[Ppnews] The Politics of Death: Throwing Mumia Abu-Jamal Under the Bus

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Jun 29 14:19:21 EDT 2010

Published on This Can't Be Happening 

The Politics of Death: Throwing Mumia Abu-Jamal Under the Bus

By Anonymous
Created 06/29/2010 - 13:29
By Dave Lindorff

"I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong."
--Frederick Douglass

On the evening of March 4, participants at the 
Fourth UN World Congress Against the Death 
Penalty in Geneva, Switzerland had assembled from 
all over the globe for a dramatic Voices of 
Victims evening. It got more dramatic than they 
had anticipated though, when suddenly a cell 
phone rang and Robert R. Bryan, lead defense 
attorney for Mumia Abu-Jamal, jumped up on the 
stage to announce that his client had called him 
from death row in Pennsylvania.

The audience in rapt silence as the emcee held 
the phone up to the microphone. Abu-Jamal, on 
death row for 28 years after a widely disputed 
conviction for the murder of Philadelphia police 
officer Daniel Faulkner, greeted the delegates 
and than, as he has done on many occasions 
before, described to them the horrors of life in 
prison for the 20,000 people around the world who are awaiting execution.

A small group of American death penalty 
abolitionist leaders, led by Renny Cushing, 
executive director of Murder Victims' Families 
for Human Rights, stalked out of the hall. Two 
members of MVFHR, however, remained in the hall: 
Bill Babbitt, whose brother Manny, a Vietnam vet 
suffering acute post-traumatic stress disorder, 
was executed in California; and Bill Pelke, whose 
grandmother was murdered by a girl whom he later 
befriended and helped to spare from execution. 
Babbitt even joined Bryan onstage during Abu-Jamal's brief address.

What neither Babbitt nor Pelke, nor Abu-Jamal and 
his attorney, Bryan, knew at the time was that 
way back in December, leaders and individual 
board members of several of the organizations in 
the US abolitionist movement had signed--without 
their full boards’ or their memberships’ 
memorandum [1], which they then sent to the 
French organizers of the World Congress, stating 
bluntly that, “As international representatives 
of the US abolition movement, we cannot agree to 
the involvement of Abu-Jamal or his lawyers in 
the World Congress beyond attendance.”

Purporting to be from “the US members of the 
Steering Committee” of the World Congress” 
(though hardly an inclusive list of that 
committee’s membership) and titled, “Involvement 
of Mumia Abu-Jamal endangers the US coalition for 
abolition of the death penalty,” the memo claimed 
that the French organizers of the World Congress, 
Together Against the Death Penalty (ECPM), had 
arranged to have Abu-Jamal speak “over 
objection.” The memo further further asserted 
that the abolitionist movement in the US is 
trying to “cultivate” the support of the 
ultra-conservative and staunchly pro-death 
penalty Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), an 
organization representing some 35,000 police 
officers in the US that advocates the execution 
of Abu-Jamal and all other prisoners convicted of 
killing of police officers. The FOP, said the 
memo, has “announced a boycott of organizations 
and individuals who support Abu-Jamal,” and 
therefore anything done by the Congress to aid 
his cause would be “dangerously 
counter-productive to the abolition movement in the US.”

ThisCantBeHappening! this past week obtained a copy of that secret memorandum.

When we showed it to some other members of the 
boards of the organizations whose officers or 
individual board members had signed their names 
to it, responses ranged from consternation to 
outrage. Babbitt’s brother Manny was killed as a 
direct result of a corrupt law enforcement system 
in California that pressed for execution, even 
though it was clear from medical testimony that 
the elderly grandmother he allegedly killed 
actually died of shock when she discovered him 
breaking and entering her apartment. Left in the 
dark about the memo despite his being on the 
WVFHR board, Babbitt said, “My brother Manny’s 
last words to me were to always take the high 
road, and to me that means telling the truth and 
being open and transparent.” He added, regarding 
the content of the memo, “I think throwing Mumia 
under the bus is not the way to go in the 
abolitionist movement. You don’t make bargains 
with a wolf whose motive is to devour.”

Robert Meeropol, a son of Ethyl and Julius 
Rosenberg, who were executed as spies in 1953, is 
also a member of the MVFHR board. Currently 
traveling on behalf of the organization in Asia, 
he said through a staffer in the US that he did 
not know about the memo, and added that he still 
stands “fully in support of a new trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal.”

Several calls seeking a comment from Cushing or 
Lowenstein remain unanswered, though a staffer at 
the WVFHR Boston office, Susanna Sheffer, said, 
“This is a complicated thing. You need to 
understand the depth and texture of this.”

Also surprised at the memo was actor Michael 
Farrell, president of the California abolitionist 
group Death Penalty Focus. Farrell, a long-time 
supporter of the call for a new trial for 
Abu-Jamal, said he had never seen the memo, 
though it was signed by a member of the DPF board, attorney Elizabeth Zitrin.

Other signers of the memo were Thomas H. “Speedy” 
Rice of the National Association of Criminal 
Defense Attorneys, Kritsin Houlé of the Texas 
Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and Juan 
Matos de Juan of the Puerto Rican Bar Assn.

Bryan, a veteran death penalty defense lawyer who 
served 10 years on the board of the National 
Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty--three of 
them as the organization’s chair--says, “In all 
my years as an activist opposing the death 
penalty, I have never heard of any individual or 
group in that fight singling out anyone as an 
exception to our campaign to abolish capital 
punishment. Everyone is treated equally. To 
single someone out and say they don’t count is 
chilling. Where do you draw the line? At people 
accused of killing cops? At people accused of 
killing old ladies? People accused of killing 
children? Where does it stop? It’s appalling!”

Heidi Beghosian, executive director of the 
National Lawyers Guild, an organization that has 
long been in the forefront of the campaign to end 
the death penalty in the US, and which was not 
advised of the plan to circulate the memo on 
behalf of the US Steering Committee to the World 
Congress, despite it’s being a charter member of 
the World Congress, roundly condemned the secret 
effort to silence Abu-Jamal at the March event.

“Mumia Abu-Jamal’s case is emblematic of the 
inherent flaws in the capital punishment system,” 
she said. “That he is castigated by leaders in 
the abolitionist movement shows precisely what is 
wrong with the system­it is a system enslaved to 
the whims and personal biases of police, 
prosecutor, judge, and jury. While cultivating 
certain voices of law enforcement may assist in 
efforts to achieve abolition, it should not be at 
the expense of exposing a case that embodies some 
of the most reprehensible actions on the part of 
the police, the district attorney and the 
judiciary. The powerful FOP, and their 
heavy-handed efforts to vilify Abu-Jamal and his 
supporters, should not be the barometer by which 
abolitionist leaders gauge their strategic 
priorities. Members of the abolitionist movement 
should be working together and not further 
censoring and ostracizing a death row inmate.”

What makes the American abolitionists’ petulant 
and manipulative behavior as expressed in the 
secret memo and their cynical threat to withdraw 
from the Congress particularly outrageous is that 
Abu-Jamal’s arrest, trial and appeals process has 
been, as Beghosian notes, a textbook case of 
police and prosecutor corruption, malfeasance and 
abuse. From the beginning, even before his 
arrest, Abu-Jamal’s case was poisoned by a police 
lust for vengeance. Although he had been shot 
through the lung and liver by a bullet fired from 
Officer Faulkner’s service revolver, and was in 
danger of dying of internal bleeding that was 
filling his lungs with blood, Abu-Jamal was left 
lying in a police wagon for almost half an hour 
before he was finally delivered to a hospital 
emergency room, where hospital staff and at least 
one police officer on the scene observed him 
being kicked and punched by the officers delivering him.

During the jury selection process at the 
beginning of his trial, the presiding judge, 
Albert Sabo, who as a county sheriff’s deputy was 
an FOP member before was made a judge, was 
overheard by a second judge and his court 
stenographer saying to his own court clerk, as he 
exited the courtroom through the jurdge’s robing 
room, “Yeah and I’m gonna help them fry that nigger!”

During the tortuous appeals process, both the 
state and federal courts have shamelessly bent 
their rules and violated precedents to deny 
Abu-Jamal the benefits of precedents that have 
been routinely accorded other appellants. Third 
Circuit Appeals Court Judge Thomas Ambro wrote in 
a stinging dissent to a decision by his two 
colleagues who effectively created new law from 
the bench in rejecting Abu-Jamal’s well-founded 
Batson claim of racial bias by the prosecution 
during jury selection at his trail. Scarcely 
concealing his outrage, Judge Ambro wrote: "Our 
Court has previously reached the merits of Batson 
claims on habeas review in cases where the 
petitioner did not make a timely objection during 
jury selection--signaling that our Circuit does 
not have a federal contemporaneous objection 
rule--and I see no reason why we should not 
afford Abu-Jamal the courtesy of our precedents." 
He added, "Why we pick this case to depart from that reasoning I do not know."

Abu-Jamal himself, interviewed by phone last 
Friday from his cell at the super-max death row 
facility SCI-Greene in western Pennsylvania, 
blasted the attempt to silence him at the 
Congress, and to ostracize him from the American 
abolitionist movement. “They are really making 
deals with the devil,” he said, of claims that 
the US abolitionist movement was trying to gain 
the support of the FOP. “My instinct, being from 
Philadelphia, is that money was passed, though I 
have not evidence to prove it.” He added, “This 
secret action is a threat to the entire 
abolitionist movement. They are saying that 
because the opposition (to abolition) is so 
strong, we should not fight. If you have that 
attitude, why have an abolitionist movement at all?”

Abu-Jamal, whose death penalty was lifted by a 
federal judge in 2001, only to have the US 
Supreme Court remand that decision back to the 
Third Circuit, where it could be reimposed, and 
who continues to be held in solitary confinement 
on death row, where he maintains his innocence, 
calls the signers of the memo “co-conspirators,” 
and says they are “naive” to believe they can win 
over the FOP by abandoning him to his fate.

“If the slavery abolitionists had taken this 
approach back in 1860,” he says, “and said okay 
let’s free the slaves, except those uppity ones 
with prices on their heads like Harriet Tubman 
and Frederick Douglass, we’d still have slavery 
today.” Abu-Jamal said it appeared that the 
abolitionist movement appeared to have lost its 
way, and said that it needed to be broadened to 
more closely reflect the population of the 
nation’s death rows. where nearly everyone is 
poor, and where 53% of the doomed inmates are non-white.

Source URL: 

[1] http://www.thiscantbehappening.net/node/116


from the US members of the Steering Committee of the WCADP
Involvement of Mumia Abu-Jamal endangers the US coalition
for abolition of the death penalty

ECPM has unilaterally, and over objection, 
determined to give the Mumia Abu-Jamal case a 
prominent role in the upcoming 4th World Congress 
Against the Death Penalty, including the 
participation of Mr. Abu-Jamal's lawyers and his 
direct participation by telephone. The US members 
of the Steering Committee of the World Coalition 
Against the Death Penalty do not agree to this, 
because it will be counter-productiveto our 
effort to achieve abolition in our country.

The Abu-Jamal case, regardless of its merits, 
acts as a lightning rod that galvanizes opponents 
of abolition and neutralizes key constituencies 
in the cause of abolition. Continuing to give 
Abu-Jamal focused attention unnecessarily 
attracts our strongest opponents and alienates 
coalition partners at a time when we need to 
build alliances, not foster hatred and enmity.

While Abu-Jamal still attracts some positive 
attention outside of the United States, it is at 
a real cost to the US abolition effort. In 1999, 
the world's largest association of professional 
law enforcement officers, the Fraternal Order of 
Police, announced a boycott of organizations and 
individuals who support Abu-Jamal. Bills have 
been introduced in both houses of the US federal 
legislature condemning the naming of streets for 
Abu-Jamal. The result is that Abu-Jamal, rather 
than abolition of the death penalty, becomes the 
issue and the focus of attention. That is 
dangerously counter-productive to the abolition movement in the US.
The voices of the Innocent, the voices of Victims 
and the voices of Law Enforcement are the most 
persuasive factors in changing public opinion and 
the views of decision-makers (politicians) and 
opinion leaders (media). Continuing to shine a 
spotlight on Abu-Jamal, who has had so much 
public exposure for so many years, threatens to 
alienate these three most important partnership groups.

The support of law enforcement officials is 
essential to achieving abolition in the United 
States. It is essential to the national abolition 
strategy of US abolition activists and attorneys, 
that we cultivate the voices of police, 
prosecutors and law enforcement experts, to 
support our call for an end to the death penalty. 
It was key in New Jersey and in New Mexico, it is 
fundamental to abolition throughout the US, and 
it will be a primary focus for 2010 and beyond. 
We have begun to make real progress with police 
officers and prosecutors speaking out against the 
death penalty as a failed policy.

«In a national poll released in 2009, the 
nation's police chiefs ranked the death penalty 
last in their priorities for effective crime 
reduction. The officers did not believe the death 
penalty acted as a deterrent to murder, and they 
rated it as one of most inefficient uses of 
taxpayer dollars in fighting crime .... "

Death Penalty Information Center, The Death 
Penalty in 2009: Year End Report, December 
18,2009. If the 4th World Congress gives 
Abu-Jamal and his lawyers the focus and attention 
proposed by ECPM, the US movement for abolition 
will be exposed to a serious backlash that will 
directly damage the delicate alliances we are 
building with essential groups. As international 
representatives of the US abolition movement, we 
cannot agree to the involvement of Abu-Jamal or 
his lawyers in the World Congress beyond attendance.

For these reasons, providing Abu-Jamal the World 
Congress stage will require us to consider how to 
distance our programs in order to protect our 
vital alliances with our key partners and 
constituencies. To be effective ad- vocates 
within the US we must and will continue our 
strategic approach to abolition with our core 
allies and our evolving partners. Featuring Mr. 
Abu-Jamal's case as ECPM has proposed presents an 
unacceptably high risk of fracturing a developing 
but still fragile alliance with vitally important 
constituencies - constituencies that can either 
help our movement reach the goal of abolition or severely hinder our progress.

Elizabeth Zitrin (DPF), Renny Cushing and Kate 
Lowenstein (MVFHR), Speedy Rice (NACDL), Kristin 
Houle (TCADP), Juan Matos de Juan (PRBA)

21 December 2009

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

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