[Ppnews] Mumia - Color of Law
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Oct 19 12:25:00 EDT 2007
ZNet | Repression
Color of Law
by David A. Love; The Black Commentator ; October 18, 2007
A group of journalists is determined to seek a
fair retrial of death row prisoner, noted
journalist and former Black Panther
<http://www.freemumia.org/>Mumia Abu-Jamal, and
they point to evidence they say provides further
proof of his innocence: photos from the crime
scene that the jury never had the chance to see.
The group, Journalists for Mumia, was founded by
Hans Bennett, a Philadelphia journalist, and Dr.
Michael Schiffmann, German linguist at the
University of Heidelberg, to challenge what they
characterize as "the long history of media bias
against Abu-Jamal's case for a new trial."
Abu-Jamal, formerly known as Wesley Cook, was
arrested and convicted of the 1981 murder of
Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. He
has been on Pennsylvania's death row since then,
although a federal judge affirmed his conviction
but vacated his death sentence in 2001. A
three-judge, federal appeals court panel is
reconsidering the case for his retrial, and heard
oral arguments on May 17, 2007.
Faulkner was killed on the corner of Locust and
13th Streets in Philadelphia, on the morning of
December 9, 1981. Abu-Jamal and his brother,
Billy Cook, were found lying on the sidewalk when
police arrived at the scene to find Faulkner
dead. In addition, Abu-Jamal, who also had been
shot, was beaten by police when they came to the
scene. And he was arraigned at his hospital bed
while recovering from life-threatening injuries.
This case has been one of the most contentious,
most widely observed and most thoroughly
critiqued cases of our times, as it has put a
spotlight on the contagion of police brutality,
racism and corruption in the criminal justice
system, and the capricious application of the
death penalty. Amnesty International has called
for a new trial for Abu-Jamal. "It's shocking
that the US justice system has repeatedly failed
to address the appalling violation of Mumia
Abu-Jamal's fundamental fair trial rights," said
Amnesty International UK Directo,r Kate Allen.
Through prodigious research, Schiffmann has
located a number of photos taken by press
photographer Pedro Polakoff. Polakoff, who
arrived on the scene 12 minutes after Faulkner's
killing, produced at least 26 photos before the
arrival of the Philadelphia Police Department's
Mobile Crime Unit. Some of the photos are
highlighted in Schiffmann's new book, Race
Against Death. Mumia Abu-Jamal: A Black
Revolutionary in White America. The book an
expansion of Schiffmann's doctoral dissertation
was recently released in Germany, and has yet to
be published in the United States.
Polakoff told Schiffmann that the crime scene was
poorly managed and unsecured, "the most messed up
crime scene I have ever seen." Polakoff attempted
to hand his photos to the D.A.'s office on two
occasions before the trial in 1982 and in 1995
during Mumia's post-conviction relief hearing
but to no avail. Apparently, they weren't
interested in what he had to show them. (And
Schiffmann and Bennett say that Polakoff, who
until very recently assumed Mumia was guilty, and
that Mumia was the passenger in his brother's
car, had no interest in contacting Mumia's lawyers regarding the photos.)
Perhaps this was because his photos presented
some damning truths. In his book, Schiffmann
makes a number of important arguments:
The police manipulated the evidence that was
provided to the trial court. For example,
Polakoff's photo shows Faulkner's cap resting on
the roof of Billy Cook's Volkswagen. Yet, in a
police photo taken 10 minutes later, the cap is
on the sidewalk in front of 1234 Locust.
Police officer, James Forbes, testified at trial
that he had secured Faulkner's and Abu-Jamal's
weapons, and did not touch the metal parts in
order to preserve the fingerprints. Yet,
Polakoff's photos show that Forbes had touched
the metal parts of the weapons, 6
destroying valuable evidence in the process.
Polakoff told Schiffmann that officers at the
crime scene said they believed the shooter was
sitting in the passenger seat of Billy Cook's
Volkswagen, supporting the argument that a third
person was at the crime scene.
One of the prosecution's key witnesses, a cab
driver names Robert Chobert, claimed he was
sitting in his cab behind Faulkner's police car
during the shooting. Yet, there is no taxicab in
Polakoff's crime scene photos.
The prosecution asserted that Mumia killed
Faulkner by standing over the already wounded
officer and unloading several shots from a .38
revolver. However, the Polakoff photos show a
clean trickle of blood on the pavement, not the
splatter of blood or cement damage that one would
expect from the firing of such a weapon.
Journalists for Mumia are providing a valuable
public service in the honored tradition of the
First Amendment. Linn Washington, Jr., veteran
journalist who worked for the Philadelphia
Tribune at the time of Mumia's arrest, was on the
case at a time when most of the Philadelphia
press corps were asleep on the issues of race and
criminal justice. Washington recently reflected
on the role of the press in the U.S.
Constitution: "One of the reasons why we have
this First Amendment is [the framers] said, they
knew that power corrupts absolutely. So they had
this check and balance, you know, where the
executive had a check on the legislative, and the
legislative and a check on the courts, and the
courts had a check on both of them. But who is
going to check the checkers? Well that was
supposed to be the press. So, the press had a
watchdog role to look at what government is
doing, and more specifically, look at what the
government is doing wrong to who? We the people."
And the Philadelphia of 1981, on the heels of the
brutal reign of police-chief-turned-mayor Frank
Rizzo, was a time of rampant official corruption
and misconduct, racism, and police brutality.
Washington noted that during the year of Mumia's
arrest, five men were framed by the Philadelphia
police for murder and exonerated years later. Two
of the innocent men spent as much as 20 years in
prison before their release, and one man spent
1,375 days on death row before he became a free
man. This legacy of police corruption haunts the
city to this day, at a time when better
police-community relations are needed to stem a tide of gun homicides.
There is much in Mumia's case that is troubling,
and points to a dysfunctional system in dire need of repair.
The prosecutor had a history of excluding African
American jurors, and struck 10 of 14 Black
potential jurors, but only 5 of 25 whites.
In a sworn statement, a court stenographer said
she overheard the trial judge, Albert Sabo,
saying he would help the prosecution "fry the nigger."
For twelve years, prosecutors withheld evidence
that the driver's license of a third man was
found in Faulkner's pocket at the crime scene.
Defense witnesses who testified that someone
other than Abu-Jamal killed Faulkner were intimidated.
Five of the seven members of the Pennsylvania
Supreme Court, which denied his appeal, received
campaign contributions from the Fraternal Order
of Police, the primary group that has advocated
for the execution of Mumia, who they regard as an unrepentant cop killer.
All of this is about Mumia, yet far more than
just Mumia, for Mumia's case marks a part of the
continuum that represents the tortured,
tragically consistent narrative of people of
color in America's justice system. Decades before
Abu-Jamal, there were the Scottsboro boys. In
1931, nine black teenagers in Scottsboro, Alabama
ranging in age from thirteen to nineteen were
accused of raping two white women. Tried without
adequate representation, they were sentenced to
death by all-white juries, despite a lack of
evidence. And one of the women later recanted.
In more recent years, there were the Central Park
Five, the five Black and Latino men convicted of
raping and beating a female jogger in Central
Park, N.Y., in 1989, and later found to be
railroaded. Donald Trump had spent $85,000 on
full-page newspaper ads calling for the death
penalty for the five youths, who were
characterized as a wolf pack. And of course,
today we have the Jena Six, arrested and
prosecuted in a Louisiana town for fighting
against nooses dangling under their high school's
"White tree," while the White students who
planted the nooses and committed other acts of violence were given a pass.
We will never know how many innocent people in
this country those who could not afford to buy
justice were sent to their deaths or forced to
languish in prison for the rest of their lives,
all on a lack of evidence or doctored and
cooked-up evidence, served up by police officers
who wanted to make a name for themselves, and
prosecutors who aspired to higher office on a tough-on-crime stance.
Society cannot help those who were victimized by
kangaroo justice, but no longer live among us and
are now but a fleeting memory. But we can still
help Mumia Abu-Jamal, and in doing so we begin to
repair this system of "justice" and save ourselves in the process.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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