[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.

Freedom Archives
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