Material on the Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal
Material on the Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal
Letter to Governor Tom Ridge demanding release of Mumia Abu-Jamal (1995)
Sectarian Stupidity Will Not Free Mumia (1995)
Disagreebale Sectarians (1999)
No Faith in Capitalist Courts! Free Mumia Abu-Jamal (2000)
Letter to Governor Tom Ridge demanding release of Mumia Abu-Jamal
[copied from http://www.bolshevik.org/Leaflets/LettertoTomRidge.html ]
1 July 1995
PO Box 385
New York, NY 10276
Governor Tom Ridge
225 Capitol Building
We demand the immediate release of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a political prisoner on death row for 13 years, falsely convicted of killing a Philadelphia policeman. The case of Mumia exposes the fraud of the U.S. “human rights” campaign against the People’s Republic of China and other targets of U.S. imperialism, In fact, the U.S. has the largest prison population of any country in the world. The “land of opportunity” and the “American Dream” is in reality a land of mass poverty and degrading racial oppression where thousands of poor, black and white, are driven into petty crime out of desperation, while the capitalist class loots with impunity.
The most exploited, especially blacks and other minorities, have few illusions in the “American Dream.” Lives of daily racist insults and discrimination, desperation, grinding poverty, junk-food diets and junk-food jobs make it hard for blacks to accept the lies at face value. The lack of social justice is all too obvious! Where ideology doesn’t work, the capitalists must resort to repression through the judicial system, the police, FBI, and National Guard to maintain the day-to-day “law and order” necessary to guarantee profits with a minimum of disruption.
The planned execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal, if carried out, can never silence the “Voice of the Voiceless!” Instead, it would create a martyr whose stature would tower more and more with the passage of time like Joe Hill, Sacco and Vanzetti, the Rosenbergs, and Malcolm X. Were Mumia to be legally murdered, his memory would become a wellspring of inspiration for all those who work to end this system of misery and exploitation.
For each activist you strike down, ten will arise to take his or her place. The decline of U.S. capitalism guarantees that all attempts by the state to stifle the class struggle are ultimately futile. We cannot foresee the timing and circumstances of a working-class counteroffensive. But we know that the chaos and irrationality of the capitalist New World Order generates its own nemesis from within: out of the ranks of the working class, whose labor is the source of all capitalist profits, shall arise new leaders to pick up the torches carried by those struck down.
Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!!!
For the Bolshevik Tendency,
Letter to Workers Vanguard
Sectarian Stupidity Will Not Free Mumia
10 August, 1995
To the Editor of Workers Vanguard:
Monday’s stay of execution was vital to the battle for the life of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Its achievement is a crucial tactical victory, which can open the way to the more profound victory we need—getting him off death row and freeing him.
This tactical victory was a result of mobilization by thousands of leftists, trade unionists and blacks throughout the world. The more profound victory will be possible only through the mobilization of even broader layers, and in larger activities. With the consistent application of united-front methods, Mumia Abu-Jamal will be freed.
The Spartacist League and the Partisan Defense Committee have done an admirable job in publicizing Mumia’s case and mobilizing in his defense. But your recent article, “Anti-Communist Smear Targets Jamal Campaign”(Workers Vanguard, 28 July) can only undermine the effort required to save Mumia from the executioner’s needle. Supposedly a response to attempts to sabotage the fight for Mumia’s freedom, it in fact resorts to Stalinist-style cop baiting to further the narrow organizational interests of the Spartacist League.
In the article you claim that the polemics of the Bolshevik Tendency exposing your cult-like internal regime are really aimed at sabotaging the fight for Mumia and bringing down state repression on your heads. You write that “defamatory ravings about the SL as a ‘cult’ feed into the Wall Street Journal’s vintage redbaiting, which is aimed atspiking the necessary mass protest that is essential in fighting for Jamal’s freedom” (emphasis in original). You write further that the BT “has always sought to be the instrument of bigger forces with its provocative slurs and slanders against the Spartacist League,” insinuating that we (along with the other left groups mentioned in your article) are in league with sinister forces (like the FBI, maybe?) to “get” the SL.
You find particularly sinister the WSJ article’s mention of the fact that we “deride [our] old party as ‘Jimstown,’ a takeoff on Jonestown.” What the WSJ reporter didn’t know, however, is that the term “Jimstown” (from our article, “The Road to Jimstown,” published ten years ago) was only indirectly derived from Jonestown. Its immediate antecedent was your characterization of Jack Barnes’ Socialist Workers Party as “Barnestown”. You also fail to mention that for years you have publicly labeled the Healyites, the Revolutionary Workers League, the Freedom Socialist Party and other left groups “cults.” When, during the Gulf War, you pointed to the years-long role of David North’s Workers League as paid publicists for Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, and as apologists for the murder of members of the Iraqi Communist Party, the Workers League responded to these charges in exactly the same way that you respond to ours: they claimed you were attempting to set them up for government repression. Was the SL seeking to become “the instrument of bigger forces” against these other groups? Your accusations against them are no less a matter of public record than our claims about the SL, and are no less accessible to the Wall Street Journalor any other bourgeois newspaper. Or what about your remark in German-language Spartacist (Winter 1989-90) that we have “similar appetites” to those of the Mossad (Israeli secret police)? Did you think that such an insinuation posed no danger to our German comrades, in light of the resurgence of anti-Semitism in that country? The Spartacist League evidently believes it has a right to say anything about other left groups, but goes into a frenzy the minute it gets a taste of its own medicine.
Even more appalling is the fact that you explicitly equate any criticism of yourselves with an attack on Mumia Abu-Jamal. You are hardly the only group active in the fight for his freedom. We, along with yourselves and others, have participated in demonstrations for Mumia in every part of the world where we have comrades, including the San Francisco Bay Area, Berlin, Hamburg and London. An English supporter got a resolution for freeing Mumia passed in the Birmingham Trades Council. Our New Zealand section has initiated two demonstrations calling to free Mumia, the first in 1990. A New York comrade got his union (Local 2110, UAW) to send a protest letter to the Governor of Pennsylvania on Mumia’s behalf. Our Toronto group has helped to build two demonstrations for Mumia so far, and is now participating alongside your members in efforts for another mobilization on 14 August. Our name appears on the PDC poster for this rally as one of the endorsers.
According to your logic, Trotskyists in the 1930s, by pointing to the bureaucratic internal regime of the U.S. Communist Party and its cult of Stalin, were sabotaging the campaign to defend the Scottsboro Boys. The Stalinists themselves seized every opportunity to make this point. But Trotskyist exposures of Stalinist betrayals from Germany to Spain, or their condemnations of the Moscow Trials, never prevented them from defending the Soviet Union against imperialism, or from defending American Stalinists from McCarthyite witchhunts. Similarly, our knowledge of the cult-like practices of the SL leadership does not prevent us from seeking united fronts to defend Mumia, nor from defending the SL against repression by the state.
For many years the Spartacist League and Partisan Defense Committee, to their credit, campaigned for Mumia’s freedom before many were familiar with the case. More became involved when Mumia’s death warrant was signed, including many of the SL’s competitors on the left. Rather than welcoming these organizations to the fight, your reflex has been to defend your turf in truly sectarian fashion, writing that other leftists’ “venomous hatred of the Trotskyist Spartacist League far outweighs their professed defense of Jamal” (emphasis added). In other words, you are Mumia’s only real defenders on the socialist left. Some of your members even went so far as to claim that our protest letter to Pennsylvania’s Governor Ridge, which states that “For each activist you strike down, ten will arise to take his or her place,” means that we somehow conceive of Mumia’s murder as a positive development!
In the wake of your recent altercation with the International Socialist Organization, you write “that their ‘support’ to the campaign for Jamal isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on,” and that “united-front action[s] are completely alien to the ISO, which has been noticeably absent (or represented by token teams) at recent demonstrations for Jamal.” Yet at one major recent demonstration for Jamal in New York City (Saturday, July 22), where approximately 400 showed up, the ISO had many times more members than the SL, who turned up with fewer than ten people. In a city where you could have mobilized 50 of your own members at the very least (not to mention your periphery), this is truly shameful. Could this lack of enthusiasm be explained by the fact that the demonstration was called by the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition, and not the SL or PDC? It would seem that united-front actions are somewhat “alien” to the SL as well. The SL, in fact, rarely engages in united fronts it does not initiate and unilaterally control. While there has been an unevenness in your methods internationally, on the whole your approach has been more reminiscent of the Third Period Stalinist “united front from below” which allowed Hitler to take power in Germany, than to the Trotskyist approach of negotiations among as many organizations as possible to mobilize the maximum forces in united action.
The campaign to save Mumia places the Spartacist leadership in a particular bind. On the one hand, it wants to maintain the SL’s reputation as Mumia’s best defenders, and build a broad campaign on his behalf. On the other hand, the leadership is uncomfortable about the fact that such a campaign will inevitably bring SL members into wider contact with other leftists—a development the SL leadership tries to avoid for fear that the rank and file may begin to question the leadership’s claims to infallibility. Hence the reluctance to participate in non-SL events and the need for cop-baiting attacks in the pages of Workers Vanguard.
It is this kind of sectarian behavior, and not the fact that we and others dare to criticize the Spartacist League, that truly sabotages the fight for Mumia’s freedom. Yet we insist that one need not be a fan of the SL leadership to keep working with the SL and anyone else who is willing to fight for the life of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
On behalf of the International Bolshevik Tendency,
Open Letter to Workers Vanguard
[Reprinted in 1917 #21, 1999. Copied from http://www.bolshevik.org/1917/no21/No21mum3.pdf ]
The following is an open letter to Workers Vanguard, newspaper of the Spartacist League/U.S.:
25 April 1999
As we have occasionally pointed out in the past, the Spartacist League / Partisan Defense Committee (SL/PDC) deserves credit for its pioneering work in publicizing the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal and organizing for his freedom. Since 1995 Mumia Abu-Jamal has won ever broader support within the left and labor movement internationally. Regrettably you have not seen this as an opportunity to engage in common work and political struggle with activists from other organizations. Instead you have tended to allow petty sectarian organizational considerations to take precedence over principled unite-front activity to free Mumia.
The 16 April Workers Vanguard (WV) commentary on recent events in Mumia’s defense campaign is a case in point. The article headlined “Mobilize the Power of Labor! Free Mumia Now!” treats in an extremely cursory manner the exceptionally important work-stoppage by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) on 24 April.Every port from San Diego to Bellingham Washington was shut down for the day in solidarity with Mumia! It is hard to overstate the importance of such an event – particularly in this period in which organized labor has been on the defensive. Yet this actual, living, mobilization of the “Power of Labor” to free Mumia is dismissed with a single paragraph buried in the text. You claim that it was organized so as “to minimize the cost to the company,” but Saturday can be one of the busiest days on the docks. You also mistakenly report that the work stoppage was only for two hours, rather than for the entire day shift.
You grudgingly admit that it was, “a powerful statement of the social power” of labor to win Mumia’s freedom. The ILWU’s coastwide shutdown for Mumia was an action that, to our knowledge, is unprecedented in the history of U.S. labor for at least 50 years. Of course we look forward to the hypothetical “broader actions” that you project for the future, but this event was of historic importance, something you are clearly loathe to admit.
You reported that “the ILWU” had called for the action, but did not inform your readers that it had been initiated by Jack Heyman, a former SL supporter, who is currently on the executive board of the ILWU’s San Francisco local, and is also active in the Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia (LAC), along with IBT comrades, former SL trade-union supporters and many others. Many LAC participants played an active role in building the historic 1984 labor boycott of apartheid cargo in San Francisco. This boycott established an important precedent for the ILWU’s recent action in defense of Mumia. The SL’s shameful sectarianism in 1984 was thoroughly documented by three former Spartacist trade-union activists in “Third Period Robertsonism at Pier 80,” published in the Bulletin of the External Tendency of the iSt, No. 4, May 1985.
Brother Heyman is introduced in the WV article as someone “who postures as the left wing of the ILWU Local 10 executive board” and roundly denounced for having the temerity to ask the “non-sectarian” PDC for a list of union endorsements gathered in the past for Mumia. WV admits that these endorsements were all a matter of public record, but still smears Heyman as someone whose real aim:
“is to go after the reads, in the service of the labor bureaucracy (whose seats Heyman et al. desire to fill) and of concealing the true nature of the capitalist state.”
WV denounces the Labor Action Committee as a “veritable rogues’ gallery” whose “visceral hatred” of Spartacist League has led them to try to give a “labor facade to the class-collaborationist politics that define the ‘Millions for Mumia’ protests.” The fact that Heyman (and the other comrades working in the LAC), through a combination of hard work and political skill made a vital contribution to sparking the most powerful act of labor solidarity in Mumia’s defense to date, is completely ignored by WV which claims of the LAC:
“obscures the class nature of the capitalist state, deep-sixes any mention of the Democratic Party and completely obviates the centrality of the fight for black liberation to the cause of emancipation of all of labor.”
The willingness to employ such brainless slanders has a great deal to do with why the contemporary Spartacist League is so widely reviled on the left and has so little influence in the labor movement.
WV wraps up its denunciation of the Labor Action Committee with a condemnation of its appeal for labor organizations to:
“join the ILWU at the head of the demonstration whose whole premise is not the cause of mobilizing the social power of multiracial working class for Jamal’s freedom but rather one which appeals to the agencies of the class enemy for ‘justice’.”
The SL did not organize a contingent in either the San Francisco or Philadelphia “Millions for Mumia” demonstrations on 24 April and it is clear that you opposed mobilizing the labor movement (or anyone else) for these events. The ostensible reason for this sectarianism is that you disagree with one of the main slogans of the rallies (i.e., for a “New Trial” for Mumia). You prefer to call for “Free Mumia!” So do we. Nonetheless we do not see this as a reason to abstain from participating in the national events that are many times larger than any rallies the SL/PDC have been able to organize. Of course we participate in these demonstrations with our slogans, including the call to “Free Mumia1”.
We recall that during the Vietnam War the SL marched in many demonstrations organized around clearly social pacifist slogans, but carried its own placards calling for victory to the Indochinese Revolution. The ILWU contingent, which headed the 24 April demonstration in San Francisco, raised the call to “Free Mumia!” It did not, to my knowledge, call for a “New Trial.”
WV approvingly quoted the remarks of a participant in an SL meeting last February who asked:
“How about somebody telling the truth, that there’s no way that Mumia’s going to get justice in the courts. It’s going to be exactly the same frame-up bullshit that happened the first.”
It is not impossible that a new trial could result in an acquittal. To assert otherwise is fake ultra-leftism. Fake, because the SL doesn’t truly believe it. If a new trial can only result in “exactly the same frame-up bullshit,” why is the PDC’s Rachel Wolkenstein still participating in Mumia’s defense team which has been pursuing every possible legal avenue, including trying to win a retrial? Furthermore, in the 1970’s, the SL itself launched successful court challenges against infringements of the democratic rights by both the U.S. Secret Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The SL’s abstentionism was not fundamentally dictated by the choice of slogans by the “Millions for Mumia” organizers. This is proved by the fact that both the London and Toronto unite-front events held in conjunction with the Philadelphia and San Francisco rallies were organized on the basis of the call to “Free Mumia!”. Yet in both cases, the Spartacist League’s co-thinkers refused to endorse or help build the events. In London, where a solidarity night organized by the “Mumia Must Live!” coalition drew over 100 people, the SL did not send even a single supporter.
In Toronto, a united-front demonstration was held involving many of the same groups that had organized a successful 14 November 1998 protest to demand Mumia’s freedom. On that occasion the Trotskyist League (the SL’s Canadian sister section) had been an active in the united front. But although it was invited, it refused to attend the planning meetings for the 24 April demonstration. At one of those meetings, a proposal was floated to change the basis of unity from “Free Mumia!” to a call for a new trial. Our comrades, and others, argued against making such a change and the proposal was shelved.
In Toronto, 150 people turned out to demonstrate for Mumia’s freedom across the street from the U.S. consulate. Among the participants were ten TL supporters. Speakers from the endorsing organizations addressed the crowd, including representatives of the United Secretariat, the International Socialists, Socialist Resistance (formerly Labor Militant), the Black Action Defense Committee, New Socialists, Friends of MOVE, Nation of Islam and ourselves. TL members marched in the picket line, carried their own placards and raised their own chants. Two TL supporters stood in front of the rally with a large banner featuring a picture of Mumia and virtually identical slogans to those the demonstration had been organized around. The absurdity of the TL’s posture was widely commented on at the demonstration – they agreed with the slogans, turned out and participated in the event, but for some inexplicable reason refused to endorse or build it.
Such “tactics” are not likely to win many converts among the left. Most political activists regard the SL as a slightly ridiculous, frequently hysterical and generally disagreeable sect. The only purpose of the SL’s leadership’s semi-abstention from the campaign to free Mumia can be to seal off their membership from excessive exposure to other leftists and social reality in general. In the process, the SL/PDC has managed to squander the political credibility it gained from its important early work in the fight for Mumia’s freedom.
Samuel T. [Trachtenberg]
for the International Bolshevik Tendency
No Faith in Capitalist Courts!
Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!
[First prinetd in 1917 #21, 2000. Copied from http://www.bolshevik.org/1917/no22/Fmumia.htm ]
The struggle to save Mumia Abu-Jamal, America’s most famous political prisoner, is moving toward a climax. Mumia, a former Black Panther, has been behind bars since 1982 when he was framed for the killing of Daniel Faulkner, a Philadelphia cop.
On 22 April 1999, Mumia’s legal team filed a writ of certiorari before the U.S. Supreme Court, which was tossed out on 4 October when the court announced that it would not hear the appeal. Nine days later, on 13 October 1999, Governor Tom Ridge signed a second death warrant for Mumia. The first one in 1995 was nullified when Mumia was granted a stay following a wave of international protests. The second warrant was also stayed when Federal Judge William H. Yohn Jr. agreed to consider Mumia’s request for an evidentiary hearing on a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. If granted, this will permit Mumia’s defense team to introduce a wealth of new evidence that has been painstakingly excavated since 1982. It will also provide an opportunity to demonstrate how Mumia’s constitutional rights were violated in his original trial. Every attempt by his attorneys to present evidence in 1995 during the Post-Conviction Relief hearings was blocked by extremely prejudicial rulings from presiding judge Albert Sabo, the “King of Death Row,” who had conducted the original frame-up.
During the prosecution’s closing summation at the original trial, the district attorney assured the jurors: “If you find the Defendant guilty of course there would be appeal after appeal and perhaps there could be a reversal of the case, or whatever, so that may not be final” (cited in L. Weinglass, Race for Justice). U.S. courts have previously established that urging a jury to find a defendant guilty, while suggesting that their decision may later be reversed, is, in itself, sufficient grounds for throwing out the conviction. Like many arguments presented by the defense, however, this has been repeatedly dismissed out of hand by the Pennsylvania judiciary.
The district attorney’s argument is all the more macabre since the appeals process has been short-circuited by Bill Clinton’s “Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act,” which was pushed through in the wake of the deranged rightist bombing of the Oklahoma federal building in 1995. This act guts federal habeas corpus by discouraging federal courts from examining state convictions, thereby speeding up the machinery of death. An evidentiary hearing before Judge Yohn would not only be Mumia’s first real opportunity to officially present new evidence, it is likely to be his only chance. In terms of legal options, a great deal depends on whether or not Mumia is granted the hearing he has requested.
Ultimately, the legal proceedings in the courthouse will be shaped by political considerations—especially the numbers and level of activity of Mumia’s supporters, particularly within the labor movement. The only reason that Mumia was not executed in 1995 was because of the scope of the protests in the U.S. and internationally.
Comrades of the International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT) have regularly participated in the campaign to save Mumia in the localities where we exist. In the San Francisco Bay Area, our comrades have worked with the Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia (LAC), which has done valuable work in bringing the campaign into the labor movement, and which helped initiate the International Longshore and Warehouse Union’s (ILWU) historic one-day West Coast port shutdown in April 1999 in solidarity with Mumia. The LAC has held public forums on the case, provided speakers for union meetings and organized labor contingents in demonstrations for Mumia.
A fund-raising “Party for Mumia” held by the LAC on 14 February was forced to change venues twice as a result of police intimidation. Originally scheduled for “Sweet Jimmy’s,” a black nightclub in Oakland frequented by longshore and postal workers, the event had to be moved when the owner canceled the booking after receiving threatening phone calls from the police. In a gesture of solidarity, the “Open World Conference in Defense of Trade Union Independence” offered the LAC space they had previously booked for a social at the Bay View Boat Club. But, at the last minute, the boat club also backed out. The ILWU saved the day by providing Local 10’s View Room for the party, which succeeded in raising $2,000 for Mumia’s defense.
Our German comrades in the Gruppe Spartakus (GS) participated in a major demonstration for Mumia in Berlin on 5 February, which drew 8,000 people from across Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark. On 10 March the GS sponsored a successful united-front demonstration in Mönchengladbach with Blockbuster/Youth Against Racism , the Party of Democratic Socialism (the successor to the former East German ruling party) and other anti-fascist groups.
In Britain, our comrades have played a central role, along with anarchist militants, in organizing “Mumia Must Live!” (MML) — a united front launched in February 1999 on the basis of two slogans: “Free Mumia Abu-Jamal” and “Abolish the Racist Death Penalty.” Mumia Must Live! has sponsored a number of significant events in London, including an emergency response rally last October following Ridge’s signing of the second death warrant, and a 150-person rally the next month to protest the circulation of anti-Mumia disinformation in the capitalist media. On 4 March, MML sponsored a demonstration that drew 1,000 people to Trafalgar Square, in the largest Mumia defense rally in Britain so far.
In the course of building the March demonstration there were several intense discussions within Mumia Must Live!, particularly after the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP) joined. The SWP contributed significant resources, and has given MML a much higher profile. At the same time, SWPers have made several attempts to include, as part of MML’s basis of unity, a demand for the U.S. courts to retry Mumia. Our comrades and some of the anarchists were opposed to including this demand, and after some to-ing and fro-ing, the SWP relented, and agreed to only raise it in their own name.
The SWP is not alone among Mumia’s supporters in attempting to make a new trial the focus of the defense campaign. In the 1960s and early 70s, there was a wave of demonstrations in the U.S. in defense of the chairman of the Black Panther Party, Huey P. Newton. Anyone who had raised a call for giving Newton a “New Trial” at one of these “Free Huey” rallies would have been regarded as either extremely dubious or insane. Today, some of the same “revolutionary” groups who called for freeing Huey are advocating a “new trial” for Mumia. They rationalize this adaptation to liberalism as a tactic to enhance the campaign’s mainstream appeal and thus make it easier to obtain celebrity endorsements from ephemeral glitterati.
We take a different approach, and recall Leon Trotsky’s injunction to “speak the truth to the masses.” And the truth is that the U.S. judicial system is shot through with racism and class bias. While every possible legal avenue must be pursued in the campaign to save Mumia’s life, the best way to protect him is not to pander to liberal illusions in the impartiality of the courts, but to use his frame-up to expose the whole corrupt system of racist capitalist injustice, and thus help win a new generation of youth to the program of socialist revolution.
The IBT published the following statement on 28 February:
The campaign to free Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther framed for the 1981 killing of a policeman, is reaching a critical stage. Over the past 18 years, as Mumia has sat on death row in Pennsylvania, his case has won worldwide attention and the campaign to save his life has steadily gained momentum. Trade unionists around the world, from Brazil, to South Africa and New Zealand have taken up his case. In the U.S., the longshore union shut down all the ports on the Pacific Coast for a day last April as a gesture of solidarity with this class-war prisoner.
Mumia was a founding member of the Philadelphia branch of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s. He subsequently won a reputation as the “Voice of the Voiceless” for his work as a reporter and his fearless criticisms of police brutality and racist persecution. The Philly cops knew him and hated him—his FBI file alone is over 700 pages.
He was convicted in a farcical trial presided over by Judge Albert Sabo, a life-long supporter of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), and a well-known “hanging judge.” Sabo also handled Mumia’s 1995 appeal for “post-conviction relief” where he ruled in favor of his original decision.
In January of this year, federal judge William Yohn in Philadelphia agreed to hear challenges to Sabo’s “findings of fact” in the case. Mumia’s attorneys have documented 29 separate claims of constitutional violations in a petition for a federal writ of habeas corpus to overturn his conviction. (A copy of the defense memorandum can be found on the internet at mojo.calyx.net/~refuse/mumia/court.html).
Judge Yohn is scheduled to begin considering defense arguments in April. This hearing, at the federal district court level, is Mumia’s only opportunity to introduce new evidence into the official record. Subsequent appeals in higher federal courts are bound to only review evidence heard in the district court. The defense is seeking to present new evidence, including statements from key prosecution witnesses at Mumia’s original trial, that their testimony had been coerced by the Philly police. Sabo refused to admit these admissions on the bizarre grounds that these witnesses, who had provided the “evidence” for Mumia’s original conviction, were no longer “credible.”
The outcome of these hearings is impossible to predict. In a memo issued in late January, C. Clark Kissinger, who is close to Mumia’s legal team, outlined a series of possibilities. The judge could permit new evidence to be heard and then overturn the conviction. But he could also deny an evidentiary hearing and uphold Sabo’s decision. He could also let the guilty verdict stand, but ask the Pennsylvania courts to reconsider whether the sentence should be execution or life imprisonment. He could also rule that Mumia’s conviction was unconstitutional without hearing any new evidence. In that case, the state would likely appeal, thus setting the stage for a subsequent decision on the basis of the “facts” established by Sabo’s kangaroo court.
“Free Mumia” or “Re-Try Mumia”?
Mumia’s case is at bottom about politics—not legalities. The reason that he was not executed after his death warrant was signed in 1995 is because there was a groundswell of popular political protest that exposed the racist vendetta by the Philly cops and courts. In November 1999 the national conference of the FOP, the largest police organization in the U.S., called for “boycotting” anyone who spoke out for Mumia, and singled out popular entertainers like Sting and Rage Against the Machine. The capitalist media has ignored the sinister implications of this unprecedented campaign of police intimidation. But it is a powerful confirmation of the fundamentally political character of this case.
Within the movement to defend Mumia an important disagreement has arisen over the political direction of the campaign. Some who once called for “freeing” Mumia are now calling for him to be re-tried. While it is necessary to pursue every possible legal avenue, the demand for winning freedom for Mumia must remain the political focus of the defense campaign.
Every fair-minded person who investigates this case can see that it is a classic frame-up. Every activist in his defense campaign knows that Mumia is innocent— which is why the prosecutors had to coerce witnesses and suppress evidence at his original trial. Why then should we focus on a call for the same racist state to re-try him?
In January 1927 when the International Labor Defense (ILD) campaigned in defense of Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian anarchist immigrants framed for a murder they did not commit, James P. Cannon, National Secretary of the ILD at the time, wrote:
“One policy is the policy of class struggle. It puts the center of gravity in the protest movement of the workers of America and the world. It puts all faith in the power of the masses and no faith whatever in the justice of the courts. While favoring all possible legal proceedings, it calls for agitation, publicity, demonstrations….This is what has prevented the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti so far. Its goal is nothing less than their triumphant vindication and liberation.
“The other policy is the policy of ‘respectability,’ of the ‘soft pedal’ and of ridiculous illusions about ‘justice’ from the courts of the enemy….It tries to represent the martyrdom of Sacco and Vanzetti as an ‘unfortunate’ error which can be rectified by the ‘right’ people proceeding in the ‘right’ way.”
— “Who Can Save Sacco and Vanzetti?,” reprinted in Notebook of an Agitator
If Mumia’s conviction is overturned, the prosecutors are likely to demand a new round of legal hearings. What will the “revolutionaries” who are now calling for a new trial say then?
Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, subject of a recently released film, was targeted by the FBI and local police after he advocated black self-defense against racist cop terror. He was convicted of murder in 1967 on the testimony of two petty crooks whom the prosecutors paid $10,500. In 1976, after the state’s “witnesses” recanted their testimony, Carter was granted a new trial only to have it turn into a re-run of the original frame-up. In 1985, after 18 years in jail, a federal court judge granted his habeas corpus petition and released him. The prosecution initially threatened to try him yet again, but ultimately decided not to.
In 1997, when Geronimo Pratt, former Black Panther Party Deputy Minister of Defense, was finally released from jail after serving 27 years on a bogus murder charge, the prosecutors talked of forcing him to face a re-trial. In Pratt’s case, the FBI’s own wiretaps and surveillance logs proved that he had been 500 miles away when the murder was committed. His real “crime,” like that of Mumia and Hurricane Carter, was that the cops and state authorities considered him their enemy.
Liberals, civil libertarians and others who have confidence in the integrity of capitalist legality may view Mumia’s case as a product of collusion between a few corrupt cops, an over-zealous district attorney and a racist judge. Such people may indeed be more comfortable with a campaign which sets as its goal a new trial for Mumia, but they are also likely to accept the result, including a second guilty verdict.