6. Free Mumia Now!
The Beverly confession put Sabo’s courtroom improprieties in a new light. It had long been clear that he was a conscious participant in a racist frame-up, but the revelation that Faulkner’s execution originated within the top layers of the Philadelphia police department suggests that whether or not Sabo was personally on the take, he acted (along with the FOP and senior members of the Pennsylvania judiciary) to shield those involved in the highly organized extortion racket operated by many of “Philadelphia’s finest” for decades. Leonard Weinglass apparently found this too hot to handle. Weinglass has made a career of defending America’s leftist dissidents within the legal system, but Mumia could only be defended against that system. Weinglass was clearly not prepared to risk his career, and possibly his life, to bring out the truth—even though that was almost certainly the only way his client could be saved from execution or life imprisonment for a crime of which he is innocent.
In a message to his supporters prepared for demonstrations on 12 May 2001, Mumia stated: “Many of you have said that you don’t believe in the system, yet in your hearts you refuse to let it go.” He went on to explain, in Aesopian language, why he felt he had no option but to dismiss the legal team assembled for his PCRA hearings:
“Lawyers are not agents of comfort to be exchanged like throw pillows. They are agents of freedom or they are aiders and abettors of repression. I have received some criticism for recent changes in my legal team. I don’t fear criticism, but I must say I don’t agree with this one. You have seen lawyers violate their own rules with total abandon and the blessing of the courts. How can you say you don’t believe in the system and then believe lawyers who have betrayed their so called client’s interests?”
After firing Weinglass and Williams, the lawyers engaged by Mumia (Nick Brown, Marlene Kamish, Eliot Lee Grossman and J. Michael Farrell) fought aggressively for two years to have the Beverly confession and other evidence of Mumia’s innocence introduced into the record. The DA’s office adamantly opposed allowing Beverly to testify, despite the fact that they would have ample opportunity to discredit his story through cross-examination. On 8 October 2003, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in favor of the prosecutors that, at this stage in the appeals procedure, the question of Mumia’s guilt or innocence is immaterial. It refused to permit the introduction of Beverly’s testimony as well as Terri Maurer-Carter’s revelation that during the trial Sabo had declared his intent to help “fry” Mumia.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court justified its rejection of Maurer-Carter’s testimony on the bizarre grounds that the issue of Sabo’s judicial bias had already been adjudicated during Mumia’s 1995 PCRA appeal, and that Sabo (who handled the post-conviction hearing) had ruled that he had not shown prejudice in the earlier trial, and his decision had previously been upheld on appeal. However, the issue of Sabo’s racial bias against Mumia had never been adjudicated by the courts because Weinglass & Co. had never raised it. Their arguments regarding Sabo’s bias dealt solely with his well-known fondness for cops and his prejudice against criminal defendants.
Mumia now has yet another legal team, headed by Robert Bryan, to handle his federal habeas corpus appeals. In December 2001, federal court judge William Yohn upheld Mumia’s conviction, but overturned his death sentence—thereby attempting to consign him to life imprisonment without parole. That decision is being appealed by both Mumia’s lawyers and the state prosecutors.
Mumia’s decision to fire Williams and Weinglass sent shock waves through the ranks of his supporters. Many wondered if it was not all just some sort of misunderstanding. The left-liberals, who share Williams’ biases and whose chief concern has always been to win a “new trial,” instinctively shrank from the implications of the Beverly confession.(201)
While generally avoiding overt public criticism, most of the organized left (particularly those groups which previously embraced the liberal call for a “new trial”) significantly downgraded their level of activity in Mumia’s defense campaign after Weinglass and Williams were dismissed. Many of those who remained active appeared confused by the complexities and apparent ambiguities surrounding the change of attorneys and sought to downplay the political issues and simply continue with business as usual.
Mumia did not make the decision to fire Williams and Weinglass lightly—he knew it was likely to confuse and disorient some of his supporters. But he had no real alternative. The reason the Beverly confession (and the affidavits that support it) provides the only credible and internally consistent account of what happened the night P.O. Faulkner was killed is because it is true. Mumia may not have been a target on 9 December 1981, he may just have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. But once the Philly cops and DA’s office had their hands on him, they did everything they could to frame him for Faulkner’s killing. One possible explanation for the obvious contradictions in the prosecution’s case is that it was so hastily improvised. The prosecutors are adamantly opposed to permitting Beverly to testify, and brazenly assert that, in this case, the truth is “legally irrelevant.” The only thing that can make it “relevant” is a political mobilization in the U.S. and around the world that is deep enough to make the political cost of maintaining this frame-up unacceptably high.
Mumia’s case is seen by hundreds of thousands of people around the world as an example of racist capitalist injustice in the “world’s greatest democracy.” Like Mumia, millions of black and working-class people caught up in the wheels of “American Justice” are subjected to rigged juries, incompetent attorneys, planted or tampered evidence and police perjury. But Mumia’s case is about more than the intractable racial and class bias of U.S. “justice,” appalling as it is. Mumia Abu-Jamal is the victim of a concerted, politically-motivated frame-up aimed at silencing an eloquent defender of the oppressed.
The brutal oppression of black people is part of the bedrock of U.S. capitalism and the American ruling class has always been acutely conscious of the danger posed by any political movement (and/or exceptional individuals) capable of linking the struggle against racial oppression to the necessity of uprooting the whole system of capitalist exploitation. Mumia’s persecution is a direct continuation of the murderous repression of the Black Panther Party in the 1960s orchestrated by police agencies of the U.S. federal government in the name of “law and order.”
While defending the democratic rights won through past struggles, we must also recognize that winning Mumia’s freedom depends on mass political mobilization and particularly on the power of the integrated working class. Mumia is alive today because of the international wave of protests that then-Governor Tom Ridge triggered in 1995 when he signed Mumia’s original death warrant. On 24 April 1999, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) shut down every port on the U.S. West Coast, from San Diego, California to Bellingham, Washington, in solidarity with Mumia. This was an event of potentially enormous political significance, which is why it was effectively blacked out of the mainstream capitalist media outside the U.S. West Coast. The ILWU’s 1999 action provided a powerful example of how the immense social power of organized labor can be wielded in defense of the oppressed. Similar labor actions on a broader scale, backed by mobilizations on the campuses, within the ghettoes and barrios, and linked to international protests, hold the key to Mumia’s freedom.
The fight to explode Mumia’s frame-up has helped politicize thousands of youth and working people by revealing how repression, racism and poverty are inevitable and necessary elements of the whole system of capitalist exploitation. It is only a short step from that recognition to understanding the need to struggle for a new, egalitarian, socialist world order. The campaign to extricate Mumia from the clutches of the racist machinery of death has helped undermine support for capital punishment in the U.S. Winning his freedom can represent an important step in the political awakening of a resurgent workers’ movement in the citadel of world imperialism.
Free Mumia Abu-Jamal! Down with the Racist Death Penalty!
(201) Many of them echoed Williams’ suggestions of Mumia’s supposed guilt. Dave Lindorff, who purports to be some sort of radical-liberal, published a book on the case entitled Killing Time, in which he offhandedly dismisses Beverly’s confession and other proof of Mumia’s innocence. Michael Moore, in Dude, Where’s My Country?, entirely ignores the mass of evidence and, without any proof, blithely opines that Mumia “probably” killed Faulkner.