Message-Id: <>
Date: Thu, 11 Dec 97 10:03:26 CST
From: “Workers World” <>
Organization: WW Publishers
Subject: People's Tribunal Verdict: Free Mumia
Article: 23791

International Panel Finds Government Guilty of Framing Black Revolutionary Journalist

By Shelley Ettinger, Workers World, 18 December 1997

On Dec. 6 in Philadelphia, justice prevailed for African American political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal—at least for a day.

But not in any court officially sanctioned by the government.

To charge and try the real criminals—the people and the system responsible for imprisoning and trying to murder Abu-Jamal—a “people's tribunal” was necessary.

And so, at the International Tribunal for Justice for Mumia Abu-Jamal, a distinguished panel of jurists heard testimony and examined evidence.

Then, before some 1,400 people, the judges rendered their verdict: “Guilty.”

The 11 defendants included Pennsylvania's governor, Supreme Court and corrections department; Philadelphia's mayor, district attorney and police department; U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Judge Albert Sabo.

The plaintiffs, as listed in Tribunal documents, were “the peoples of the world on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal and other victims of human-rights violations perpetrated by the defendants.”

The Tribunal was a stunning success. The mix of legal procedure and political education was extremely effective.

It left no room for doubt that Mumia Abu-Jamal, because he is a Black revolutionary journalist, is the victim of a monstrous conspiracy carried out by a coterie of government officials.

People attended from around the country. And when they left, you could see it was with renewed energy and dedication to carry out this struggle until he is freed.

At the same time, thousands were marching and rallying in San Francisco demanding freedom for Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier and all political prisoners.


At the tribunal's opening session the judges were introduced and Howard University Law Professor Nkechi Taifa read the opening statement for the prosecution.

An opening message from Mumia Abu-Jamal was read. In it he said: “Any fair, balanced review … undoubtedly shows that none of these [constitutional and legal] `rights' were respected in my case, and if one is poor, in their cases as well. In many such cases, as in the MOVE trials, these ‘rights’ are alienated with ease.”

“It is for many of these reasons that y'all are here, to teach the state how to do it right; and, in fact, what ‘rights’ really mean.”

“Let our work here stimulate the natural vibration for liberation that radiates afar!”

The rest of the morning was devoted to an exposition of the historical and political context for the state's conspiracy against Mumia Abu-Jamal. Police brutality, the war against the Black liberation movement and the role of the government, including the FBI's infamous COINTELPRO counter-intelligence program, were all exposed.

By experts—like former political prisoner Geronimo ji Jaga, released earlier this year after spending 27 years in California prisons on frame-up charges.

Safiya Bukhari urged everyone to take part in the Jericho '98 march on Washington March 27 to demand freedom for all political prisoners.

The judges also learned about the racist police reign of terror this city endured under Mayor Frank Rizzo in the 1970s. During that period, when Abu-Jamal was the lieutenant of information for the local chapter of the Black Panther Party, police authorities first tagged him as an enemy.


The afternoon opened with City University of New York Law Professor Soffiyah Elijah reading greetings from Kwame Toure, a leader of the Black liberation movement known in the 1960s as Stokely Carmichael. Then she presented evidence about how the prison authorities are currently denying Abu- Jamal his rights.

They open mail from his lawyers. They prevent his paralegals from meeting with him.

Berta Joubert of the Philadelphia chapter of the National People's Campaign chaired the next session—on police repression and brutality in Philadelphia today.

Daniel Sterling told of atrocities committed by police officers against him and his friends in the Black community of North Philly. Ellen Sumikawa of Asian Americans United described how cops are trying to criminalize Asian youths as “gang” members when the young people defend themselves against racist attacks.

Rosa de Jesus wept as she told how nine cops beat her son Moises to death. And Charles Reeves from the Grays Ferry neighborhood said white cops attack Black youths, then arrest them for fighting back.

“This town's going to blow up,” Reeves warned. “Make no mistake about it.”

Tonya McClary, research director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, chaired the session on the death penalty.

McClary said there are now over 3,300 people on death row in this country. She said, “The death penalty and justice cannot coexist.”

The proof: 40 percent of those executed since the death penalty was reinstituted in 1977 have been Black. That's about 27 percent more than the proportion of the population that is Black.

Terry Rumsey of the Pennsylvania Abolitionists Against the Death Penalty said fully 61 percent of the people on Pennsylvania's death row are Black. Over 55 percent of the state's death-row inmates are from Philadelphia, although it accounts for only 15 percent of the state's population.


The stage was now set for the prosecution to begin. Leonard Weinglass, lead lawyer in Abu-Jamal's defense team, explained how Judge Albert Sabo has acted in the most brazenly racist, biased way against Mumia Abu-Jamal.

The week before the Tribunal, Sabo was retired from the bench. This judge has sentenced more people to death than any other, and has done his best to put Abu-Jamal to death. But his hanging days are over.

Then Michael Tarif Warren, lead prosecutor for the People's Tribunal, made an opening statement. Warren is a well-respected criminal lawyer whose major cases have included that of Michael Stewart, a Black graffiti artist killed by New York transit cops, and Tupac Shakur.

In one of the day's most dramatic sessions, there was testimony about how police had coerced witnesses into lying in court to help convict Abu-Jamal. After viewing several videotaped interviews, the audience hushed as Warren said, “I would like to introduce our hero, Veronica Jones.”

Jones, holding her infant grandchild, said quietly: “Thank you for your support and for not passing judgment on me. And thank you for sticking with me and my family. I appreciate it.”

Pain showed on her face. But she stood straighter as the crowd stood in ovation.

At the time of the police shooting for which Abu-Jamal was imprisoned, Veronica Jones was a prostitute. Police threatened her with jail or worse if she told the truth. So at his trial she lied and said she saw Abu-Jamal shoot the cop.

Then she dropped out of sight.

Before the 1995 post-conviction hearing won by Abu-Jamal's defense team, his lawyers found Jones and spoke with her. She agreed to tell the truth: that Abu-Jamal did not shoot anyone that night.

At the hearing, she did tell the truth. At that, Judge Albert Sabo had her arrested and shackled, supposedly for a longstanding warrant. He also suppressed her entire testimony from the case record—as he did with all testimony showing Abu-Jamal's innocence.

Steve Hawkins, executive director of the Death Penalty Project, testified that after railroading Abu-Jamal at the original trial, for the 1995 hearing Sabo quashed over 20 defense subpoenas.

In a stirring summation argument, Michael Warren said the conspiracy against Abu-Jamal began “as early as 1968 or 1969, and they waited until the appropriate time to move against him. Meanwhile he is writing more and getting more politicized, and by 1981 he is even more of a threat.”

He recapped the day's testimony and evidence, and concluded: “There's something special and smelly about a conspiracy. And only the power of the people can stop this freight train that's out of control.”


While the judges deliberated, speakers saluted groups that helped build the Tribunal. Statements of solidarity were read from Native political prisoner Leonard Peltier and political exile Assata Shakur. Monica Moorehead of the National People's Campaign presented greetings from the Texas death-row prisoners' group Panthers United for Revolutionary Education and former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark.

Pam Africa, a member of the MOVE organization and the leading light in the movement to free Mumia Abu-Jamal, was honored with a special tribute.

Leonard Weinglass gave a sobering account of the odds Abu- Jamal now faces.

Weinglass said he has “very little confidence that the state supreme court will grant a new trial” when it rules in 1998. And an appeal to the federal courts will be difficult, he said, because the right to habeas corpus was severely restricted under the “anti-terrorism” act signed by President Bill Clinton last year.

What this means could not be clearer. Mumia Abu-Jamal's fate lies with the mass movement to demand his freedom. Popular pressure—like the mobilizing before the Aug. 12, 1995, Philadelphia march that persuaded the governor to rescind a signed death warrantneeded now more than ever.

So it was that after the judges filed onto the stage, after three of them read their verdict, after each of them signed it—Pam Africa reminded the crowd that the task before them now is to spread the word and free Mumia Abu-Jamal.