscious of the wrong doing of the state and spoke out against it. This was at the early stages of a process that has matured during his fourteen years behind bars, the scape-goating of black youths for the economic collapse affecting Americans of all races. In the years since the end of the Vietnam War the gap between rich and poor has become extremely evident, until now it has become as great as it was during the 1920s, While the government seeks tax benefits, speculative profits, and support for the rich, it offers more homelessness, joblessness, and despair to the growing numbers of the poor, As the ordinary Americans get angrier at the decline in their standard of living, and the collapse of their eroding power, every state is rushing to throw the blame for these conditions on two categories of people--black ciminals and welfare mothers. They are the most scapegoats. What solutions does the state offer: death penalties for prisoners, work for the mothers, and keep out the immigrants. For the prisoners who are not to be killed, they work at ridiculously low wages and earn profits for the state.

We face a long struggle, against the same enemies, but with not so many friends. In the United States progressive activists have to contend with the weakening and erasure of memories of struggle, the blotting out of those years when the anti-imperial ist movements for black liberation, women’s liberation and ending the genocide in Vietnam were in full swing. During those days we demanded freedom for this prisoner and that prisoner, many of whom have now been freed. We went through the period of fractionalism into oblivion, but the mobilization around Mumia’s situation is beginning to pull people back together. That is the place we need to reach to re-ignite the fire for radical change, to benefit the people. In fact, what we are confronting now is the rise to power of all of those who were completely antagonistic to our ambitions. Reaction, virulent racism, and class warfare against the poor is the rule.

I hope the energy that has been released in the mobilization to prevent Mumia’s execution will expand beyond this case, and I am thrilled to see how his case allows people to come back together who have not worked with each other in years. This mobilization demonstrates the power of the people.

Power to the People, Free Mumia!