Almost three decades after his arrest, the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal still raises violent disagreement between those seeking his release, and those awaiting his execution.
According to court records, on Dec. 9, 1981, at approximately 4 a.m., Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner stopped a Volkswagen driven by William “Billy” Cook, the brother of former Black Panther and radical journalist Abu-Jamal (formerly Wesley Cook) near the intersection of Locust and 13th streets.
An altercation ensued, when Faulkner attempted to “secure Cook’s hands behind his back.”
Abu-Jamal, who was in the parking lot across the street, proceeded toward the officer, and reportedly shot Faulkner in the back. As the officer fell to the ground, he shot Abu-Jamal in the chest.
According to court records, Abu-Jamal stood over Faulkner and fired four shots, one striking the officer between the eyes.
Abu-Jamal was tried and sentenced to death, but his execution has been continually delayed, because of various suspensions and stays based on what many believe was a frame-up.
Abu-Jamal’s supporters around the world believe the evidence points to his innocence.
Jeff Mackler, national coordinator and director of the Mobilization to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal movement and friend of the death-row inmate, believes Abu-Jamal was framed by the Philadelphia Police Department.
“[Abu-Jamal’s] struggle for freedom, the obstacles he has faced, is symptomatic of everything wrong in the American criminal justice system,” Mackler said. “A new trial is supported by Amnesty International, the European Parliament, the AFL-CIO, hundreds of thousands of individuals, the former president of France (Jacques Chirac), Nelson Mandela, the Detroit City Council and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.”
For 29 years, activists and supporters have demanded that his case be retried, but both the United States and Pennsylvania supreme courts have upheld the conviction, despite voicing concerns over the penalty.
Michael Lutz, a retired officer and representative of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) in Philadelphia, says Abu-Jamal supporters are blind to the truth, and it is preposterous to consider the 56-year-old former journalist innocent.
“We went to trial on numerous occasions, and a lot of times new evidence was presented,” Lutz said. “It’s the new evidence that was fabricated. The new witnesses and evidence … all this crazy stuff. That’s why it has been delayed so long. The Supreme Court of the U.S. and of Pennsylvania dismissed it, because the (evidence) had no standing.”
“Certain people are convinced (of his innocence) and don’t want to listen to the facts of the case,” Lutz argued. “The evidence is clear, concise and overwhelming. People think this was a conspiracy … against Mumia Abu-Jamal, but it was not a … conspiracy.”
“Free Mumia” protesters, however, believe these same judges, prosecutors and officials do not want justice served.
A raid by Philadelphia police on a Black liberation group called the MOVE Organization on Aug. 8, 1978, may serve as background for the later conflict involving Abu-Jamal, who supported the group.
Ordered to vacate a cluster of homes in the Powelton Village section of Philadelphia, MOVE failed to relocate. When police entered the compound, Philadelphia Police Officer James Ramp was shot and killed. Seven other officers and firefighters, as well as three MOVE members, were hurt in the ensuing crossfire.
Police also dropped a bomb on the house, which caused a massive fire that eventually burned 65 row houses and killed 11 people including five children.
As with the Abu-Jamal case itself, there is controversy over who may have shot the officer and where the bullet came from.
At a press conference following the event, Abu-Jamal (usually referred to simply as Mumia), known as an unrelenting journalist, reportedly reeled off a series of uncompromising (some would say embarrassing) questions. In response, the then-Philadelphia mayor, Frank Rizzo, expressed his distaste for the questioning, proclaiming it was time for a “new breed of journalism,” notes J. Patrick O’ Connor, author of “The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal.”
According to O’Connor, Rizzo continued as he stared at Abu-Jamal: “They believe what you write, what you say. And it’s got to stop. And one day, and I hope it’s in my career, that you’re going to have to be held responsible, and accountable for what you do.”
Defenders of the ex-Black Panther are convinced that it was Abu-Jamal’s radical ideas and reporting on several issues that rubbed officials the wrong way. Abu-Jamal and his supporters believe law-enforcement officials wanted him either locked up or dead.
Following the raid, nine MOVE suspects were arrested and convicted for Ramp’s death and sentenced to 30 to 100 years in prison.
Abu-Jamal’s arrest for murder came months later. His death warrant was signed for the first time on June 1, 1995. It was suspended after he pursued a post-conviction review. A second death warrant was signed on Oct. 13, 1999, but it, too, was stayed when Abu-Jamal began a pursuit of a federal habeas corpus review.
Court records show Judge William Yohn overturned the death sentence on Dec. 18, 2001, due to interference during the original sentencing.
According to Yohn’s ruling, the instruction given to the jury under Judge Albert Sabo, who presided over the original trial, violated the U.S. Supreme Court’s Mills precedent. But Yohn refused to address the other issues concerning violations of Abu-Jamal’s Constitutional rights.
Due to the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, however, he upheld the conviction.
On Nov. 9, 2010, Abu-Jamal’s case was taken to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals to determine if the court would be required to re-sentence him to death or to life imprisonment without parole.
Lutz believes that as long as the execution is delayed, justice is delayed.
“We want justice, and justice was delayed, therefore justice was denied,” he said. “(Faulkner’s murder) is special to us because of the outpouring of emotion and love for Daniel Faulkner. And Mumia Abu-Jamal has become a celebrity from this case.”
FOP members say that Abu-Jamal has had good public relations, but many of his supporters have lost sight of the facts. Lutz also feels that Faulkner’s survivors, such as his wife Maureen, have not been avenged due to the constant appeals.
On the other hand, the Free Mumia movement is determined that justice for Abu-Jamal has not been served.
Thandi Chimurenga, a Los Angeles activist and journalist, believes that if Abu-Jamal’s death sentence were carried out, there would be a strong likelihood of civil unrest, particularly in the Philadelphia area.
“I think that a lot of energy is being expended in taking the case through the system,” Chimurenga said. “The larger clamor is for a new trial. I think he should be released. I’m not interested in him going through the system again.”
Chimurenga has a radio show on KPFK and recently hosted a screening of “Justice on Trial,” a documentary that depicts events of the Abu-Jamal case.
Abu-Jamal continues to reach his supporters through published works, commentaries, articles and letters. His books are “Live From Death Row,” “Death Blossoms,” “All Things Censored,” “Faith of Our Fathers,” “We Want Freedom,” and “Jailhouse Lawyers.” Finally, interested persons may check out www.freemumia.org and bignoisefilms.org/mumia/timeline.pdf to view a timeline of events from Abu-Jamal’s arrest to his present status.