[Ppnews] Mumia Abu-Jamal : “I am an outlaw journalist”

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Sep 3 17:21:18 EDT 2010


Mumia Abu-Jamal : “I am an outlaw journalist”


On August 29th, 2010, Reporters Without Borders 
Washington DC representative, Clothilde Le Coz, 
visited Mumia Abu-Jamal, prisoner on death row 
for nearly three decades. Ms. Le Coz was 
accompanied by Abu-Jamal’s lead attorney, Robert 
R. Bryan, and his legal assistant, Nicole Bryan. 
The meeting took place in room 17 of the State 
Correctional Institution (SCI) in Waynesburg, Greene county, Pennsylvania.

Reporters Without Borders: As a journalist who 
continues to work in prison, what are your latest 
reports focused on? Mumia Abu-Jamal: The prison 
population in the United States is the highest in 
the world. Over the past year, for the first time 
in 38 years, the prison population declined.

Some states, like California or Michigan, are 
taking fewer prisoners because of overcrowding. 
State budgets are restrained and some prisoners 
are released because of the economic situation.

Prisons in America are vast and the number of 
prisoners is immense. It’s impressive to see how 
much money is spent by the US government and how 
invisible we are. No one knows. Most people don’t 
care. Some journalists report when there is a 
drama in prison and think they know about it. But 
this is not real : it is sensationalist. You can 
find some good writings. But they are 
unrealistic. My reporting is what I have seen 
with my eyes and what people told me. It is real. 
My reporting has to do with my reality. They 
mostly have been focusing on death row and 
prison. I wish it were not so. There is a spate 
of suicides on death row in the last year and a 
half. But this is invisible. I broke stories 
about suicide because it happened on my block.

I need to write. There are millions of stories 
and some wonderful people here. Among these 
stories, the ones I chose to write are important, 
moving, fragile. I decide to write them but part 
of the calculation is to know whether it’s 
helpful or not. I have to think about that. As a 
reporter, you have a responsability when you 
publish those kind of stories. Hopefully, it will 
change their lives for the better.

Do you think the fact you were a reporter affected your case ?

Being the "Voice of the Voiceless" played a 
significant role. And this expression actually 
comes from the title of a Philadephia Inquirer 
headline after I was arrested in 1981. As a 
teenager, I was a radical journalist working on 
the staff of the Black Panthers national 
newspaper. The FBI was actually monitoring my 
writings since I was 14. My first job was being a 
reporter. Because of my writings, I am far better 
known that any inmate in America. If it were not 
the case, I think there would have been less 
pressure for the Court to create a special law to 
affect my conviction. Most of the men and women 
on death row are not well known. Because I 
continue to write, this is an element that would 
have affected the thinking of the judges and made 
them change the ruling for not giving me a new 
trial. I think they were thinking “You’re a big 
mouth, you won’t get a new trial”. You expect a 
little more from a federal Court. Because of my 
case, a dozen of other cases can be affected.

What do you think of the media coverage of your case ?

Once, I read that I was no longer on death row. I 
was sitting here when I read it. I haven’t stopped sitting here for one second.

Because I was coming from the craft, a lot of 
reporters did not want to cover my case because 
they feared they would be attached. They had to 
face criticisms for being partial and sometimes 
they were told by their editors they could not 
cover it. Since the beginning of the case, people 
who could cover me best were not allowed to. Most 
of reporters I worked with are no longer working. 
They retired and nobody took the work over.

But the press should have a role to play here. 
Millions of people saw what was done in Abu 
Ghraib. Its leader, smiling on the pictures that 
have been published, worked here before going to 
Abu Ghraib. In death row, you have people without 
a high school degree who can decide whether 
someone lives or dies. For whatever reason, they 
have the power to make you not eat if they don’t 
want to. And none of that power is checked by 
anyone. There are informal rules. These people 
can make someone’s life a living hell on a wink. 
When I chose which stories I want to write about, 
I am never short on material. From a writing perspective, this field is rich.

No matter what my detractors are saying about me, 
I am a reporter. This country would be a whole 
lot worse without journalists. But to many of 
them, I am an outlaw reporter. Prior to prison, 
in my work for various radio stations, I met 
people from all around the world and despite my 
conflicts with some editors, I had the greatest job.

The support you receive in Europe compared to the 
support you receive here in the United States, is 
very different. How do you explain the difference 
and do you still believe international mobilization will be helpful ?

Of course it will. The European mobilization 
might be pressuring the US regarding the death 
penalty. Foreign countries, like European ones, 
went through a specific history of repression. 
There was an in-their-bones-knowledge of what it 
is to be in prison. They know about prison, death 
row and concentration camps. In the US, very few 
people had that experience. That speaks to how 
cultures look at things in the world. In Europe, 
the very ideal of death penalty is an anathema.

9/11 changed a lot of things in the US. People 
challenging or opposing the government would not 
be supported anymore. The press also changed. 
Things that were “allowable” became unacceptable 
after 9/11. I think 9/11 changed the way people 
thought and it changed the tolerance of the 
media. For example, even though 9/11 happened in 
Manhattan and Washington DC, the jail was closed 
for an entire day, here in Pennsylvania, and we were locked down.

To motivate more people around your cause, it 
might be helpful to get an up to date picture of 
you, today, on death row. Does the fact that we 
don’t have any updated picture of you affect your 
situation and the ability of more people to mobilize around your cause ?

Having a public image is partly helpful. The 
essence of an image is propaganda. Pictures are 
therefore not that important. The human image is 
the true one. There, I try to do my best. In 
1986, prison authorities took recorders from 
reporters and you were only allowed a pen and a 
paper. Now that there is only the meaning of one 
article left, one can make monsters and models from his article.

If the Supreme Court agrees on a new trial, only 
your sentence will be reviewed. Not your 
conviction. How do you feel about staying in 
prison for life, if you are not executed ?

In Pennsylvania, life sentence is a slow death 
row. And under the state law, there are 3 degrees 
of murders. The first degree is punished by life 
sentence or death. The second and the third ones 
are punished by life sentence. People do not get 
out. The highest juvenile rate of life sentences 
is here in Pennsylvania. But here is my point, in 
Philadelphia, there were two other cases around 
my time were people killed a cop. The first one 
got aquittal. The second once, caught on a 
surveillance camera, did not get a death sentence.

How do you manage to “escape” death row ?

I have written on History, one of my passions. I 
would love to write about other things. My latest 
works are about war, but I also write about 
culture and music. I have an internal beat that I 
try to keep through poetry and drums. Very few 
things have matched the pleasure that I get from 
learning music. It’s like learning another 
language. And to write, that’s a challenge ! A 
music teacher comes every week and teaches me. A 
whole new world is opening to me and I get a 
better grasp of it now. Music is one of the best 
thing mankind has done. The best of our lives.

For further information and to offer support for 
Mumia Abu-Jamal, contact: Law Offices of Robert 
R. Bryan 2088 Union Street, Suite 4, San 
Francisco, CA 94123-4117 

also available from our website

Reporters Without Borders defends imprisoned 
journalists and press freedom throughout the 
world. It has nine national sections (Austria, 
Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, 
Sweden and Switzerland). It has representatives 
in Bangkok, New York, Tokyo and Washington. And 
it has more than 120 correspondents worldwide.

© Reporters Without Borders - 47, rue Vivienne, 75002 Paris - France

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://freedomarchives.org/pipermail/ppnews_freedomarchives.org/attachments/20100903/69fb0d30/attachment.html>

More information about the PPnews mailing list