U.S. activists in solidarity with political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal
Published Dec 11, 2008
Dec. 6 was declared an International Day of Solidarity with death row political prisoner, Mumia Abu-Jamal. Events were held in France, Switzerland, Germany, England and Mexico, while in the U.S. events were organized in Detroit, San Francisco, Baltimore, Portland, San Diego and other cities. Mumia’s lawyers are currently appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court for a new guilt-phase trial, while the Philadelphia district attorney is appealing to the same court in an effort to execute Mumia without a new sentencing-phase jury trial. The following are summaries of some of the U.S. events.
Hundreds of spirited and determined demonstrators straddled both sides of a circular drive around Philadelphia’s City Hall across from District Attorney Lynn Abraham’s office on Dec. 6 to confront her attempt to fast track the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Abraham, known as “the deadliest DA in the U.S.,” has called on the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate Abu-Jamal’s death sentence, despite mounds of evidence of his innocence. The largely youthful crowd filled the frigid December air with chants of “No Justice, No Peace! Until Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Released!”
The rally opened with a phoned-in solidarity greeting live from Venezuelan campesino leader Braulio Álvarez, a member of the National Assembly representing the Yaracuy states.
Álvarez called from a protest outside the U.S. Embassy in Caracas where Venezuelans gathered to present a letter to the U.S. ambassador calling for the state in Pennsylvania to immediately liberate Abu-Jamal.
Pam Africa of the MOVE organization and International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal challenged the assertion by District Attorney Abraham that there was no evidence that Abu-Jamal was innocent or denied a fair trial. Africa called on Captain William Fisher, head of Philadelphia’s Police Department of Civil Affairs, to come forward, and she proceeded to pile his arms with mounds of books, files, CD’s and photos containing evidence that has been gathered over the years to take to Abraham.
Noting that in 1981 and again in 1985 both the police and district attorney were given copies of photos taken by independent photojournalist Pedro Polakoff that contradicted prosecution witnesses’ accounts, Africa challenged Abraham’s position that evidence proving Abu-Jamal’s innocence was not timely and therefore could not be admitted to court. Africa noted that the prosecution had these photos, yet kept them from defense attorneys.
The rally was followed by a march past the Union League on S. Broad Street, where earlier in the day President George W. Bush was present to see his portrait hung. Some protesters carried placards with a photo of Bush behind bars for war crimes with the slogan “Jail Bush! Free Mumia!”
At 13th and Locust streets the march stopped for a brief enactment of the 1981 crime scene, where Hans Bennett of Journalists for Mumia outlined the contradictory statements of state witnesses that have since been exposed as lies by Polokoff’s photos and other eyewitness accounts.
The march concluded with another spirited rally as protesters occupied Market Street outside the Federal Court building, where speakers included Manolo de los Santos of the Iglesia San Romero de Las Américas; Suzanne Ross of the New York Free Mumia Coalition; and Ashanti Alston of the Jericho Movement, who spent more than a decade in prison. Alston spoke of the need to free all political prisoners, including Leonard Peltier and the San Francisco 8.
Monica Moorehead of the International Action Center spoke on Abu-Jamal’s refusal to compromise his principles and his continued political contributions through radio commentaries and weekly columns on issues from imperialist wars abroad to the economic crisis at home. “With almost two million people foreclosed out of homes this year and millions unemployed, we have to link these wars at home when we raise the political struggle against prisons, police brutality and stop and frisk. Mumia would want us to.”
Fight Imperialism, Stand Together organizer Larry Hales remarked that it has been 39 years since the murders of Black Panther members Fred Hampton and Mark Clark by Chicago police. “We don’t want to wait 39 years to observe another anniversary about Mumia. Young people today aren’t being educated about the great social movements, but they are going to be radicalized as they fight back against the conditions they face today, and they’ll come to understand the importance of raising political prisoners’ demands.”
Student and community activists in support of Mumia Abu-Jamal met on Dec. 2 in Missoula, Mont., on the campus of the University of Montana (UM) to hear Larry Hales, an International Action Center organizer, and see the film distributed by the Peoples Video Network, “The Framing of an Execution: Mumia Abu-Jamal and the Media.”
Rachael Carroll, an organizer with the Montana Human Rights Network and Montana Abolition Coalition, a statewide movement against the death penalty, also spoke. The coalition was also a sponsor of the event.
Carroll reported that the Montana component of the prison-industrial complex is part of the racist trend throughout the United States, where members of oppressed nations are imprisoned and receive death sentences far beyond their numbers in the population. She said, “American Indians in Montana are about 6 percent of the population, but Indian women comprise between 42 percent and 75 percent of all women in prison in the state. In addition, Indian men comprise more than 22 percent of both prisoners and those receiving the death penalty.”
Both Hales and Carroll spoke about the need for people to get involved in local and statewide actions against the racist death penalty as well as to support Mumia and demand that his legal lynching be stopped. Both organizers encouraged those present to follow the advice of Mumia to “Organize! Organize! Organize!”
Elisabeth Stoeckel, a UM graduate student, chaired the meeting and represented the Social Justice Action Network, an event sponsor and a UM organization that provides social work graduate students with the opportunity to get involved with social justice activities on campus and in the community. Other UM groups supporting the event included Students for Economic and Social Justice, Students for Peace and Justice and the International Action Center in Montana.
The day before the Missoula event, activists and members of Amnesty International and the IAC gathered In Dillon, Mont., on the campus of the University of Montana Western. They heard Larry Hales speak about Mumia’s case and then engaged in a lively discussion to plan further actions in support of Mumia and the statewide movement against the death penalty in Montana.
The meetings in Missoula and Dillon were the first held in the state by the International Action Center in Montana, and are seen by state organizers of the IAC and other involved groups as stepping stones to building a statewide network to not only oppose the racist death penalty and the unjust imprisonment of oppressed and poor people, but also to engage in other political action against economic and political injustice.
Activists in the fight to free U.S. political prisoners gathered in Buffalo to watch a new video, “Fighting for Mumia’s Freedom: A Report from Philadelphia.” They also watched a CBS-produced program, “West 57th,” that told so much truth about the case of Leonard Peltier that it outraged the government when it was aired in the 1980s. A lively discussion followed.
— Ellie Dorritie
Nearly 100 people braved a snowstorm in Cleveland on Dec. 6 to protest the 27 years of wrongful imprisonment of Mumia Abu-Jamal and to recommit to the struggle for his freedom.
Abu-Jamal’s life was put in the context of J. Edgar Hoover’s war against the Black Panther Party by Abdul Qahhar, chair of the Cleveland chapter of the New Black Panther Party. Devin Branch of the Cleveland October 22 Organizing Committee described Abu-Jamal’s frame-up and the important aspects of his legal case.
Rev. Nozomi Ikuta and Yahya Abdussabur spoke about the situation of the Puerto Rican freedom fighters still in prison and the frame-up of Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (the former H. Rap Brown).
Messages of solidarity from prisoners falsely convicted in connection with the 1993 Lucasville prison uprising were read. The audience cheered recent victories in the campaign for the Lucasville prisoners as counted out by Sharon Danann of the Lucasville Uprising Freedom Network. Jackie Thomas, spouse of Lucasville prisoner Rasheem Matthews, told how they tracked down the witnesses who testified falsely against Matthews and urged the audience to pack the courtroom during Matthews’ new trial.
Artists from the Hip Hop Workshop, a project aimed at keeping youth out of gangs while creating music without offensive language, provided poetry, dance, rap and hip-hop. The event was seen as a step toward a broader campaign on prison issues.
On Dec. 7, the African American Artists and Writers hosted an Evening of Solidarity to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal at the Malcolm X Library in Southeast San Diego.
A number of attendees left the Cuba/Venezuela/Mexico/North American Labor Conference in Tijuana early and walked across the U.S./Mexico border to be a part of this gathering. This made the meeting truly international, linking the struggle to free Mumia with the struggles of the many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean that were represented at the conference.
Sylvia Telefaro of AAWA opened the discussion by saying, “We are all warriors on the ground—stepping up the struggle to free Mumia.” Speakers included John Parker, Los Angeles International Action Center; Sabrina Green, Free the Move 9 and International Concerned Family & Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal; and Paul LouLou Chery, general secretary of the Federation of Haitian Workers. Dave Welsh of the Haiti Action Committee was scheduled to speak and interpret for Chery, but was delayed at the border to support a Haitian brother, Benissiot Docios, who was detained. (Docios was allowed through Customs only after he paid a “fine” of hundreds of dollars.)
Parker spoke about how important it is to link up the issues of people all over the world, stressing that Mumia’s essays are about this type of solidarity. Parker noted that Mumia rarely writes about himself. Green gave an update on the Move 9 and initiated a phone call to Pam Africa, who applauded the solidarity action. Africa gave an update on Mumia’s case and a Dec. 6 march in Philadelphia. On The Move showed a video by Hans Bennett (see www.abu-jamal-news.com).
Elder Eusi Kwayana, a local activist, member of the Langston Hughes Poetry Circle and a native of Guyana, spoke about a letter that he wrote in May to the Brazilian government concerning the disappearance of Haitian civil rights activist Lovinski Pierre-Antoine. Kwayana was central in bringing together Afro-Guyanese and Indo-Guyanese people during Guyana’s independence struggle. Kwayana said that what the state is trying to do to Mumia is “a lynching.”
Zola Mohammad spoke of the struggle to free freedom fighters Imam Jamil and Leonard Peltier. Dianne Mathiowetz of Atlanta said, “Let us not forget Troy Davis. We send revolutionary greetings to the Cuban 5 and all political prisoners.”
Jim Moreno, a poet with the Langston Hughes Poetry Circle who attended the Tijuana conference, recited a poem that was inspired when he talked to LouLou Chery. One question in the poem concerned the hunger of the people of Haiti, to which Chery responded that the people hunger for the return of democratically elected president Bertrand Aristide.
Chery spoke of solidarity and unity and the work that is taking place to build the Federation of Haitian Workers (CTH). He said that Haiti is a poor country with a strong and rich history.
A group photo from the meeting will be sent to Mumia.