[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
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
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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