[Ppnews] Italian Interview w/Mumia Abu-Jamal

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Sun Feb 17 14:49:38 EST 2008

RIGHTS-US: Journalist on Death Row
Interview with Mumia Abu-Jamal

BOSTON, Feb 14 (IPS) - Mumia Abu-Jamal, a journalist and  black 
activist who exposed corruption in the Philadelphia police 
department,  is among the best known of America's 3,500 death row 
inmates. For years,  lawyers have been fighting to overturn his 1982 
murder conviction. They argue  that Abu-Jamal was condemned due to 
his skin colour and undue influence from  the powerful Fraternal 
Order of Police.

Abu-Jamal and his chief  lawyer, Robert Bryan, are currently awaiting 
a decision from the U.S. Court of  Appeals in Philadelphia on their 
request for a new trial. If a re-trial is  ordered, many believe it 
will be one of the most sensational in U.S. legal  history.
In this rare interview from Pennsylvania's death row,  Abu-Jamal 
talks about being a journalist on death row with IPS 
correspondent  Adrianne Appel and radio journalist John Grebe. 
"Writing from a radical and  populist, black liberation point of 
view, never left me," he says, "We do  truly live in amazing times, 
times that are challenging, times that are  dangerous -- but also 
times that are inspiring."

IPS: Through your  radio broadcasts and columns about politics, race, 
black liberation and the  death penalty, you have continued to be a 
leader for those on the left, and I  suspect an inspiration to those 
in prison and on death row. Do you hear from  others on death row?

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: I do actually receive letters  from guys literally 
all around the country and -- truth be told -- around the  world. 
Some express solidarity, many request to correspond, some just 
ask  questions on history because they've heard of my history with 
the black  liberation movement. I know that many people on death row 
are  projected as monsters and really evil people. The fact of the 
matter is, most  of the people I've met, I've heard about, or know 
about on death row are on  death row because of their poverty. If 
they were men or women of means and  could have afforded a decent 
defence at their trials, many wouldn't be in  jail. And if they were 
not in jail, they wouldn't be on death row.

IPS: You have great support in Europe but not here in the U.S. 
What  accounts for this difference?

MAJ: The [U.S.] media has really been an  adversary and not an aide. 
The struggle waxes and wanes, ebbs and flows.

IPS: Public sentiment here seems to be shifting away from the 
death  penalty, especially in light of the 126 people who have so far 
been exonerated  -- six in Pennsylvania. Have you and your legal team 
sensed any change in  attitude towards your case -- more openness to 
the idea that you did not  receive a fair trial?

MAJ: I can't say that I have. How do you gauge  such a thing? There 
are many people who -- because of what they read in the  paper -- 
firmly believe I am no longer on death row. I have read articles 
to  that effect. Unfortunately, those articles are misleading. I have 
never left  death row for one day. I am on death row.

IPS: Are you confident you  will receive a fair trial this time?

MAJ: I've learned not to be in  the business of prediction. That's a 
risky business. We're certainly working  toward that end and I'm 
certainly hopeful. But I'm not in the prediction game.

IPS: Of the 35 states with a death penalty, conditions 
on  Pennsylvania's death row are among the most inhumane. The 228 
death row  inmates are kept in solitary confinement 23 hours a day in 
small cells. You  are kept shackled when not in your cell, even in 
the shower. You are not  allowed physical contact with visitors, with 
no one at all. How does this  affect you?

MAJ: It affects how you interact with family and friends,  staff 
people, females. It affects everything.
Years ago in Huntington  [another prison], I was taken to a dentist. 
As I was coming back and crossing  the central portion of the prison, 
there were several hundred men walking  toward their dining area. 
Because it had been so many years that I had been  away from a large 
mass of people I froze, I just froze. The guard with me  pushed my 
back and said, "C'mon Jamal", but I couldn't move. I was so 
stunned  to be in the presence of hundreds of guys. I hadn't been 
around a group for so  many years. I didn't know how to interact with 
that situation. For years I had  lived in a cell or in a cage by myself.

John Grebe: As a young,  working reporter what inspired you?

MAJ: My life as a writer on the  staff of the Black Panther 
newspaper. Just learning from people in the  ministry of information 
of the [Black Panther] Party, that really did inspire  me -- even 
when I left the party, when it fell apart in disarray -- that 
part  of my life, writing from a radical and populist, black 
liberation point of  view. It never left me. I learned some important 
lessons. When I talk to  people in the biz I say I'm glad I never 
went to journalism school.

IPS: You've written five books from death row and produce weekly radio
commentaries. Why do you still speak out?

MAJ: It's still interesting.  We do truly live in amazing times, 
times that are challenging, times that are  dangerous -- but also 
times that are inspiring. We have a government that for  all intents 
and purposes now says that torture is cool. We have secret  prisons, 
so-called black sites, where people from all around the world 
are  held in the name of the United States of America -- whose names 
you cannot  know. People who are tortured. I feel compelled to write 
because they  move me. I'm still a writer, an author, a journalist. 
They touch me. I would  be remiss if I did not write about those 
things. If you recall, after 9/11  quite a few of the journalistic 
mainstays in this country did not write about  those things. They 
endorsed the war, they supported the war. They came with  what some 
people would call a mimeograph service for the state. I chose not 
to  take that role.

IPS: Pennsylvania death row has twice as many black  people on it as 
white people, something that does not reflect the makeup of  the 
population in Pennsylvania. What does this say about the courts 
in  Pennsylvania?

MAJ: It says much about the courts in Philadelphia as  opposed to 
Pennsylvania. Philly [Philadelphia] is a national leader in 
the  death penalty business. Many cases that would be considered 
third  degree or even volunteer manslaughter, or not guilty in other 
counties, become  first degree [murder] or death [penalty] cases in 
Philly. That's because the  political system in Philly has been 
formed around the death penalty.

Anyone who doesn't believe in the death penalty is 
automatically  excluded from the jury. Well that's a different kind 
of jury. It's profoundly  unfair at its very foundation. If you pick 
a jury that is fundamentally  unfair, you can only get a 
fundamentally unfair result.

JG: Do you  currently have communication with people in the black 
liberation movement?

MAJ: There are many elders who I do hear from. They're 
wonderful  brothers and sisters. Many are no longer with us. But some 
of them are. I  delight in having contact with many of those people.

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