Back Panther activist and award-winning journalist, Mumia Abu-Jamal has been a death row prisoner since 1981. Amnesty International have conducted a “full analysis” of the case which took place in Philadelphia “against the backdrop of a city of racial tensions, police brutality and police corruption.”
In light of the contradictory and incomplete evidence in this case, Amnesty International can take no position on the guilt or innocence of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Nor has the organization identified him as a political prisoner, although it has previously expressed its concern over the activities of a government counterintelligence program, which appeared to number Abu-Jamal among its targets (see page 24). However, the organization is concerned that political statements attributed to him as a teenager were improperly used by the prosecution in its efforts to obtain a death sentence against him. In any event, the administration of the death penalty in the USA remains a highly politicized affair, sanctioned and supported by elected officials for its perceived political advantages. The politicization of Mumia Abu-Jamal’s case may not only have prejudiced his right to a fair trial, but may now be undermining his right to fair and impartial treatment in the appeal courts……..
Based on its review of the trial transcript and other original documents, Amnesty International has determined that numerous aspects of this case clearly failed to meet minimum international standards safeguarding the fairness of legal proceedings. Amnesty International therefore believes that the interests of justice would best be served by the granting of a new trial to Mumia Abu-Jamal.
The AI report raises a number of very serious questions on the fairness of the trial:
***Media coverage of the case which repeatedly referred to Mumia’s political and religious beliefs
***The trial judge – a “hanging judge” and someone who was listed as a member of the “National Sheriffs Association, ”retired Fraternal Order of Police” (FOP) and as associated with the Police Chiefs’ Association of South East Pennsylvania.”
***Poor representation by the initial trial lawyer
***Lack of resources at Mumia’s disposal “Mumia Abu-Jamal’s lack of meaningful legal representation was compounded by the refusal of Judge Ribner, the pre-trial judge, to grant the defence adequate funds to employ an investigator, pathologist or ballistics expert.”
***Conflicting and confusing testimonies by witnesses
The Jury….An appeal which is being submitted to the Supreme Court in December, centres on the key issue: that racism kept some Black people off the jury which convicted him. The prosecutor removed 10 Black people and five white people from the jury — that is he removed twice as many Black people from the jury than white people. If the Court accepts that there was racism in the selection of the jury, Mumia will get a new trial.
The US Justice system has repeatedly proved itself racist and unjust. Case such as that of Edward Earl Johnson who was found to be innocent after his state execution and Troy Davis to name two high profile cases amongst hundreds.
Selma James of the Global Women’s Strike and editor of a forthcoming book, Jailhouse Lawyers: Prisoners Defending Prisoners v the USA by Mumia Abu-Jamal, comments on the international significance of Mumia’s case.
Through his writings and radio broadcasts from death row, Mumia is known as “the voice of the voiceless” and is a spokesperson for the growing anti-death penalty movement. As a Black president enters the White House inspiring hope for change, people everywhere ask if racism will still shape the lives of grassroots Americans. Victory for Mumia can save the more than 3,000 people on death row — the majority people of colour. Defeating racism in jury selection strengthens anti-racism everywhere.
The issue of racism is highlighted even more when the death penality [which even if a person is guilty is no deterrent and only serves as a form of vindictive retributive punishment] is applied because there is no going back on the public or private lynching of Black men.