[Ppnews] Duel of two films about Mumia Abu-Jamal

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Sun Sep 19 10:39:20 EDT 2010

Original Content at 

September 19, 2010

Media Justice On Trial In Philadelphia --The duel of two films about 
Mumia Abu-Jamal

By Hans Bennett

On Tuesday, Sept. 21, at 2 pm, Justice On Trial: The Case of Mumia 
Abu-Jamal will premiere in Philadelphia at the National Constitution 
Center and at 8pm at the Ritz East. This film's release date was 
moved up to confront the right-wing anti-Abu-Jamal film, "The Barrel 
of a Gun," by Tigre Hill, also premiering on Tuesday. While coverage 
of Hill's film saturates the Philly media, not one outlet has yet to 
report the huge story that the Constitution Center is hosting the 
afternoon showing of "Justice on Trial."

Media Justice On Trial In Philadelphia

--The duel of two films about Mumia Abu-Jamal

By Hans Bennett and Michael Schiffmann


A new film, entitled 
Barrel of a Gun, will be unveiled in Philadelphia on Sept. 21. The 
film is officially endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police and 
<http://www.opednews.com/maxwrite/diarypage.php?did=5165>Murdered by 
Mumia authors Michael Smerconish and Maureen Faulkner, and based on 
the two trailers that have been released and public statements by the 
film-maker, Tigre Hill, that he believes death row journalist Mumia 
Abu-Jamal is unequivocally guilty, we can safely expect that the film 
will be biased against Abu-Jamal, as is the case with the majority of 
mainstream media coverage about Abu-Jamal, particularly so in Philadelphia.

Supporters of Abu-Jamal are mobilizing to confront Tigre Hill's film. 
This film can be particularly dangerous now because of Abu-Jamal's 
<http://www.counterpunch.org/lindorff02092010.html>current legal 
situation, where the death penalty may be reinstated by the US Third 
Circuit Court. In response, Journalists for Mumia has just published 
the latest issue of our newspaper (viewable 
<http://abu-jamal-news.com/docs/proof.pdf>here), where we confront 
Tigre Hill by laying out evidence of innocence and why Mumia's trial 
was unfair.

In our newspaper, we feature an updated version of the 2009 
Bay View Newspaper article about the campaign seeking a civil rights 
investigation for Abu-Jamal, which focused on five pieces of evidence 
that the 1982 jury never saw, including 1) evidence of another 
person, named Kenneth Freeman, in the car with Abu-Jamal's brother, 
Billy Cook--there was a driver's license application in the front 
shirt pocket of Officer Faulkner at the time of the shooting and the 
Philadelphia District Attorney's Office withheld this crucial piece 
of information from the defense; 2) 
discovered crime scene photos that show police manipulation of 
evidence were taken by press photographer Pedro Polakoff, who states 
that he was completely ignored by the DA's Office when he tried to 
give his photos to them for evidence in 1981/1982 and 1995. 
Accompanying this is a special section focusing on the ballistics 
evidence, showing exactly why the shooting scenario presented by the 
prosecution is physically impossible. This includes the observation 
already made in defense filings in 2001 based on police photographs 
and now resoundingly corroborated by the Polakoff photos, that there 
are no bullet marks in the pavement where Abu-Jamal allegedly shot 
downward and missed Officer Faulkner several times.

There is another powerful media project being unveiled that will 
certainly challenge the FOP-endorsed film by Tigre Hill. Another 
film, in production for over four years, entitled 
On Trial: The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, will premiere next Tuesday, 
Sept. 21, the same day that Hill's film is unveiled. The 2pm showing 
will be held at the prestigious historical building, The National 
Constitution Center, where Barack Obama gave his famous "race speech."

On learning about the coming presentation of the Hill film and its 
probably biased character, the production team decided to accelerate 
the completion of their own documentary. Producer Johanna Fernandez, 
a Professor of History at Baruch College/CUNY, says that the 
filmmakers "decided to confront Tigre's film with a more thoughtful 
exploration of the case after we saw the series of initial trailers 
that he released six months ago. Contrary to his claim of having 
found "rare new insight' into the case, the trailers pointed to a 
rehashing of the basic arguments put forth by ADA Joe McGill, who 
wanted to win a death sentence by any means necessary. We want to 
elevate the dialogue at a time when reasoned voices are needed."

The film's trailer, just released this week, features interviews with 
press photographer Pedro Polakoff and David A. Love, whose 
24, 2007 article in the SF Bay View Newspaper was the first in the US 
to publish one of Polakoff's photos. Another interview is with J. 
Patrick O'Connor, the author of 
<http://www.abu-jamal-news.com/article.php?name=vidframe>The Framing 
of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who argues that Billy Cook's business partner and 
friend, Kenneth Freeman, was the actual shooter of Officer Faulkner. 
Also notable is an interview Jack McMahon, featured in the infamous 
1986 official <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rv9SJPa_dF8>training 
video of the Philadelphia DA's office that specifically trained new 
prosecutors how to unlawfully exclude African American jurors without 
appearing to do so.

A Tradition of Corporate Media Bias

When covering the Abu-Jamal/Faulkner case, the mainstream media has 
almost always presented it as "open and shut," with overwhelming 
evidence of Abu-Jamal's guilt. Accordingly, this narrative says there 
is no evidence of an unfair trial and Abu-Jamal's worldwide 
supporters (including 
International, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, the European Parliament, 
Japanese Diet, and many more) must therefore be ignorant fanatics. 
Or, in the words of <http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=1793>Sam 
Donaldson of ABC's news show, 20/20, who in 1999 produced an infamous 
anti-Mumia hit piece (critiqued in the film 
An Execution): "The people who support his release don't do so from a 
position of knowledge"They either oppose the death penalty, or 
they're campus rebels, or they're African-American activists who 
believe that a black man was railroaded, and will continue to believe 
it, no matter what's presented to them."

While certainly disgusting, the overt racism in Donaldson's comment 
about black activists is not unusual for big media coverage of Abu-Jamal.

This same mainstream narrative is now to be expected with the new 
film by Tigre Hill, "Barrel of a Gun," which has already been touted 
with great fanfare in the Philadelphia media. Indeed, Hill appears to 
take the anti-Abu-Jamal bias to an even more fanatical level with the 
argument, first presented with the release of the 2007 book Murdered 
By Mumia, that the shooting of Faulkner was a pre-planned hit, with 
Abu-Jamal and his brother Billy Cook out that night seeking to shoot 
and kill a police officer simply for the sake of killing a cop.

A Pre-planned Hit?

Granted, we have not yet seen the full-feature film, but the two 
trailers already released tell us a great deal about the film's perspectives.

The first trailer strongly implies that the killing of Officer 
Faulkner was the direct result of a long-harbored hatred of the 
police on Mumia's part and maybe even had been a pre-planned hit 
engineered by Mumia and his brother Billy Cook.

As noted above, this argument was first presented when the book 
Murdered by Mumia. A Life Sentence of Loss, Pain, and Injustice by 
Michael Smerconish and Maureen Faulkner was released in December 
2007. At that time, Smerconish presented prosecutor Joseph McGill as 
a guest on his radio show, and there, Smerconish and McGill jointly 
promoted this new "hit" theory for the first time.

The new film seems largely based on this argument presented on that 
show, and upon inspection, we see that many of the facts presented by 
McGill and Smerconish to support this are plainly false.

For example, McGill argued on the 2007 show that Billy Cook may have 
deliberately gotten pulled over by Faulkner by driving the wrong direction on
13th Street, so as to create a situation where Abu-Jamal could then 
sneak up from behind and shoot a distracted police officer in the 
back. McGill said: "It was awfully coincidental, that his brother is 
stopped going the wrong way on 13th Street"and then he stops and he's 
getting out. And again, Mr. Jamal, the coward he was, would wait 
until his back was to him, and then he ran across, and it almost 
happened simultaneously, and it just seemed to me, although I 
couldn't prove it, that it was AWFULLY coincidental."

In reality, there is no evidence at all that Billy Cook was driving 
the wrong way on 13th street, and McGill never introduced any 
evidence suggesting this at either Abu-Jamal's trial or Cook's 
preceding trial for aggravated assault in March, 1982, where McGill 
was also the prosecutor.

The contention is even squarely contradicted by prosecution witness 
Albert Magilton's testimony at Abu-Jamal's trial, according to which 
Cook approached the later shooting scene from Locust and not
13th Street. To this day, nobody knows why Officer Faulkner stopped 
Cook, but McGill dishonestly presents this as the first part of a 
sinister scheme to lure a police officer into a situation where his 
back is unprotected.

"The Barrel of a Gun"

At the sentencing phase of Abu-Jamal's 1982 trial, McGill cited a 
statement that Abu-Jamal made as the 15 year-old Lieutenant of 
Information of the Philadelphia chapter of the Black Panther Party 
(BPP), where Abu-Jamal, following the infamous assassination of BPP 
leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark by the FBI and Chicago police, 
quoted the works of Mao Zedong, "political power grows out of the 
barrel of a gun," in order to characterize the rule-by-force approach 
of police in the US. (Our newspaper features an article detailing the 
murders of Hampton and Clark, 

This statement has been repeatedly taken out of context by 
Abu-Jamal's detractors in an effort to depict him as a crazed and out 
of control cop-hater who wanted to make a political statement by 
killing Officer Faulkner. By choosing "the barrel of a gun" for the 
title of his film, Tigre Hill appears to be following this same path 
of distortion, and it is very unlikely that his film will fairly 
contextualize the said statement.

It is important to understand the climate of police repression at the 
time. On Dec. 8, 1969 (just days after the Dec. 4, 1969 murders of 
Hampton and Clark), the Los Angeles Police Department mounted a 
chillingly similar early morning attack on the LA offices of the BPP, 
including the party's main office on
Central Avenue. This time, the Panthers were able to fight back 
against the police, until they finally surrendered, with six 
occupants of their headquarters wounded and thirteen arrested.

A similar attack on Panther premises in Seattle, WA, planned for 
January, 1970 by federal agencies, was canceled only after Seattle's 
Democratic Mayor Wes Uhlman blocked it, expressing concern over 
"Gestapo-type tactics" that could lead to a time when every citizen 
would have to fear "the knock on the door at 2 o'clock in the morning."

This was the situation when a young Mumia Abu-Jamal was assigned to 
report on the state terror directed against the BPP. In this 
function, he flew to Chicago, personally inspected Fred Hampton's 
blood-soaked bed, reported on it for the BPP newspaper, and gave the 
keynote speech at Hampton's memorial service in Philadelphia.

It was in this function that he talked to the Philadelphia Inquirer's 
reporter, Acel Moore, for a front page article published on January 
4, 1970. Moore wrote: ""Since the murders,' says West [for Wesley] 
Cook, Chapter Communication Secretary, "Black brothers and sisters 
and organizations which wouldn't commit themselves before are 
relating to us. Black people are facing the reality that the Black 
Panther Party has been facing: Political power grows out of the 
barrel of a gun.' Murders, a calculated design of genocide, and a 
national plot to destroy the party leadership is what the Panthers 
and their supporters call a bloody two year history of police raids 
and shootouts."

Notably, McGill's reference to Abu-Jamal's prior membership in the 
BPP was blatantly unconstitutional. When Abu-Jamal challenged this 
constitutional violation, the courts rejected his claim, literally 
ignoring legal precedents that have granted new trials in other 
similar cases. Veteran journalist Linn Washington writes that in the 
early 1990s, the U.S. Supreme Court twice refused "to consider 
Abu-Jamal's claim that prosecutors violated his First Amendment 
association rights with inflammatory references to his teenaged 
membership in the Black Panther Party. The U.S. Supreme Court, months 
after rejecting Abu-Jamal's first appeal, granted a new hearing to a 
murderer who challenged prosecutorial reference to his current 
membership in a violent white racist prison gang. Following the 
favorable ruling for the racist, Abu-Jamal unsuccessfully sought 
Supreme Court reconsideration of his association right claim citing 
that Court's ruling in the white racist's case."

"Months after spurning Abu-Jamal a second time, the Supreme Court 
granted a new hearing to a white murderer challenging prosecutorial 
reference of his membership in a devil worshipping cult. When giving 
relief to the devil worshipper, the Supreme Court cited the 
precedence of its ruling in the racist's case," writes Washington, 
concluding that "equal protection of laws seemingly should have 
provided an ex-Black Panther with the same protection of laws as a 
white racist and white devil worshipper given the similarities of 
their appeal circumstances."

Superior Knowledge?

The second trailer of Tigre Hill's film focuses on Officer Faulkner's 
widow, Maureen Faulkner, and carries a purely emotional message: 
Neither Danny Faulkner nor his widow Maureen will ever find peace 
unless Abu-Jamal is executed.

The first premise of this trailer's message is that, for some reason, 
Mrs. Faulkner has more knowledge of the events that led to the death 
of her husband than other people do, even though she, too, was not 
present at the scene. Thus, in her book Murdered by Mumia, 
co-authored with the Philadelphia talk show host Michael Smerconish, 
Mrs. Faulkner claims to know the exact facts of the case and how 
Abu-Jamal allegedly killed Officer Faulkner.

Unfortunately, Maureen Faulkner's claim to superior knowledge of the 
facts collapses on even the most superficial inspection of her book, 
a telling fact given the enormous resources in terms of access to the 
files of the DA's office that she and her co-author Smerconish could 
rely on while writing it.

Illustrative of the book's overall quality, are two grave factual 
inaccuracies from the very short chapter entitled "The Facts."

One is the assertion that key prosecution witnesses Cynthia White and 
Robert Chobert both "testified that they saw Abu-Jamal run across the 
street and fire at Danny." This is untrue in the case of Chobert, who 
actually only claimed to have seen the final, deadly shots at 
Faulkner. He never testified to having seen the beginning of the 
events, much less the alleged first shot from Abu-Jamal. This is an 
important distinction: If Abu-Jamal had indeed fired first and then 
also fired the deadly shots, this would in any case indicate first 
degree murder and thus eligibility for the death penalty.

Their second glaring inaccuracy is writing that Officer Faulkner shot 
Mumia in the stomach. He was actually shot in the chest, and this an 
important distinction because a shot in the stomach (which is lower 
than the chest) corresponds better with the prosecution's theory that 
Faulkner fired at Abu-Jamal from below, as he fell, after being shot 
in the back. Since the bullet entered Abu-Jamal's chest at a downward 
trajectory, it means that he was actually shot from above--a shot 
from below being all but impossible. This contradiction is a major 
hole in the prosecution's theory, and Abu-Jamal's detractors have 
long sought to conceal this fact from the public, as they are unable 
to honestly address it.

Statements made by Maureen Faulkner since she appeared on the public 
scene to campaign for Abu-Jamal's execution, make clear that she is 
not interested in the truth about the horrible event that the death 
of her husband certainly was. Rather, she wants a revenge that takes 
precedence over truth.

Mrs. Faulkner's indifference towards the facts of the case was again 
demonstrated during the 
<http://www.opednews.com/maxwrite/diarypage.php?did=5100>Dec. 6, 2007 
Today Show segment on the day of her book's release. When she was 
confronted with the newly discovered photos by press photographer 
Pedro P. Polakoff that show mishandling, manipulation, and 
misinterpretation of the crime scene, she quickly dismissed their 
significance, even though the authenticity of Polakoff's photos is 
not in doubt.

At the show's end, host Matt Lauer asked her "Maureen, when you're 
alone with your thoughts at night, when you even see pictures of the 
protests like the one we have across the street, does it ever cross 
your mind that perhaps they're right? Do you ever allow yourself to 
consider the fact that perhaps he didn't do it?" Faulkner's response? 
"He murdered my husband in cold blood and there is no doubt in my mind."

The Irreproachable Grieving Victim

The second premise is that as a crime victim, Maureen Faulkner is in 
a privileged position to demand punishment, "closure," and even the 
death of the purported perpetrator since only such measures can get 
her the "peace" she is entitled to.

This is based largely on assuming for herself and her family a 
monopoly of suffering. It's as if Abu-Jamal's years on death row have 
been one big party, and as if Abu-Jamal did not have family and 
friends who are being put through hell together with him--a fact that 
Faulkner, the FOP, and big media outlets rarely, if ever, mention.

Since nobody else apart from her family and friends deserves empathy 
or sympathy here, this becomes the singular cause of "A Life Sentence 
of Loss, Pain, and Injustice," the subtitle of her book, and as a 
result of this now decade-long stance of Maureen Faulkner (and of the 
artistic and moral decisions of filmmaker Tigre Hill), the entirely 
widow-focused second trailer for Barrel of a Gun can be reduced to 
one sentence: "On account of my unique suffering, I need and deserve 
to have Mumia Abu-Jamal executed."

This premise is also at the root of the long-held assertion by 
Abu-Jamal's detractors that when the movement supporting him seeks a 
new trial and rightfully argues that he was framed, this is somehow 
the ultimate insult to the grieving widow, Maureen Faulkner. This 
logic is similar to the common assertion that if you support 
Abu-Jamal's right to a fair trial, you must also support the killing 
of police officers. Accordingly, Abu-Jamal's supporters are accused 
of being somehow opposed to "justice for Officer Faulkner," when, in 
fact, most supporters think Mumia is innocent and didn't kill Officer 

While this narrative is patently absurd to any open-minded person, it 
has been a powerful tool for Abu-Jamal's self-declared enemies in 
seeking to obscure the irrefutable evidence of an unfair trial and a 
frame-up. Out of respect and a fear of offending the "grieving 
widow," most journalists are afraid to ask Mrs. Faulkner challenging 
questions about the facts of the case, even though she is presenting 
herself as an authority on the case, and calling for Mumia's 
execution based on her alleged knowledge of these facts..

When for once The Today Show's Matt Lauer asked her challenging but 
fair questions, both Smerconish and Faulkner would later publicly 
express outrage, arguing that it was an insult to both the memory of 
Officer Faulkner and to Mrs. Faulkner.

Questions For Tigre Hill: The Crime Scene Photos

Along with many other events organized by Mumia supporters to which 
he was welcomed to, filmmaker Tigre Hill filmed the Journalists for 
Mumia press conference on December 4, 2007, featuring Pam Africa, 
David Love, Linn Washington Jr., and Dave Lindorff, where they 
focused on the 
discovered crime scene photos taken by press photographer Pedro 
Polakoff. Hill's film crew also came to our Dec. 8 slideshow 
presentation of the photos later that week. Therefore, we know, at 
minimum, that he is aware of the information we presented. If he 
chooses to not even acknowledge the Polakoff photos (as the 
mainstream media has almost uniformly done) this will be a deliberate 
choice on his part.

Big Noise Films' Justice on Trial trailer features several of 
Polakoff's photos alongside their interview with him, including the 
two-photo sequence showing that Officer Faulkner's hat was moved from 
the top of Billy Cook's car and then placed on the sidewalk for the 
official police photo. In contrast, Hill's first trailer shows many 
of the official police photos of the crime scene, but there is no 
mention of the Polakoff photos in the trailer or any other statements 
released by Hill. In light of this, we have some questions for him:

1) You feature the close-up police photo of Officer Faulkner's hat 
lying on the sidewalk. In your film, will you at least acknowledge 
that the newly discovered Polakoff crime scene photos show that the 
hat began on the top of Billy Cook's VW and was later moved to the 
ground for the police photos? Does this evidence tampering concern you?

2) None of the police photos you featured show prosecution witness 
Robert Chobert's taxi parked behind Officer Faulkner's car, where 
Chobert testified that he was parked when he allegedly witnessed 
Mumia shoot Officer Faulkner. Polakoff's photos also reveal that 
Chobert's taxi is missing, and this has been a key point we've made 
about Polakoff's photos in our campaign challenging the mainstream 
media to fairly report about them. There are many other problems with 
Chobert's trial testimony, like his contradictory initial statement 
to police that the shooter of Officer Faulkner had simply "ran away?" 
Will you fairly present this point we've made at two public 
presentations that you videotaped? What importance do you think this 
photo evidence has when evaluating Chobert's integrity as a witness?

3) Do you think the jury should have seen Polakoff's photos? What do 
you think is the significance of Polakoff's statement that he 
approached the Philadelphia DA's office to offer his photos as 
evidence and was ignored by them.

4) Testimony by the three core prosecution eyewitnesses Cynthia 
White, Robert Chobert, and Michael Scanlan, necessarily implies that 
bullets must have been fired into the sidewalk where Officer Faulkner 
came to lie. Since you have seen the Polakoff photos, as well as 
official police photos, you know that there are no bullet marks 
visible in the pavement. What, if anything, do you have to say about 
the implications of this?

Showdown in Philadelphia

As the September 21 duel of the opposing films approaches, the 
biggest question is whether or not the local media will give Justice 
on Trial fair coverage and in an amount equal to that received by 
Tigre Hill's The Barrel of a Gun.

Will the local media even acknowledge that the prestigious 
NationalConstitutionCenter, across from The Liberty Bell, is hosting 
a screening and panel discussion? So, far the entirety of media 
coverage in Philadelphia came from Philadelphia Inquirer columnist 
Dan Gross, in the form of a few short paragraphs in two separate 

However, this was before the later announcement regarding the 
ConstitutionCenter, so this significant development has yet to be 
reported on. As of Saturday night, the ConstitutionCenter showing has 
yet to be acknowledged. If this blackout continues, the Philadelphia 
public will be deprived from hearing about this historic venue. 
However, it will provide even further proof that the Philadelphia 
media is fanatically opposed to the public hearing the full story of 
the Mumia Abu-Jamal/Daniel Faulkner case.

--US journalist Hans Bennett and German author Michael Schiffmann are 
the co-founders of Journalists for Mumia Abu-Jamal, an independent 
media-activist organization that confronts mainstream media bias and 
creates its own multi-media projects. Their website is 

Author's Website: www.insubordination.blogspot.com

Author's Bio: Hans Bennett is a multi-media journalist mostly 
focusing on the movement to free Mumia Abu-Jamal and all political 
prisoners. An archive of his work is available at 
insubordination.blogspot.com and he is also co-founder of 
"Journalists for Mumia," created to challenge the long history of 
corporate media bias, whose website is: Abu-Jamal-News.com

Freedom Archives
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San Francisco, CA 94110

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