Death Row? Shut It Down!
A Report From the April 24, 2003 Philadelphia
Demonstration for Mumia Abu- Jamal
by Hans Bennett
May 20, 2003
On April 24 supporters of black death-row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal gathered at Philadelphia City Hall for the “Death Row? Shut it Down!” demonstration organized to commemorate both Abu-Jamal’s birthday as well as the passage of the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. After Pam Africa (MOVE member and coordinator of The International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal) and others made a visit to mayor John Street’s office, the crowd marched to Governor Ed Rendell’s Philadelphia office, and then to 13th & Locust. (the site of the Dec. 9, 1981 killing of police officer Daniel Faulkner and shooting and beating of Abu-Jamal).
Pam Africa outside Philadelphia’s City Hall
At the age of 15, Abu-Jamal was Minister of Information of the Philadelphia Black Panther Party. Later, he was one of the founders of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, and was president when he was incarcerated in 1981. As a Philadelphia journalist reporting on issues such as the city’s repression of the MOVE organization, he became a target of the Philadelphia authorities.
Following the City of Philadelphia’s 1978 assault on MOVE’s Powelton Village home, he used a press conference to confront Mayor Frank Rizzo. Rizzo was enraged and publicly threatened him, proclaiming: “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 have to be held responsible and accountable for what you do.”
On April 24, 2003 directly outside Philadelphia’s City Hall, a fiery Pam Africa proclaimed on the loudspeaker: “We are demanding due process for an innocent black political prisoner on death row. This so-called ‘city of brotherly love’ is where the US constitution was written for some of the people. But god damn it, today we’re fighting for all of the people.” Despite overwhelming evidence of a corrupt 1982 trial and vast international support including likes of the French government, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King III, the courts continue to deny Abu-Jamal a new trail.
Abu-Jamal currently has two appeals pending. First is the appeal of Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Pamela Dembe’s 2001 decision to block new evidence from being entered into the record. Among the several new statements from witnesses that Dembe rejected were those of Abu-Jamal himself (his first public account of Dec. , 1981), his brother William Cook, Arnold Beverly, and Terri Mauer-Carter.
In his statement, Abu-Jamal proclaims his innocence, saying that he was shot while crossing the street towards Faulkner and William Cook. Abu-Jamal recounts that he heard gun shots while sitting in his taxicab and after recognizing his brother, he left his taxi and headed across the street.
William Cook states that neither he or his brother shot Faulkner. Rather, he says that while he didn’t see the actual shooting, his business partner Ken Freeman (who Cook says was with him that night) later confessed to him that he was involved in Faulkner’s murder.
Arnold Beverly states that in 1981 corrupt Philadelphia police hired him as a known mob hit man to kill Faulkner who was suspected of working with the FBI in their documented investigation of the Philadelphia PD for corruption. Recounting the night, Beverly states that he “ran across Locust Street and stood over Faulkner, who had fallen backwards on the sidewalk. I shot Faulkner in the face at close range. Jamal was shot shortly after that by a uniformed police officer that arrived on the scene.”
Terri Mauer-Carter was working as a stenographer in the Philadelphia Court system on the eve of Abu-Jamal’s 1982 trail when she states that she overheard judge Sabo say in reference to the Abu-Jamal case that he was going to help the prosecution “fry the nigger.” In his new book on Abu-Jamal’s case, Dave Lindorff interviews Mauer-Carter’s boss, Richard Klein, who was with Mauer-Carter when she states she overheard Sabo. A Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge at the time who now sits on PA’s Superior Court, Klein told Lindorff: “I won’t say it did happen, and I won’t say it didn’t. That was a long time ago.” Lindorff considers Klein’s refusal to firmly reject Mauer-Carter’s claim to be an affirmation of her statement.
Philadelphia journalist and Temple University professor Linn Washington writes that “Sabo’s biased pre-trail profession is yet another reason to grant Abu-Jamal a new trial based on judicial misconduct. The ‘system’ still refuses to repudiate Sabo’s biased and ethically illegal actions…Sabo, for example, refused to allow Abu-Jamal’s trial attorney to inform the jury that the prosecutor’s two prime witnesses each had extensive criminal records and thus were candidates for pressure from police to lie. These witnesses were an arsonist on probation and driving a cab without a driver’s license and a prostitute facing multiple court cases.”
Pam Africa argues that recent moves by the court considering the appeal of Dembe’s decision are a sign that Abu-Jamal’s case will not receive fair consideration. A few months ago, the courts turned down Mumia’s right to have oral arguments in his appeal of Judge Dembe’s 2001 decision . Africa told me: “The danger here is that if Mumia, his lawyers, and supporters are not in the courtroom to apply pressure when the decision is made, there is even less chance of a fair outcome.”
Abu-Jamal’s second pending appeal is in response to US District Court Judge Yohn’s Dec. 18, 2001 decision to uphold Abu-Jamal’s verdict of guilt (denying a new trail) but to somewhat overturn his death sentence. Because DA Lynne Abraham immediately appealed Yohn’s decision, Mumia has never left death row (therefore unable to have full-contact visits with family) and faces the possibility that Abraham’s appeal will be successful. While Abraham is appealing Yohn’s overturning of the death penalty into one of life imprisonment, Abu-Jamal is appealing the affirmation of his guilty verdict.
Pam Africa, believes that the Effective Death Penalty Act is very significant to Abu-Jamal’s case. In an interview she told me that “in 1995, when we beat back the death warrant for Mumia, state Senator Dole and a whole lot of others, stated that they were going to introduce some legislation that was going to be a sure kill for Mumia. Earlier that year, you had the Oklahoma City bombing and they introduced the Anti-terrorism bill. They came back and on April 24, 1996 they added on the EDPA.”
“When you talk about the Effective Death Penalty Act, it affects more people than just Mumia. The late Fred Thomas suffered and died under the EDPA. Shaka Sankofa was killed under it. What have we done to get rid of it? There’s not enough focus and attention on the EDPA.” The results speak for themselves. Dembe repeatedly cited the EDPA in her decision to refuse the new evidence.
Before marching from City Hall to governor Rendell’s office, Pam Africa and others visited Philadelphia mayor John Street’s office. This visit was the culmination of many prior events. In an April 2002 interview Pam Africa talked about the history of Street’s relationship to Mumia Abu-Jamal. “The year before John Street became the mayor (he was then President of City Council), we had 3 meetings with him. One time we brought him Kamal Nkrumah (the son of Kwame Nkrumah), Julia Wright (the daughter of Richard Wright), and David DuBois (the son of W.E.B. DuBois). John Street stated for a fact that he knew that Mumia hadn't received a fair trail and that he was going to do everything in his power to get Mumia a new trial. We presented evidence before Jamie Blackwell, Gussie Clark, Dave Crowan, and others.”
“They all said that they would do something. But none of them ever did anything. After John Street stopped meeting with us when he began running for mayor. Since he was mayor, we've brought him mayors, senators, top European union officials, and lawyers who studied the case. They were supposed to have meetings with Street, but instead, he sent a guy named John Christmas, who didn't even bring a pen and paper--which was a god damned insult in itself. Then we brought back the mayors of 3 cities, some senators and union officials from Europe. That time we met with his assistant, but nothing ever came of that.”
In November, 2002 a delegation of more than 40 French supporters of Abu-Jamal traveled to Philadelphia to hand-deliver a 250,000 signature petition to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania office at City Hall. Among the delegation was Chantal Caugil (member of the European Parliament), Francois Liberti (representative to the French National Assembly), and Julia Wright (journalist & daughter of the late writer Richard Wright). The petition (with signatures collected from France) called for “the evidence to be heard,”-- in particular the Arnold Beverly statement.
The Supreme Court ultimately rejected the petition on grounds that it was not done on the official form created by the courts. In response, Pam Africa and others took the petitions down the hall to Street’s office and requested a meeting with him. Street had not granted a meeting with Africa and others by April 24, 2003, so a delegation of protesters visited Streets office on the 24th as other protesters gathered outside City Hall. Upon arrival at his office they were unable to meet with him or to get the boxes of petitions back.
The formidable support from France for Mumia recently was attacked in Pennsylvania House Resolution No. 119 calling for the state boycott of French wines. The resolution is largely a response to France’s refusal to give UN authorization to the recent US and British invasion of Iraq. Among a few other grievances with France, the original resolution mentions France’s support for Abu-Jamal.
The resolution states: “Whereas, The French have condemned the legal system in Pennsylvania and the United States for prosecuting, incarcerating, and filing death warrants against Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was found guilty and sentenced to death for his execution-style murder of a Philadelphia police officer, and have in fact named a French village near Paris after this murderer…”
The ICFFMAJ immediately picked up on this and made it a theme of their frequent Philadelphia protests. In what appears to be a response to pressure from the ICFFMAJ, the text of the resolution was changed and no longer mentions Abu-Jamal.
After leaving City Hall, the crowd marched to Rendell’s Philadelphia office at Broad and Walnut. While a delegation entered the building to speak to his office, the crowd took the street while Pam Africa castigated Rendell on the bullhorn. “Governor Rendell is part of a conspiracy to commit cold-blooded and pre-meditated murder of Black political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. He is the master murderer who gave the order as DA to drop a bomb on 11 black men, women, and children.” The DA that obtained the warrants for the 1978 police assault on MOVE’s Powelton Village home as well the ’85 assault, Rendell was also DA during Mumia’s 1982 trial.
Suzanne Ross from the New York City Coalition to Free Mumia was part of the delegation that visited Rendell’s office, where they spoke to the Executive Assistant to the governor. “We asked her if the governor knew about the recent report of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court committee that investigated the issue of prejudice, racism, and sexism in the use of the death penalty. This report found tremendous racism and other prejudice in the selection of who is to be executed. By ignoring this report he is ignoring his won judiciary and is getting away with it”
Officer Friendly? The Cop That Almost Hit Us
This delegation also spoke to Rendell’s assistant about Amnesty International’s annual conference—held in early April in nearby Pittsburgh. By an overwhelming majority vote, AI chose to continue their longtime support for Abu-Jamal. They also agreed to file an Amicus brief calling for the courts to hear the evidence currently being rejected.
Eventually Rendell’s office called on the police to remove Mumia’s supporters. About this, Ross commented that “when you speak to an elected official they call the police to escort you out. Do we have any resemblance of democracy in this country? Governor Rendell is an enemy of the people.”
After visiting Rendell’s office, the crowd then proceeded to 13th & Locust and gathered at the memorial to Daniel Faulkner (placed in 2001) where Faulkner was killed and Mumia was critically shot and beaten. Addressing the crowd, she stated that Judge Dembe’s refusal to hear the statements of Terri Mauer-Carter, Arnold Beverly, and others was the ultimate betrayal of Daniel Faulkner. She felt that by framing Mumia and suppressing other evidence, the courts have refused to make a sincere investigation into what happened in 1981. Speaking to Faulkner’s spirit, Africa proclaimed “we’ll make sure that you get closure by continuing to point out that Mumia Abu-Jamal is innocent of your murder. I know you’re flipping and turning in your grave because your brothers and sisters have turned their back on you.”
Despite the ICFFMAJ’s appeal to the police to have an honest investigation into Faulkner’s death, the Philadelphia PD as a whole has not been interested in this. The national Fraternal Order of Police organization continues to lobby for Abu-Jamal’s execution and promotes the Philadelphia DA’s official 1982 account of Faulkner’s death.
The Philadelphia PD’s civil affairs unit (always present at any political demonstration in town) is generally pretty tame at demonstrations for Abu-Jamal. However, when several Philadelphia bike cops attacked a demonstration for Abu-Jamal on Dec. 8, 2001, civil affairs (supposedly there to protect protesters from violent counter-protesters as well as “rogue” cops) was conspicuously absent and did not intervene to protect those being attacked. That day a Buddhist priest with a heart condition was almost killed. Police threw one woman to the ground by her hair and subsequently fractured her tailbone as she was dragged away. Another bike cop (captured on camera) drew his gun on the crowd at close range and then proceeded to put his gun on the neck of a protester that he had tackled. Later in court this officer would deny pulling his gun on the crowd. While those attacked faced charges from the day, no police officer was charged with wrongdoing.
While there since has not been a police attack of the Dec. 8, 2001 scale, Philadelphia demonstrations for Abu-Jamal continue to be a target of police hostility. Earlier on the 24th a protester and I were standing less than one foot off the curb in front of City Hall—partially occupying a traffic lane that was not in use. Suddenly a police car almost hit us as it sped past only one or two feet clearance. As he passes by, the cop (now our “friendly” police escort here to supposedly protect us from traffic and violent counter-protesters) yells a loud “FUCK YOU!” After I followed the police car and took a photo of his name tag and face, I found out that he was police officer V. Coughlin driving car #912.
Herb Avram, editor of Philadelphia’s INSUBORDINATION magazine writes that “the attempt to execute Abu-Jamal is the ultimate form of state censorship. His journalism (beginning as the 15 year-old Minister of Information of the Philadelphia Black Panther Party) demonstrates the revolutionary potential of alternative media and the subsequent lengths to which the powers that be will go to censor those that threaten them.”
“Through a 1982 trial replete with both fabricated evidence as well as a denial of his constitutional right to represent himself, Mumia Abu-Jamal was framed for the murder of Daniel Faulkner. Other US revolutionaries have been framed the same way. Geronimo Ji Jaga (formerly Pratt) of the Los Angeles BPP was released after 27 years of imprisonment for a murder that the FBI knew he was innocent of. The FBI suppressed surveillance tapes proving he was at a BPP meeting in Oakland, CA the time of the LA murder. Dhoruba Bin Wahad of the New York BPP was released after being imprisoned for 19 years. Mumia Abu-Jamal is a prisoner of this same war and should be immediately released.”
Hans Bennett is an anarchist and independent photojournalist currently working with Philadelphia’s INSUBORDINATION and AWOL magazines. He can be contacted via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or at PO Box 30770, Philadelphia, PA 19104. To see all of Hans’ photographs from the demonstration, visit the Philadelphia Independent Media Center, and Part Two.