[Ppnews] French still rally to Abu-Jamal's cause

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Sun May 17 13:15:25 EDT 2009

French still rally to Abu-Jamal's cause

Mary Papenfuss, Chronicle Foreign Service

Sunday, May 17, 2009

(05-17) 04:00 PDT Paris - -- An ardent group of activists who meet  
weekly to protest the imprisonment of a death-row inmate, chanted  
slogans, shouted into microphones and held up printed banners. They  
could have been Bay Area residents in front of San Quentin before an  
execution, but they wore Chloé flats, spoke French, gathered near the  
Seine River and yelled liberté for a man languishing 3,700 miles away  
in a Pennsylvania prison.

While Mumia Abu-Jamal, 55, has been excoriated as a vicious cop killer  
in Philadelphia, he has been a cause-celebre in France for years.

In 2001, Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe declared him an honorary  
citizen, adding Abu-Jamal to a list of notables such as Pablo Picasso  
and the Dalai Lama. In 2006, the Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis named  
a street after him, prompting the city of Philadelphia to file a  
"crime of denial" grievance under an 1881 French law.

Late last year, Abu-Jamal's San Francisco attorney, Robert R. Bryan,  
received a medal from the city of Lyon for his work against the death  
penalty. At a news conference, Bryan joined Danielle Mitterrand, the  
widow of former President Francois Mitterrand, to speak to Abu-Jamal  
by cell phone at a palatial 17th century city hall.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to order a new trial 27  
years after Abu-Jamal's 1982 conviction for killing 25-year-old  
Philadelphia police Officer Daniel Faulkner. Faulkner's widow,  
Maureen, who now lives in Southern California, said she wept after the  
decision. "I've been haunted by the Free Mumia movement," she has told  
reporters. "He murdered my husband in cold blood."

Her sentiment and the court's decision, however, haven't discouraged  
Abu-Jamal's European supporters, whose rallies often eclipse those  
held in New York and San Francisco. Along with Paris, he has been  
given the status of honorary citizen in some 20 other cities,  
including Palermo, Sicily, and is an honorary member of Berlin's  
Association of Those Persecuted by the Nazi Regime.

Most of his ardent European backers believe he didn't receive a fair  
trial and is innocent. Others are simply against the death penalty.  
Currently, Belarus is the only European country that still uses  
capital punishment.

"He's innocent," said Abdel Chaoui, a 56-year-old resident of  
Saint-Denis. "If he's not, he shouldn't be put to death ... he has  
served enough time."

Although French activists have lobbied for the release of other U.S.  
prisoners - at last month's rally, protesters also collected  
signatures demanding a new trial for American Indian activist Leonard  
Peltier, who is serving a life sentence for the murder of two FBI  
agents - no other inmate galvanizes the French public like Abu-Jamal.

Some observers attribute such support to France's love affair with  
African Americans who sought refuge from U.S. racism, such as dancer  
Josephine Baker, writer Richard Wright, singer Paul Robeson and poet  
Langston Hughes. Many French supporters are convinced American  
institutions are inherently racist.

In addition, Abu-Jamal "is uniquely articulate for a death-row  
inmate," said UCLA political science Professor Mark Sawyer. "The idea  
of someone of his intellectual heft on death row makes some think of  
him as a condemned philosopher."

Before his arrest, Abu-Jamal had no previous criminal record. He had  
been a member of the Black Panther Party and had worked as a cab  
driver and radio journalist. He has continued writing behind bars and  
recently published his sixth book -"Jailhouse Lawyers" published by  
San Francisco's City Lights Publishers, making him a compelling poster  
child for death-penalty protesters.

Meanwhile, San Francisco attorney Bryan is convinced that European  
support will help his client avoid the death penalty and win a new  

"International support is crucial. If protests on Mumia's behalf are  
heard on the other side of the Atlantic, it has a major effect," he  
said. "Judges try to be impervious to public sentiment. But they're  
not machines; fortunately, they're human."
The case of Mumia Abu-Jamal

On death row since a 1982 conviction for the murder of a Philadelphia  
police officer, Mumia Abu-Jamal has received much attention both at  
home and abroad.

Hollywood celebrities such as Martin Sheen, Whoopi Goldberg, Michael  
Moore, Ed Asner and Edward James Olmos have called for a new trial.  
The American rock band Rage Against The Machine have sung his praises  
in "Voice of the Voiceless." British actor Colin Firth produced a 2007  
documentary about his case called "In Prison My Whole Life."

Abu-Jamal supporters say somebody else shot the police officer, his  
court-appointed lawyer was incompetent and several witnesses have  
contradicted themselves over the years. In a 2000 report, Amnesty  
International said trial evidence was "contradictory and incomplete,"

But critics say Abu-Jamal, born Wesley Cook, shot the police officer,  
four witnesses testified that he was the gunman, and shell casings  
from his .38-caliber gun were found at the crime scene. Moreover,  
police say he confessed to the crime while recuperating from his  
wounds in a hospital bed.

Few, however, argue that a police officer named Daniel Faulkner pulled  
over a Volkswagen driven by William Cook, Abu-Jamal's brother on Dec,  
9, 1981, for a traffic violation. Faulkner soon called for backup, but  
was dead from gunshot wounds to the back and face by the time other  
officers arrived. Police found Abu-Jamal nearby in the cab he drove  
lying in a pool of his own blood from a gunshot wound to the chest.  
Abu-Jamal has long said he saw Faulkner beating his brother, and when  
he went to his aid the officer shot him.

Over the years, state and federal courts have denied various appeals  
for a retrial and a habeas corpus review. The courts have also denied  
claims that witnesses perjured themselves and that Abu-Jamal had  
ineffectual counsel. In the latest decision last month, the U.S.  
Supreme Court upheld a federal appeals court ruling that upheld his  
conviction, rejecting the argument that prosecutors sought to exclude  
black people from the jury. Abu Jamal was convicted by a jury of 10  
whites and two blacks.

Abu-Jamal's San Francisco lawyer, Robert R. Bryan has filed a petition  
for a Supreme Court rehearing in the case, and is considering  
challenging ballistics findings in a separate action. The court has  
yet to consider a lower court ruling that set aside the death penalty.  
That ruling has been appealed by Philadelphia authorities, leaving  
Abu-Jamal on death row.

"We're closer to meeting the executioner," said Bryan.

E-mail Mary Papenfuss at foreign at sfchronicle.com.


This article appeared on page A - 8 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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