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‘Free Mumia” is more than a chant heard at rallies in support of Mumia Abu-Jamal. There’s a renewed logic to the refrain. After almost 30 years on Pennsylvania’s death row, and after Philadelphia prosecutors last week backed away from pursuing a death sentence and seek now to leave Abu-Jamal in prison for life, it makes good sense to release him.
Why now? Why were hundreds, including authors Cornel West of Princeton University and Vijay Prashad of Trinity College, expected to gather at the National Constitution Center on Friday to affirm, as Desmond Tutu said by video message, “Mumia must now be released”?
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Angela Davis, in her introduction to Mumia Abu Jamal‘s ’09 book Jailhouse Lawyers, called him one of the most important public intellectuals of our time. “As a transformative thinker,” she writes of Mumia, “he has always taken care to emphasize the connections between incarcerated lives and lives that unfold in the putative arenas of freedom.” In his newest book, The Classroom and the Cell: Conversations on Black Life in America with Marc Lamont Hill, Mumia thinks deeply and publicly about a broad range of issues, from Black feminism, to Obama‘s election and presidency, to hip-hop, mass incarceration, public education and the Black church. He quotes Thomas Paine as easily as he references bell hooks. As a man whose spent 30 years on Death Row insisting he’s innocent of murdering Officer Daniel Faulkner, he’s remarkably free of bitterness. He self-describes as a “free Black man living in captivity.”
The incredible news, delivered just yesterday, that Mumia will no longer face the death penalty came just two days before the day that marks his 30th year in prison, December 9th. At the press conference announcing his office’s vacating the death sentence, District Attorney Seth Williams promised Mumia would spend the rest of his life in prison. Still, it was a victory for Mumia and for the Free Mumia campaign, one of the most famous and international of its kind. The support rally in Philly this Friday to mark his three decades is certain to be a call to the many millions across the world who are convinced of Mumia’s innocence, to recommit to his campaign for a new trial and freedom. Guest speakers Cornel West, Michelle Alexander and rapper Immortal Technique couldn’t have anticipated Wednesday’s announcement or the certain boost it’ll provide the rally.
This interview was conducted via letters. Mumia’s answers to my few questions arrived a week before the announcement that his three decades on death row have finally ended.
Read the full interview HERE
Jasiri X Interviews Marc Lamont Hill About The New Book That he Wrote With Mumia Abu-Jamal “The Classroom And The Cell” – Directed By Paradise Gray For 1Hood Media. (Filmed at the The University Of Pittsburgh’s “Evolving the Image Summit”)
Cornel West at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia December 9 speaks in support of Mumia Abu Jamal.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu Demands the Release of Mumia Abu-Jamal
For more video, audio, and photos of the event go HERE
Everyone has heard the phrase “Free Mumia” — but Christina Swarns, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s director of criminal practice, has been working for eight years to do just that. She’s a member of the team that represented Mumia Abu-Jamal in appeals of his controversial murder conviction and death sentence for the 1981 murder of a white police officer.
The case of the former Black Panther, journalist and social commentator is known worldwide because of the widespread perception that he was the victim of an unjust and racist system.
Swarns and her colleagues saw a victory this week, when, after a court battle that spanned 30 years, Philadelphia prosecutors announced that they would drop their pursuit of the death penalty for Abu-Jamal.
The Root talked to Swarns about what the development means, what’s next for her client and what the famous case represents about American criminal justice.
The Root: How does this development further the interests of justice?
CS: First of all, law for the worst of the worst offenders reserves the death penalty. And Mumia does not fit that description. He had zero history of violence, he was a family man, he was a journalist and he’s been incarcerated for 30 years with no violence or disciplinary problems in prison. He’s become a remarkable thinker and commentator on criminal-justice and social-justice issues. By no stretch of the definition does he meet the definition of worst of the worst. The death penalty for him was absolutely not appropriate.
TR: What’s next in this case?
CS: Well, the immediate next step is to get him off death row. He’s under 23 and one lockdown, meaning he spends 23 hours a day in his cell, by himself. The next step is to get him out of extreme solitary-confinement conditions so for the first time in 23 years he can hug his family. His contact with his wife, his children, with us [his legal team] has been from behind glass.
TR: This, case, like the Troy Davis case, inspired a pubic dialogue about the death penalty and criminal justice overall. Why did they inspire such a strong reaction?
CS: I think they both really clearly demonstrate the shortcomings of how the American death-penalty system works. In Mumia’s case, this is a person who never should have had the death penalty. In Troy Davis’ case as well, it just shows that something happens in the process where decisions are made, and when a light is shined on them and you get an objective, clear look at them, they don’t make any sense at all.
The reaction shows the discomfort people are having with the death penalty. There’s no question people are being wrongfully convicted. Both cases are really good examples of how unreliable evidence can still yield convictions.
TR: Who’s the next Mumia? Who else is on death row despite questionable evidence against them?
CS: I represent people throughout the South in death cases, and my colleagues represent people condemned thought this country. In every case I have handled, there are similar issues to Mumia’s case — improper jury instructions, evidence of mitigation that’s not presented and evidence of prosecutorial misconduct.
The problem with Mumia’s case is that it’s not at all unique. The story is being told and retold in courtrooms around the country. It is the norm, not the exception.
Jenée Desmond-Harris is a contributing editor to The Root.