Philadelphia, 1978: Mayor and ex-police Chief Frank Rizzo explodes at a press conference, condemning what he calls "the new breed" of journalists: "They [the people] believe what you write and what you say," he said, "and it's got to stop. One day--and I hope it's in my career--you're going to have to be held responsible and accountable for what you do." This new breed of journalists was attacked for doing exactly what good journalists should do: acting as watchdogs over the people in power. These journalists were doing nothing more than questioning the official stories given by the police.
Today, one of the most prominent of these journalists is on Pennsylvania's death row, awaiting execution. His name is Mumia Abu-Jamal. At age 15, Mumia was minister of information for the Philadelphia chapter of the Black Panthers, and wrote for the Black Panthers' national newspaper. After the Panthers disbanded, Mumia moved into radio journalism. Quickly becoming one of the biggest names in local radio, Mumia interviewed Jesse Jackson, became president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, and won a Peabody Award, all by the age of 25. Still politically radical, he was called by the Philadelphia Inquirer "an eloquent activist not afraid to raise his voice."
Angered by Mumia's criticism of their tactics, the Philadelphia police came to fulfill the threat of Mayor Rizzo. It started with harassment, such as a smiling cop cocking his finger and saying "bang bang" to Mumia. It escalated to a late night police beating of Mumia's brother. On that fateful night, Mumia was driving a taxi, and by chance he saw his brother being beaten by Officer Daniel Faulkner. Mumia pulled over and tried to stop the beating. He and Faulkner were both shot. Faulkner died at the scene. Several witnesses saw the shooter flee the scene. Mumia lay unconscious, bleeding from his own bullet wound.
The police claimed that it was Mumia who shot Officer Faulkner. There are many reasons to suspect otherwise. How could an unconscious man have been seen fleeing the scene of the shooting? This is only the beginning of the problems with Mumia's trial and conviction.
Mumia's trial was fundamentally unfair. Albert Sabo, a lifelong member of the Fraternal Order of Police, presided over Mumia's original trial. At the trial, Judge Sabo was overheard by Terri Maurer-Carter, an award-winning court reporter, saying, "Yeah, I'm going to help 'em fry the nigger." Judge Sabo would not allow Mumia to defend himself because he made the jury "nervous", and he had Mumia removed completely from part of the trial. He systematically removed all but one African American from the jury that ultimately convicted Mumia.
Mumia's history with the Black Panthers, a political party, was used by prosecutors as a reason for giving him the death penalty, something later ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Before they were to deliberate about whether to sentence Mumia to death, the jury was instructed by Judge Sabo, "You are not being asked to kill anybody [because Mumia will get] appeal after appeal after appeal." This too was later ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The District Attorney who prosecuted Mumia was later reprimanded for withholding evidence in another trial.
The unfairness of Mumia's trial goes beyond these procedural issues. Ballistics evidence showed that Daniel Faulkner was killed by a .44 caliber bullet; Mumia's gun was a .38 caliber. At the trial, police officers claimed that Mumia had confessed to the murder while at the hospital, yet they did not make this claim until two months after the incident, after Mumia had filed police brutality charges. At the time of the incident, the officer who was guarding Mumia wrote in his report, "The negro male made no comments." The defense tried to call this officer as a witness, but the prosecution said that he was on vacation and unavailable. In fact, he was at home and available at the time of the trial. Mumia's doctor also said that Mumia had said nothing, as he was unconscious. A nurse reported that she found the police pointing loaded guns at Mumia's unconscious body as he lay in his hospital bed.
The prosecution's two star witnesses were offered immunity from prosecution for unrelated crimes they had committed, in exchange for their testimony against Mumia. One of them, Veronica Jones, was threatened with the loss of her children if she did not support the police story. When she later testified in support of Mumia, she was arrested in the courtroom. Another witness, William Singletary, saw the whole incident and testified in defense of Mumia, but the police later coerced him into changing his story and leaving town.
Finally, there is the confession: not a confession by Mumia, but a confession by a man named Arnold Beverly. Mr. Beverly confessed that he, not Mumia, had killed Daniel Faulkner, but this evidence has never been allowed in court. In one of Mumia's appeals, Federal District Court Judge William H. Yohn, Jr. justified his refusal to admit the confession as evidence by stating that in US courts, "innocence is no defense."
Munia Abu-Jamal did not kill Daniel Faulkner. With all of the problems in the trial and the prosecution's evidence, no one can seriously believe that Mumia is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the standard for a conviction. Mumia Abu-Jamal should be freed from death row immediately and unconditionally. If he is executed, the number of innocents senselessly murdered as a result of this shooting will increase to two.