They’ll Never Silence the Voice of the Voiceless:
Mumia Abu-Jamal Talks About the BPP,
Corporate Wars, And More
by Hans Bennett
November 1, 2003
At the age of 15, death row political prisoner Mumia 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 the city’s murderous repression of the MOVE organization, Mumia continued to be a target of the Philadelphia authorities.
Following the City of Philadelphia’s 1978 assault on MOVE’s Powelton Village home, Mumia used a press conference to confront Mayor Frank Rizzo. Rizzo was enraged and issued a public threat while looking at Mumia, 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.”
Recently declared an honorary citizen of Paris, France (the first time since Pablo Picasso was given that honor in the 70s), Mumia’s support extends around the world.
From death row, Mumia has recorded radio-essays and written essays exposing US military aggression, the violence of poverty, white supremacy, and much more. His fourth book written from death row has just been released: Faith of Our Fathers: An Examination of the Spiritual Life of African and African American People. Mumia is a revolutionary public intellectual similar to others like Frantz Fanon, Walter Rodney, Angela Davis, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Antonio Gramsci, Emma Goldman, or Huey P. Newton. The incarceration and attempted execution is part of the state’s overall attack on the public mind and democracy.
The attempt to execute Abu-Jamal is the ultimate form of state censorship. His journalism 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.
On October 8, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied Mumia's appeal of a lower state court decision that prevented him from entering new evidence into his federal appeal. Among the several rejected new statements from witnesses were those of Abu-Jamal himself (his first public account of Dec. 9, 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.”
Because of the Oct. 8 decision, Mumia's case is now back in the federal courts. The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals will now consider appeals of the federal district court decision of December 2001 where Judge Yohn upheld Abu-Jamal’s verdict of guilt (denying a new trail) but to somewhat overturned 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.
If Judge Yohn’s ruling on the death penalty is overturned, a new death date will be set for Mumia. But if Judge Yohn is upheld, Pennsylvania still has the option to impanel a new jury to rehear the penalty phase of Mumia's trial. This new jury could sentence Mumia to death and face the death penalty again, no matter which way the Circuit Court rules on the death penalty issue.
In August, Mumia reported an unexplained swelling, pain, and darkening in his feet. The ICFFMAJ is “concerned about Mumia’s condition in part because health conditions easily become magnified in prison conditions, where forced inactivity, social isolation, a poor diet and mental & emotional stress take their toll on a prisoner’s health. Death due to neglect and misdiagnosis of illness in prison is common and is an unrecognized but effective ‘death penalty’ in US prisons.”
The prison physician that examined him on Aug. 22 concluded that it was caused by overly tight cuffs on his sweatpants that were cutting off circulation to his feet. Mumia and his supporters were not satisfied with this diagnosis. Given that he has still not been examined by an outside doctor of his choice or given the garlic he requested, supporters fought back. The prison authorities have been flooded with faxes & phone calls as well as cloves of garlic mailed to Mumia.
When Mumia wrote me on Sept.8, he said that while he doesn’t really know what the problem is, he believes that it’s healing. “Swelling is down, and discoloration is lessened, but I can’t say definitively what happened; or why? I’m therefore thrilled that supporters have launched the ‘garlic campaign,’ and deeply appreciative too.”
In response to these new events, the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal is organizing two events. On Saturday, Nov.1, protesters will gather outside of Philadelphia’s new “Constitution Center.” Afterwards supporters will meet to plan the event coming up on Dec. 13.
I spoke with Mumia on Aug.30, 2003.
Hans Bennett (HB): The Black Panther Party long held a scathing critique of US foreign policy. How did your experience as a Panther shape your views on global politics?
Mumia Abu-Jamal (MAJ): At an early stage in its development, the BPP became what was called a “revolutionary internationalist party,” which meant that they looked to revolutionary anti-imperialist examples around the world. We looked to places like Cuba and the experience of the revolutionaries there like Che Guevara. Mao was very important. His red book was required reading. Frantz Fanon was also very influential. While Fanon was of West Indian heritage, he became very active in the Algerian Revolution.
Because we considered ourselves internationalists, we began to look at the world from a deeper perspective than most people that considered themselves black nationalists as well as many others on the left at the time.
HB: What did the Panthers believe was the motive for US foreign policy?
MAJ: I remember very early in the party’s history, an article in the BPP paper by George Murray, (the former Minister of Education and an instructor at San Francisco State University). He set forth the real basis for the US intervention and occupation in Vietnam. He explained that the US capitalists were in search of raw materials that existed in Vietnam like bauxite, which is used to make aluminum and that car companies used to make bumpers, and so on. This was a very powerful argument—particularly when you think about what is happening today in Iraq.
People of the so-called right claim that the US is entering Iraq to promote democracy and get rid of a dictator. It’s far more reasonable if you understand US history -- especially with the Vietnam situation -- that the rulers are interested in oil as a natural resource; as an economic bulwark against the loss of this resource. That’s more probable than the claim about democracy and the anti-dictator stance that the state has used. When you have some inkling of US history, you understand that for all intents and purposes, there’s never been a dictator that the Americans didn’t like, especially when they are one of the many doing the US’ bidding.
HB: Many today are criticizing George Bush and his foreign policy. Today it would seem Clinton has been able to kill more Iraqi children with his sanctions than both Pres. Bush’s have been able to do combined. Furthermore Clinton named an illegal bombing attack on Iraq in late 1998 “Operation Desert Fox” after a famous WWII Nazi general (obviously much admired by the US ruling class). How do you think relations with Iraq would be different today if Gore was President instead of Bush?
MAJ: Some may disagree with me but I do believe that the difference would probably be one of degree and not of substance. As you were mentioning about the sanctions, Clinton did wage a low-intensity war all throughout his term, that probably resulted in more Iraqi deaths -- we’re here making an assumption because we don’t really know how many Iraqis have died in the recent war. For the better part of a decade (certainly during the 8 years of the Clinton administration) the US and Britain -- as well as most of the west when you think about it -- waged a kind of sanctions war on Iraq that denied Iraqi citizens (not the Iraqi government) access to much needed medicines and other things that children, old people, and women, again average citizens could not have access to. The economic impact is also almost unheard of -- certainly in this part of the world -- but hundreds of thousands of children have lost their lives over that period of time.
HB: So in terms of hurting the Iraqi people, the democrats aren’t much better?
MAJ: Well, that’s my impression and the more I study it and look at what people have said in previous generations, I keep coming back to that conclusion. The great internationalist and Pan-Africanist WEB DuBois spoke similarly about those things way back in the 1930s when he criticized the Democrats and the Republicans. He was one who at a very early stage in US history talked about the development of a labor party or the support of a socialist party in the US. That was quite unpopular and he got tossed out of the NAACP because he was so radical, but he was a very insightful and honest and deeply thinking radical of his time. I’m looking at something in fact that he wrote in the organ of the NAACP: The Crisis. He wrote it in 1922 and the editorial he wrote is called “Kicking Us Out.”
DuBois writes: “The Democrats won’t have us and the Republicans don’t want us. Is there anything to do but impotently wring our empty hands? There is, and this is our opportunity. This spells our political emancipation. We are invited not to support either of the old, discredited, and bankrupt political parties. In other words, we are being compelled to do what every honest thinking American wants to do, namely support some third party that represents character, decency, and ideals.”
“Just as the 2 old parties have combined against us to nullify our power by a gentleman’s agreement of non-recognition no matter how we vote, in the same way they have agreed to nullify the vote of every forward looking, thinking, honest American. The revolt against the smug and idiotic defiance of the demand for advanced legislation and intelligence is slowly sweeping the country. May God write us down as asses if ever again we are found putting our trust in either the Republican or Democratic parties.”
This is 1922. He was a very forward thinking man, but something very similar of course could be written today when you look at the dilemma that African Americans face when they’re dealing with the two major political parties. They really are a corporate party with two heads, but they have the same body, interests, and certainly the same bloodstream, which is corporate wealth.
HB: Looking back at the weeks and months leading up the recent invasion of Iraq when we were out in the streets trying to prevent more slaughter at the hands of “our” government, it was really intense. Why do you think we weren’t able to stop the war?
MAJ: I think in a way it relates to the previous question. We don’t have anything resembling a workers’ party, a labor party, or a people’s party. We have a corporate party as I suggested earlier. We really have a democratic system in name but not substance. Which means that you can have a president that essentially ignores not just the expressed will of millions of people in the country. I remember reading somewhere that something like 20 million people protested this war all around the world.
Its one thing to ignore the national sentiment that was very clear, but you essentially had to ignore global sentiment to promote this war. That’s why he kept talking about “weapons of mass destruction” and saying the UN didn’t know what it was talking about. Bush and others claimed to know where all this stuff was. You had Powell in the UN with these ridiculous maps. All of a sudden the maps don’t work any more.
Both parties really depend on a very thin slice of the US electorate and according to the last election cycles, the vast majority of the people don’t vote anyway. They don’t care what the people want. They just care about their corporate sponsors. Literally, they don’t give a damn about what the people want, because they just want to protect the wealthy.
HB: Do you think there is something we could be doing differently with our protest tactics so that we can stop the next war?
MAJ: I really do think that people should not have “knee-jerk stopped” when the military campaign started. For the most part that’s what happened. I understand that people are conditioned into the “support the troops” stuff. But troops are not independent actors. Military people are told what to do by their leaders and their military leaders are told –theoretically at least—by the political leaders. If anything demonstrations should have intensified, not kind of decelerated with the mindset that “since it has already started, we can’t do anything.” I understand why people did it but I think it was the wrong thing to do.
I also think that civil disobedience has its place and people need to think about going to those lengths. I know they’re afraid and don’t want to go to prison or get hurt. But what’s the alternative when what is being imposed on the American people is a kind of imperial occupation and a military stance that will last for generations now?
HB: Anything else that you’d like to add?
MAJ: People need to think in terms of continuing resistance because there are millions of people in this country that really share that position, but they feel isolated and afraid of expressing it.
The International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal is calling on supporters to send cloves or whole heads of garlic in a sturdy envelope with a note urging them to provide garlic to Mumia as well as an outside doctor of his choice. Mail this to:
c/o Superintendent Folino
169 Progress Drive
Waynesburg, PA 15370
Call the prison at (724) 852-2902. From 8am to 5pm ask for Superintendent Folino. After 5pm ask for Captain Hall.
For more information contact the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal at po box 19709 Philadelphia, PA 19143 / (215) 476-8812 or 476-5416 / www.mumia.org or write Mumia:
Mumia Abu-Jamal, #AM 8335
175 Progress Drive
Waynesburg, PA 15370-8090
Hans Bennett is a Philadelphia-based anarchist and independent photo-journalist. His photos and writing has appeared in such publications as Z Magazine, Alternative Press Review, INSUBORDINATION, AWOL, and the San Jose Mercury News. He can be contacted via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or PO Box 30770, Philadelphia, PA 19104. To view his photos from the April 24, 2003 demonstration for Mumia, please link to:
* PART ONE
* PART TWO