[Pnews] Angela Davis - ‘Accelerate our efforts’ to free Mumia
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Nov 20 11:24:10 EST 2020
https://www.workers.org/2020/11/52580/ ‘Accelerate our efforts’ to free
November 19, 2020
By Angela Davis
*Professor Angela Davis, herself once a political prisoner, is a founding
member of Critical Resistance, a national organization dedicated to
dismantling the prison industrial complex. On Nov. 16, Davis delivered the
following remarks during the virtual press conference “Freedom & Abolition:
A critical moment in the fight to free Mumia Abu-Jamal.”*
Mumia Abu-Jamal has played such a pivotal role in the processes of popular
education that have led us to this critical juncture and what one might
call the century-and-a-half-year-old effort to acknowledge the structural
and systemic character of racism and to take seriously the demands for
abolition. Abolition of the death penalty, of prisons, of the police. And
so it is right and just that we should accelerate our efforts, on this new
terrain, to finally free our brother-comrade.
Much attention has been focused on Philadelphia recently from the
elections, to the police killing of Walter Wallace because he was
experiencing a mental health crisis, to the arrest by federal agents of the
teacher and community activist Anthony Smith — and we know that barely a
week before his arrest, Philadelphia Magazine had applauded Anthony Smith’s
community service and his exceptional leadership. And all around the world
we have followed the work of Anthony Smith’s organization, the Black
Philadelphia Radical Collective, and many of us passionately support the 13
demands they have submitted.
We know also that the City Council in Philadelphia recently offered an
apology, an official apology, for the 1985 bombing which killed 11 MOVE
members, including five children, and completely destroyed 61 homes.
So I’ve been asked to briefly describe Mumia’s case in the context of the
long history of political repression in this country and in the context of
the utilization of the criminal legal system to produce pretext for
incarcerating people who have chosen to develop radical resistance
strategies in relation to racist state violence.
Mumia is a relatively younger member of a generation of Black radical
activists and intellectuals who have challenged the structural and systemic
character of racism long before this recognition helped to accelerate
efforts to reimagine some of our society’s fundamental institutions.
Because of our radical stances we were targeted by the state. In many
instances the state demonized and railroaded countless numbers of Black
radicals, some of us who were freed, but many of whom have been imprisoned
for as many as five or six decades.
Mumia was targeted by the Philadelphia police and COINTELPRO, beginning
with his membership in the Black Panther Party. His declassified 500-page
FBI file shows that the Philadelphia police, in consultation with
COINTELPRO, for many years had tried to peg a crime on Mumia. We also know
that at least one third of the police involved in his case were jailed
after it was discovered that they had systematically tampered with evidence
in large numbers of cases across the city of Philadelphia.
*COINTELPRO’s role in Mumia’s frameup*
I think that few people know that the investigation of the killing of
Daniel Faulkner, the policeman whom Mumia is accused of killing, that this
investigation was conducted not by the homicide unit of the Philadelphia
police department but by its “Civil Defense Unit,” which was the local
police arm of [former FBI Director] J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO.
Angela Davis speaking at press conference for Mumia, Nov. 16, 2020. Credit:
In 1981, Mumia was sentenced to death. And from death row [he] produced
brilliant critiques of the prison industrial complex, mass incarceration,
capital punishment, and other institutional consequences of racial
capitalism. Many of us are aware of the fact that his widely circulated
writings have helped to humanize people in prison and people on death row.
Like many others of my age, I’ve been an active supporter of Mumia for many
decades. And I’ve had the honor of speaking on his behalf at United Nations
conferences and other international venues where Mumia, for example, was
declared an honorary citizen of Paris. (The last person before him to
receive that distinction was Pablo Picasso [in 1971].) I participated in
that ceremony in Paris as his surrogate.
Leonard Peltier, Mutulu Shakur, Russell Maroon Shoatz, Ed Poindexter,
Veronza Bowers, Romaine “Chip” Fitzgerald, David Gilbert, and my former
co-defendant Ruchell Magee are just a few of the U.S. political prisoners
who have spent the vast majority of their lives behind bars and as we know
are currently the most vulnerable with respect to COVID-19. We’ve already
heard about Russell Maroon Shoatz’s condition. And we’ve heard [Yale
professor and global health activist] Gregg Gonsalves emphasize the need
for compassionate decarceration, an abolitionist strategy.
Thanks to international organizing efforts, Mumia is perhaps the most
well-known political prisoner in the world. And these international efforts
saved his life when he came dangerously close to execution in 1995. Mumia’s
case exemplifies the length to which the state will go to silence those
who speak truth to power. And this is why the Fraternal Order of Police has
been unrelenting in its attempt to silence him and his supporters.
But now that structures of policing have finally been exposed for their
systemic racism, and as we call for justice in the names of Breonna Taylor,
and George Floyd, and Walter Wallace, and so many others, and now that the
city of Philadelphia has issued an official apology to MOVE, now is the
time to accelerate our campaign to bring Mumia home. Let’s not forget that
Mumia’s identification with MOVE and his empathetic reporting on the city’s
repression of MOVE rendered him a major target of the Rizzo administration.
*Mumia’s case and the abolition movement*
As you’ve heard from Johanna [Fernandez] and others — Linn Washington for
example — his case is riddled with violations. Especially the concealing of
exculpatory evidence and the presence of Kenneth Freeman at the scene of
the killing of Daniel Faulkner although the prosecutor was aware of the
fact that Freeman had been identified as the shooter by four witnesses. And
[on May 13th, 1985] the same night of the MOVE bombing, Kenneth Freeman was
found dead in a parking lot, gagged and handcuffed.
We know that there were clear violations in relation to the selection of
the jury. Eleven out of the prosecution’s 14 peremptory challenges were
used to eliminate Black jurors. Of course, this in itself, as it’s already
been pointed out, supports the call for a new trial. The Supreme Court has
ruled that the elimination of jurors on the basis of race is a major
violation. And as Johanna and others have pointed out, newly discovered
file boxes in the DA’s office, which were there for 37 years or so,
contained a list of potential jurors highlighting their race.
And perhaps even more egregious are the instructional tapes that were
produced by Assistant District Attorney Jack McMahon, who pointed out that
educated Black people should not be selected to serve on the jury. But
also, as he said, “Blacks from the low-income area are less likely to
convict” and, as a result, “I don’t want these people on your jury.” As he
said: “It may appear that you’re being racist or whatnot but again you’re
just being realistic. You’re just trying to win the case.”
So finally, the framing of Mumia and his incarceration are part of a larger
story of structural racism and repression linked to global capitalism,
linked to racial capitalism. Racism drives incarceration and infects
policing all over the world, from Rio de Janeiro to Johannesburg, to
London, to Paris. Here in the U.S., mass incarceration especially affects
Indigenous people and Black and Latinx communities.
And I think we need to emphasize the fact that the very same forces that
have driven the creation of the prison industrial complex are responsible
for the fact that many people in other countries, in countries of the
Global South, have seen their whole economies destroyed by capitalist
incursions. They have no other choice than to flee. Thus, the borders and
the walls and immigrant detention facilities are integrally linked to
racist policing and the prison industrial complex.
I should point out that abolitionist strategies emphasize the connections
of all of these institutions. At a time when structural critiques of racism
are gaining traction, and specifically its centrality to policing, we
gather here to demand the release of Mumia Abu-Jamal and other political
prisoners whose trials and sentences were irreparably influenced by their
political beliefs and by their challenges to this very system.
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