Mumia Abu-Jamal, "voice of the voiceless"
Imprisoned revolutionary exposes the high crimes of the criminal justice system
Mark Cook
volume 25
issue 2
June 2004
I spent 40 years of my life behind bars in more than 20 institutions across the USA. Approximately 30 of those years were spent as a political prisoner. During my last 25 years in prison, I was honored to associate personally with dozens of internationally recognized USA political prisoners. Among them are Leonard Peltier, Sundiata Acoli, Jaan Laaman, Oscar Lopez, Adolpho Matos, Bill Dunne, and Matulu Shakur, to mention only a few.

I never met Mumia Abu-Jamal. I did, however, write a review for Prison Legal News, a national journal, about one of his books. And I’m looking forward to reading his newest one, We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party (South End Press), in which he writes about the "everyday women who were really the soul and the spirit — the backbone of the party."

Mumia stands out among progressive prisoners in the U.S. because of his ability to articulate the concerns of poor and workingclass people, always with an anti-authoritarian, radical cast. Before prison, his words were broadcast over National Black Network, Mutual Black Network and a host of other radio stations, including National Public Radio.

How long until justice? Besides having authored several books while behind bars, Mumia has written numerous articles on prison conditions and flawed justice. He ought to know. He’s been on death row for over 20 years, because of very flawed justice.

Mumia was convicted in 1982 on frame-up charges of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. Two years ago, a man named Arnold Beverly confessed that he, not Abu-Jamal, shot and killed Faulkner. Beverly’s deposition, recorded on video, is supported by a series of affidavits and hundreds of pages of memoranda.

Beverly states he was "hired along with another guy, and paid to shoot and kill Faulkner" because Faulkner had been "a problem for the mob and corrupt policemen." Beverly added, "Faulkner was shot in the back and then the face before Jamal came on the scene." When Mumia arrived he was shot in the chest and nearly died. But the courts have rejected Beverly’s confession as "untimely."

Mumia’s case went to the U.S. Supreme Court on March 8 this year, when attorney Robert Bryan filed a petition to overturn last year’s Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision that upheld Mumia’s conviction. From perjured witnesses to an appellate judge who originally prosecuted Mumia, the petition paints a detailed picture of a justice system governed by overt racial bias. It is an ugly picture, indistinguishable from the Jim Crow courts of the early South — but happening today up north in Pennsylvania.

For updates about Mumia and how you can help, visit the websites <www.freemumia. org> and <www.>.

Prison: racism at its rawest.As Mumia waits on death row while his newest appeal takes its turn in the court mill, he does not remain idle. He keeps his eyes objectively on the contemporary turmoil in the world.

Recently, he wrote thought-provoking commentaries on the Iraq and Palestinian occupations. His approaches to issues in the justice system are more searing, perhaps because he is an "embedded" reporter on these subjects.

As Mumia’s life and struggle show, the epitome of institutionalized racism in the USA is found at the dismal end of the criminal justice system — prison.

Statistics from 1999-2000 show that there were more Black men in prison and jails (791,600) than there were in higher education (603,000). Between 1980 and 2000, the Justice Policy Institute estimates that three times as many Black men were added to the prison systems as were added to the nation’s colleges and universities.

And to cap this, since 1999, prisons have been removing their higher-education programs. Institutional racism goes hand in hand with institutionalizing ignorance.

A record 6.6 million people are confined in U.S. correctional systems. When not in their cells, they are divided into work and vocational details. This government-controlled labor is key to repressing prisoners whose work, the government recognizes, is highly valuable surplus labor. It is the cheapest labor there is. They have no unions. And they have no right to vote.

To control the prison population, which always outnumbers the administrative and operational staff, prison bosses institute methods of divisiveness to inhibit inmate solidarity. Although all prisons are different, all prison administrators rely on race to keep prisoners divided.

The social differences among Asian American, Native American, white, Black, Spanish-speaking, etc. prisoners are exploited by prisoner groups, to express race superiority or pride. These groups have evolved into prison gangs vying for control over labor details and various hustles in the prison’s underground economy.

Many inmates, however, especially the political prisoners like Mumia, divorce themselves from these race ideologies, and apply their energies and spirit in positive directions.

A powerful voice for the working class. Currently, I am living free in Seattle. Washington state restored my civil rights, specifically the right to vote, after three years on parole. On February 7, I attended my first Democratic Party caucus as an independent.

But over 150,000 Washington residents, the majority of them prisoners and ex-felons, are permanently or temporarily unable to vote. And this number accounts for only one of the 50 states and U.S. territories.

Mumia should be living free in Philadelphia, or wherever he wants. He should be released from prison because there is no believable proof, let alone proof beyond a reasonable doubt, of his guilt. What is proven is that his talent as a radical news commentator and reporter is a clear asset to the working class. It would be a barbarous crime by the ruling class to put Mumia to death.

Community activist Mark Cook is a former Black Panther, works for the Defender Association and is a contributing writer for Prison Legal News.