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Mumia Abu-Jamal Loses Another Path to Freedom

Mumia Abu-Jamal

This article was originally published here

Despite an international, high profile campaign for his release, Mumia Abu-Jamal’s appeal was denied by Philadelphia Judge Lucretia Clemons on Friday, March 31.

Abu-Jamal has spent over 40 years in prison, convicted of killing a police officer after being politically persecuted for his work as a journalist and Black liberation fighter. The movement for his release has spanned decades and has grown to international levels, with high-profile figures such as NUMSA General Secretary Irvin Jim counted among his supporters.

As Angela Davis wrote in an open letter in February, on December 16, a judge ruled that over over 200 boxes of materials must be handed to Abu-Jamal’s defense after previously-unseen exculpatory evidence was mysteriously discovered in 2018. This evidence relates to Abu-Jamal’s trial and included documents that indicate that a witness was bribed for her testimony, that the prosecutor removed Black people from the jury for racial reasons, and that the prosecution offered leniency to one of their key witnesses for crimes she had been charged with.

Based on this new evidence, Abu-Jamal’s defense requested a new trial. This evidence was not available to the defense during the first trial, and could very well have affected the outcome.

Racist jury selection

Evidence includes the trial prosecutor’s notes in which he tracked the race of each juror during jury selection. The trial prosecutor also wrote the template that he created to select jurors, which he applied unevenly to potential jurors based on race. Documents submitted by Abu-Jamal’s defense indicate that the prosecutor “deemed certain characteristics important for selecting jurors but struck prospective Black jurors who were more favorable with respect to those criteria than non-Black panelists whom he did not strike.” The prosecution hid those notes for over 35 years.

Abu-Jamal’s supporters have pointed to an official Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office training tape from 1986 that revealed that prosecutors were trained on how to strike Black people from the jury without revealing racist intent in order to avoid a Batson challenge, or a challenge to jury selection on racial grounds. In the infamous tape, senior prosecutor Jack McMahon is filmed telling his trainees, “in selecting Blacks [to the jury], again, you don’t want the real educated ones.”

The new evidence could have given Abu-Jamal his best chance at release, after having endured medical neglect and torture during his decades-long stay in prison. Judge Lucretia Clemons dismissed Abu-Jamal’s appeal largely on procedural grounds. As journalist and longtime Abu-Jamal supporter Noelle Hanrahan wrote, “Everyone in Philadelphia knows that his trial judge Judge Albert Sabo was a stone cold racist. Everyone knows that witnesses were bribed. Judge Lucretia Clemons stated that even if the jurors KNEW witnesses were bribed, it would not have affected their decision. Now, come on. Really?”

Abu-Jamal’s supporters vow to continue fighting despite the setback.

NOTE: Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio sent the note below:

I saw Mumia yesterday and he was deeply affected by the blow, the gravity, the gut wrenching disappointment: that freedom will be delayed, again.

I brought him Judge Clemons’ 38 page “opinion.” He read the words carefully, first retrieving his reading glasses from his shirt pocket. Hunched over, he read through each and every line. Words that were written to bury him. Words meant to extinguish hope. Pages that would bind him.  An opinion that will keep in place the full body cavity strip search before and after every visit.  An order that would deny him the food and exercise that could heal his broken heart and his cardiac condition. Pages that separate him from his great-grandchildren, his brothers, his sons, his daughter. Words that prevent him from receiving the healing embrace of his people as he weeps and aches for Wadiya, his wife of 41 years who passed away in December.

Its promise of finality is really a transparent attempt to cover up what everyone knows to be true: police, prosecutors, and yes, now judges, have stolen decades from the lives of Black Philadelphians.  It is a promise that would have the injustice system stay the same, unchallenged, with Mumia remaining locked in a cage until his last breath.

And yet, yesterday, Sunday April 2nd,  I met with a man full of life.

Mumia, deeply engaged in his doctoral dissertation, using Fanon to measure this new world.  Sketching out the future. The day the wretched of the earth shall be vindicated. Willing into being the real narrative, a counter narrative, that both calls forth, and imagines freedom.  I met a man who was engaged in the world and yes, full of hope, for all of us, and for himself.

Mumia’s hearty belly laugh is impossible not to join in. He is very, very funny.  I have to ask him to “come on, please just stop, don’t make me laugh at these god awful absurdities.”

Mumia’s love is courageous, it is honest, eyes wide open and fearless, and transformative for all of us.

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