[Pnews] Mumia Abu-Jamal: A Black Radical Who Matters for Our Time

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Feb 5 18:18:32 EST 2015

  Mumia Abu-Jamal: A Black Radical Who Matters for Our Time

Posted: 02/05/2015

Two years ago, the /New York Times/ featured an illustrated article on 
the discovery of a manuscript penned by hand in a dank, 19th century 
cell by a black prisoner, Austin Reed. Ignored in his lifetime, Reed's 
memoire elicited great interest among contemporary historians, 
activists, scholars of African American literature, and the general 
public. The Yale professor who is editing the manuscript celebrated the 
singularity of Reed's message and its "lyrical quality" in the American 
canon. But Reed's text is also significant because it forms part of a 
body of searing black prisoners' narratives on freedom that destabilize, 
through their humanism, the demonization reserved for the "black outlaw" 
in American history. Reed's writing exemplifies what Cornel West calls 
the black prophetic voice in American history --voices committed to 
illuminating the truth about black oppression and its systemic causes, 
and to advancing the project of justice and freedom without compromise.

Because they speak uncomfortable truths, black prophetic voices, while 
they are alive, are vilified and violently persecuted by repressive 
agents of the state. And they are swept under the rug by those who, in 
West's words, are "well-adjusted to injustice." This hard reality has 
defined the lives of those we celebrate today during Black History 
Month, from Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass to Angela Davis and 
the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In our lifetime one American, not unlike Austin Reed, articulates 
uncomfortable truths -- about the centrality of black oppression to the 
project of American capitalism and empire, the unbridled racism of the 
U.S. justice system, the unfinished project of American democracy, the 
horrors produced by war, and the possibilities of a liberated society 
not just for black people at home, but for everyone, everywhere. He 
seeks to give ordinary people a sense of their own power and to inspire 
those on the margins of society to stand up and fight. From the solitude 
of a prison cell, he has dedicated thousands of hours contributing to 
the black prophetic tradition and enriching the canon of African 
American literature with his writings. The conditions under which he has 
written seven books and produced thousands of short, incisive and 
elegantly rendered commentaries are likely not much better than the 
abysmal setting under which Austin Reed penned his memoir 150 years ago.

This man is Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Mumia is a former Black Panther and imprisoned radio journalist who was 
framed by the Philadelphia police, railroaded in the courts and 
wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death for the killing of Daniel 
Faulkner, a white police officer in Philadelphia. In the 1990s, he came 
dangerously close to execution, first on August 17, 1995 and again on 
December 2, 1999. Had it not been for the mass international movement 
that mobilized in the streets to save his life, we would know less of 
the quiet power behind the person that the world knows, simply, as Mumia.

In his essay /The Meaning of Ferguson,/ Mumia quotes the Russian 
revolutionary Vladimir Illich Lenin: "There are decades when nothing 
happens, there are weeks when decades happen." In that piece he 
describes how government repression sowed the seeds of a deeper 
understanding of the relations of power and a deeper rebellion. "The 
government responded with the tools and weapons of war," writes Mumia, 
"they attacked them as if Ferguson were Fallujah, in Iraq." In struggle, 
the people of Ferguson "learned the wages of black protest...the limits 
of their so-called 'leaders,' who called for 'peace' and 'calm' while 
armed troops trained submachine guns and sniper rifles on unarmed men, 
women and children." He concludes his ode to the heirs of the black 
radical tradition with a call to build independent, radical 
organizations: "Ferguson may prove a wake-up call. A call for youth to 
build social, radical, revolutionary movements for change."

The clarity and humanity emanating from Mumia's voice shatters the 
official narrative of him as monster and unrepentant cop-killer. And in 
a society that views the incarcerated as both depraved and disposable, 
his sober critiques of the nation and his voice's warm temperament raise 
questions about the entire apparatus that has imprisoned not just him, 
but the more than two million mostly black and brown others in the 
sprawling U.S. prison system.

Mumia's voice is quiet and defiant and his message has always been 
dangerous to those in power. Today, in this moment of renewed upsurge 
against racist state violence, his voice is more dangerous than ever.

The main entity seeking Mumia's execution, the Fraternal Order of the 
Police (FOP), has historically marshaled the law, lobbied the Department 
of Corrections and the courts, and manipulated public fears to enact 
rules designed to stifle his voice. In October 2014, when the FOP failed 
to prevent Mumia from giving a pre-recorded commencement speech at his 
alma mater Goddard College, the Pennsylvania State legislature passed a 
vindictive gag law, the Revictimization Relief Act. The unconstitutional 
law threatens to dramatically curtail the free speech of all 
Pennsylvania prisoners and sue those who help amplify their voices under 
the pretextual claim that such speech produces "mental anguish" among 
crime victims and their families. The Abolitionist Law Project and the 
ACLU have each filed challenges; their plaintiffs include prisoners, 
university professors, journalists, newspapers, and advocacy groups.

Since his incarceration, 33 years ago, Mumia has authored seven books 
and produced thousands of written commentaries. His critically acclaimed 
best-seller,/Live From Death Row/, humanized death row from the inside 
and exposed its racist character. In his unrelenting commitment to 
revolutionary literacy, study, and the fostering of connections among 
people fighting injustice the world over, Mumia continues to resist the 
system's attempts to censor his message and criminalize his speech.

The Fraternal Order of Police knows that there is danger in the 
widespread discovery of Mumia by today's powerful generation of young 
black and brown activists. Indeed, their serious engagement with the 
political analysis, challenges, and lessons of struggle waged by black 
radicals last time -- a significant number of whom are political 
prisoners today -- would be a beautifully dangerous thing. It would 
catapult the Black Lives Matter movement, and our nation, closer to 
revolution. And for the leading black prophetic voice of our time, that 
would mean freedom, indeed.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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