[Pnews] Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Eighth Book: Writing On The Wall

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Sep 17 13:35:58 EDT 2015

*Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Eighth Book: Writing On The Wall*

By Carolina Saldaña

A review of Writing on the Wall: Selected Prison Writings of Mumia 
Abu-Jamal. Editor, Johanna Fernandez. Foreword, Cornel West. City Lights 
Books, 2015.

Mumia Abu-Jamal’s eighth book written from prison cells in the state of 
Pennsylvania, USA, is a selection of 107 essays that date from January 
1982 to October 2014. They cover practically the entire period of his 
incarceration as an internationally recognized political prisoner. Most 
of the pieces were written while he was on death row after being framed 
for the murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner on December 9, 1981 in 
the city of Philadelphia. Some were aired on Prison Radio. The most 
recent writings date from 2011, when his death sentence was finally 
ruled unconstitutional and commuted to a term of life imprisonment.

The title of the book brings to mind the traditional gospel song, 
“Handwriting on the Wall,” based on the bible story told in the Book of 
Daniel about letters written by a mysterious hand on a wall during a 
great feast given by the King of Babylon. “Somebody read it. Tell me 
what it says,” goes the song. “Go get Daniel, somebody said.” When the 
prophet and former prisoner Daniel was brought in to interpret the 
handwriting, he told King Belshazzar that his days were numbered and 
that his kingdom had come to an end. The prophecy was fulfilled that 
very night.


Somebody trying to make sense out of what goes on in our times might 
well say, “Go get Mumia.” He is an adroit interpreter of the signs of 
the times and even in his extremely vulnerable position has never 
hesitated to speak truth to power. But even though the rich and powerful 
would do well to pay him heed, he doesn’t write for them. Long ago he 
began to express his solidarity and share his insights with people 
struggling to survive in the Black communities, working people, 
students, teachers, artists, musicians, activists, people who’ve never 
had a job and probably never will, prisoners, freedom fighters, entire 
peoples slated for extermination, the subjects of empire who have 
nothing to lose and everything to gain from resistance, rebellion and 
revolution. Mumia always writes from the ground up and never bows down 
to power.

In his prologue to the book, Cornel West speaks of Mumia Abu-Jamal as 
not only an outstanding writer and journalist, but “a living expression 
of the best of the Black prophetic tradition.” The philosophy professor 
defines this tradition as a “principled and creative response to being 
terrorized, traumatized and stigmatized”––a response to slavery, white 
supremacy and other manifestations of oppression with “a vision rooted 
in analysis,” that leads to organization and mobilization. In the field 
of Black journalism, says West, Mumia follows in the footsteps of 
anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells Barnett, whose courage was incomparable.

In his essay, “The Historic Role of Journalism Among Black People,” 
Mumia Abu-Jamal expresses his own high regard for the woman who was so 
successful in exposing the justifications for the lynching of Black 
people that leaders of civil rights groups at the turn of the century 
avoided her for being “too militant, too outspoken.” Mumia writes:

…white terrorism, perpetrated through lynching, was the peculiar 
American custom that wasn’t spoken of in polite society. So, quietly 
(except for Ida B. Wells), Black bodies hung and burned by the thousands 
across America, the courts and law deeming it mere local custom, beyond 
their control.

Editor and history professor Johanna Fernandez, in her Introduction to 
Writing on the Wall, notes that Mumia Abu-Jamal articulates many 
uncomfortable truths.

His voice reveals the centrality of black oppression to the project of 
American capitalism and empire, the unbridled racism of the U.S. justice 
system, the immediate and rippling horrors of war, the unfinished 
project of American democracy, and the possibilities of a liberated 
society not just for Black people at home, but for everyone, everywhere.

In this volume we get a glimpse of the Black Liberation Movement that 
Mumia comes from and the organizations he is most closely identified 
with: the Black Panther Party and the MOVE Organization. These pages 
tell of historic figures who inspired rebellions and movements that, in 
turn, gave rise to leaders who inspired him, including Papaloi Boukman, 
Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, 
Frantz Fanon, Malcolm X, and Ella Baker. The book opens with writings 
about Mumia’s own arrest, imprisonment and trial in the social context 
of injustices faced by thousands and the historical context of slavery.

For centuries, people of African descent have entered the courts of 
their oppressors….Black men paraded before such “tribunals” have come 
shackled, manacled, chained, imprisoned with slave bracelets. Once 
there, they are sure to hear lofty principles such as “presumption of 
innocence,” “innocent until proven guilty,” “due process,” ad nauseam. 
After lofty words, however comes the bitter truth—slavery by decree of 
“Judge Hoofinmouth…

Where was the presumption of innocence for Mumia when his $250,000 bail 
was revoked one day after it was set? Non existent, he says, given that 
the deceased was a white Philadelphia cop and the accused an outspoken 
activist and MOVE supporter.

A major courtroom battle centered on Judge Albert Sabo’s denial of 
Mumia’s right to represent himself in court, with John Africa as his 

“It has become clear that this “court” has no intention to hear from me: 
its action, pre-planned, no doubt, to revoke my supposed constitutional 
right of self-representation, was designed to silence, to gag, to muzzle 
me, to render me ineffective in the defense of my life…”

After he heard the verdict, Mumia told the jury: “Today’s decision comes 
as no surprise to me…I am innocent despite what you 12 people think, and 
the truth shall set me free!... On December 9, 1981, the police 
attempted to execute me in the street; this trial is a result of their 
failure to do so.”

In the 1970s, as a radio journalist in Philadelphia, Mumia Abu-Jamal had 
gotten to know the multiracial MOVE Organization when he covered their 
numerous trials resulting from conflicts with the Philadelphia city 
government. He was drawn to the anti-authoritarian, communal way of life 
of these urban revolutionaries who considered all life sacred and 
defended nature, animals and human beings against a death-dealing 
system. As Mumia gradually grew closer to MOVE, he gained a tremendous 
respect for their founder John Africa.

Ever since the City of Philadelphia committed its first act of urban 
warfare against MOVE in 1978, when nine of their members were taken 
prisoner, followed by the second military attack in 1985, when their 
house was bombed and 11 members killed, Mumia has demanded justice for 
the organization and supported the freedom of the “Move 9.” His earliest 
writings on MOVE are among the first that we read in Writing on the Wall.

“Philadelphia, try as it might, cannot escape May 13. Nor can Black 
Philadelphia,” writes Mumia. The MOVE bombing was ordered by 
Philadelphia’s first Black mayor, Wilson Goode, who does not escape 
Mumia’s scathing commentaries:

“Today, a mayor who claims faith in Christianity entered U.S. history 
books as a Black man who ordered the bombardment and obliteration of a 
home where Black rebels lived. One thing can be said: here was a 
neo-slave who imitated his malevolent masters well!”

The Black leaders that have inspired Mumia are of a different tradition: 
one of resistance and rebellion punishable by prison, exile or death.

Pan-Africanist Marcus Mosiah Garvey was accused of “rabble-rousing” for 
daring to suggest Blacks look to Africa for economic, social and 
spiritual strength. The charismatic Rev. Nat Turner, who dared rebel 
against that most un-Christian of American institutions, human slavery, 
was damned as a fanatic. Martin Luther King Jr. received accolades for 
his nonviolent ministry, but Malcolm X received assassination for his 
ministry of militancy. When Rev. King began to emerge as a vocal 
opponent of America’s genocidal war on Vietnam, his life clock was 
stopped. In a young nation born in bloody resistance to England’s crown, 
resistance is still the ultimate offense by Africans.

Mumia’s essay “1967: Year of Fire, Year of Rage,” tells of the flames of 
rebellion that swept Roxbury, Tampa, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Newark, New 
Brunswick, Paterson, Elizabeth, Palmyra, Passaic, Plainsfield, Cairo, 
Durham, Memphis, Minneapolis, and Detroit that summer.

“People didn’t rebel all across America during 1967 for a Black boxing 
champ. They didn’t rebel because they wanted a Black mayor….They 
rebelled because they wanted Power: the power to better their lives. 
They also wanted an end to the violent repression of the cops.”

The urban rebellions that had begun in Watts, Los Ángeles on August 11, 
1965, gave rise to Black organizations that sought to channel 
spontaneous rebellion into coordinated revolutionary action.

The essay titled “Decolonization: The Influence of Africa and Latin 
America on the Black Freedom Movement,” focuses on the Martinican born 
psychiatrist Frantz Fanon, who had joined the Algerian independence 
struggle and written two major books on European colonial domination. 
Fanon had a profound influence on the two founders of the Black Panther 
Party, Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton. Mumia cites Kathleen Cleaver on 
the importance of Fanon’s writings for Black revolutionaries in the 
United States:

“His books became available in English just as waves of civil violence 
engulfed the ghettos of America, reaching the level of insurrection in 
the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. 
Fanon died in 1961, a year before Algeria obtained the independence he 
had given his life to win, but his brilliant, posthumously published 
work The Wretched of the Earth became essential reading book for Black 
revolutionaries in America and profoundly influenced their thinking. 
Fanon’s analysis seems to explain and justify the spontaneous violence 
ravaging Black ghettos across the country, and linked the incipient 
insurrections to the rise of a revolutionary movement….Fanon explained 
how violence was intrinsic to the imposition of white colonial 
domination, and portrayed the oppressed who violently retaliate as 
engaged in restoring the human dignity they were stripped of by the 
process of colonization…

Another major influence on the Black Panthers and on Mumia in particular 
was Malcolm X, who took the civil rights movement to the level of human 
rights, insisted on the right to self-defense, and argued that instead 
of being a “minority group,” Black people in the United States were part 
of the majority of the worlds peoples in Africa, Latin America and Asia 
seeking liberation.

For me and my generation of that era, to hear him speak was like 
listening to thunder,” said Mumia. “One could not help but be moved, 
outraged, energized—radicalized. I became, in my heart, a Malcolmite. 
That influence, coupled with the April 14, 1968, assassination of Martin 
Luther King Jr. (his closest competitor for Black America’s heart), 
would propel thousands of young men and women to join the nearest 
formation of the Black Panther Party. Indeed, this writer (in his 15th 
year of life) helped found and form the Philadelphia branch of that group.

At that young age, Mumia learned journalism as a young Black Panther 
working on the organization’s national newspaper. And at that young age, 
he became a target of FBI surveillance.

The Panthers’ armed self-defense against police violence, their daily 
Breakfast for Children Program, and their community programs for health, 
education and housing, mainly led by women, attracted thousands of 
members in 42 cities in the United States and inspired young people in 
the Chicano, Puerto Rican and Native American movement and radical white 
groups. Internationally, the Black Panthers viewed themselves as part of 
anti-colonial struggles for self-determination and national liberation 
and sought to build ties with Palestinian and Vietnamese 
revolutionaries, among others.

Half a century after Fanon’s death, colonial rule is still a reality in 
Palestine and Puerto Rico, says Mumia, while the most important lesson 
learned by many African leaders schooled in Eurocentric capitalist 
thought “was how to re-create colonialism, not how to destroy it.” At 
the same time, he writes, “The American Empire utilizes force, brutal 
and terrifying, to intimidate the populations of other nations, and 
this, when alloyed with the mesmerizing power of the corporate press, 
serves to whitewash what is actually taking place.”

Moreover, since 9-11, people across the United States have been 
subjected to an unprecedented erosion of civil liberties, government 
spying and the exercise of blatant police power as hard-fought workers’ 
rights have been decimated.

And what is the state of Black America half a century after legal gains 
made by the Civil Rights Movement and the struggle for freedom waged by 
the Black Liberation Movement? Many Black people in the United States 
had illusions that things were getting better, that their children would 
have a brighter future, says Mumia.

Then came Katrina. In a flash, in an hour, in a day, in a week, we saw 
with our own eyes the loss, the waste, the death, and perhaps worse, the 
dismissal of Black life by virtually every agency of local, state and 
federal power, and the media as well…. If U.S. Blacks had any illusions, 
the dark, fetid waters of Katrina washed them away. Nationalism, 
citizenship, belonging to the White Nation were lies. The waters of 
Katrina cleared the crust of sleep from our eyes, and taught us that if 
you’re Black and poor, you’re utterly on your own.

In Writing on the Wall, Mumia exposes what goes on in the monstrous U.S. 
prison system, which has the highest incarceration rates in the world 
and a population of over 2.2 million—10 times greater than in 1972. As 
schools close in Black communities and jobs are harder to find than 
ever, thousands of youth swell the prison population.

“When we enter the modern era, we see a panorama of Black pain that is 
as unprecedented as it is silent. I speak of mass incarceration, the 
targeting, imprisonment and criminalization of dark people in ways (and 
in numbers) the world has never seen. For decades.”

During the time that he spent on Pennsylvania’s death row, Mumia 
Abu-Jamal’s writings against the death penalty fueled an international 
movement to abolish it. He became the voice of thousands facing this 
punishment considered barbaric in most of Europe, Latin America and Africa.

But wouldn’t the election of a Black president be a solution to the 
woeful state of Black America at the beginning of a new millennium? Many 
had high hopes that Barack Obama would bring much needed change to their 
communities and to the country as a whole. On January 20, 2009, in 
Pennsylvania’s Camp Hill prison, this is what happened:

Men were sprayed with hot pepper mace in the face, stripped naked, 
beaten, stomped, shot with stun guns, insulted and subjected to death 
threats for having filed suit against the treatment they received in the 
Special Management Unit. At that very moment, during the inauguration 
ceremony of the first Black president of the United States, Barack 
Hussein Obama was telling the world: ‘We don’t torture.’

The torture revealed at Abu Ghraib some years before didn’t begin 
abroad, says Mumia. It can be traced back to “genocide, mass terrorism, 
racist exploitation (also known as ‘slavery’), land-theft and carnage…in 
the heart of the Empire,” and especially inside its prisons.

Mumia reports that the U.S. Department of Defense chose a man named Lane 
McCotter, a private prison company executive, to run the now-notorious 
Abu Ghraib gulag on the outskirts of Baghdad. At the time, the 
Management & Training Corporation was under investigation by the U.S. 
Justice Department for brutality charges. McCotter had been the director 
of the Utah state prison system, until a scandal forced him to resign 
from his post in 1997. A naked prisoner had been shackled to a chair in 
one of his prisons for 16 hours, until he died.

“Whatever can be said of McCotter, it can’t be said that he wasn’t 
qualified for the violence and depredations that would emerge at Abu 
Ghraib,” writes Mumia. “Who better to run this colonial outpost of 
barbarity than one who ran internal gulags, both for the State and for 
the Dollar?”

One of the worst forms of torture practiced in United States prisons is 
solitary confinement. Mumia Abu-Jamal knows something about it. He 
experienced it for almost three decades. This is what he says:

“Solitary is torture. State torture. Official torture. 
Government-sanctioned torture. Some may call that hyperbole, or 
exaggeration. But I’ve lived in solitary longer than many—most, 
perhaps—Americans have been alive. I’ve seen men driven mad as a hatter 
by soul-crushing loneliness. Who have sliced their arms until they 
looked like railroad tracks. Or burned themselves alive…. As America 
embarks on its second century of mass incarceration, breaking every 
repressive record ever made, it’s also breaking every record in regard 
to solitary confinement: locking up, isolating and torturing more and 
more people, for more and more years….”

The issue of police terror is addressed in many of the essays in this 
volume, including the nationally televised beatings of Delbert África 
and Rodney King and the police killings of Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, and 
Mike Brown. For Mumia, the murder of unarmed Amadou Diallo was a 
“harbinger of greater violence against unarmed Black and non-white life 
by the cops.” The unarmed Guinean immigrant was standing just outside 
his door when four New York City plainclothes cops fired 41 bullets at 
him, killing him instantly. All four cops were acquitted.

Have politicians used their political power to stop this terror? Hillary 
Clinton, a candidate for the U.S. Senate at the time of Diallo’s 
extrajudicial execution, issued the recommendation that “police officers 
should work to understand the community, and the community should 
understand the risks faced by police officers.”

Mumia asks: “Do you really think that this is a promise of safety if and 
when she gets elected? If this is what she says when she wants and 
presumably needs Black and Puerto Rican votes, what will be said after 
the election?”

Fifteen years later, the name of a relatively unknown town in Missouri 
would become “a watchword for resistance” after people rose up against 
the murder of Black teenager Mike Brown by white cop Darren Wilson on 
August 9, 2014. In Ferguson, says Mumia,

…the youth—excluded from the American economy by inferior, substandard 
education; targeted by the malevolence of the fake drug war and mass 
incarceration; stopped and frisked for Walking While Black—were given 
front-row seats to the national security state….Ferguson is a wake-up 
call. A call to build social, radical, revolutionary movements for change.

The publication of Writing on the Wall underscores the failure of the 
Fraternal Organization of Police and corrupt politicians to silence 
Mumia Abu-Jamal. In the face of attempts to execute him, smother his 
voice behind steel walls, slander him in the news media, intimidate 
supporters, pass laws to try to keep him from speaking out, and most 
recently, kill him through highly intentional “medical neglect,” Mumia 
simply refuses to shut up. Like many other political prisoners slated to 
die in their dungeons, he has what his captors will never have: 
spiritual strength, dignity, integrity, love for the people, a 
commitment to revolution --and the ability to read the handwriting on 
the wall. His message carries the insights of his own generation of 
Black revolutionaries combined with truths born in struggles in many 
parts of the world. The time is right. As emerging movements gain 
strength, vision, and breadth, Mumia finds, in this book a new channel 
for sharing his ideas with people eager to bring down walls.


Carolina Saldaña is an independent journalist based in Mexico City, who 
also works with the Amigos de Mumia en México collective.

*To purchase the book:**

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