Photo By Joe Piette
Washington Protest Demands “Justice For Mumia”
By Betsey Piette
Over 25,000 letters calling on U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to conduct a civil rights investigation of the 28 year conspiracy to execute death row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal were delivered to the doors of the Department of Justice in Washington at the end of a spirited march and rally on Nov. 12.
The letter campaign took on world-wide momentum earlier this year after Holder called for the dismissal of charges against Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska on the basis that prosecutors in that case withheld evidence favorable to the defense.
The letters to Holder on Mumia’s behalf make it clear that in addition to a similar pattern of evidence being withheld in his case, courts on local, state and federal levels have all violated their own rules to keep Abu-Jamal on death row. The letters make a point that rules that apply for a powerful, wealthy U.S. senator like Stevens should apply as well to an African-American political activist.
Despite a December 2001 ruling by Federal District Court Judge William Yohn that converted the death sentence in Abu-Jamal’s case to life in prison, he remains on death row and his life in jeopardy because of efforts by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office to appeal Yohn’s decision. Abu-Jamal has exhausted other federal appeals seeking a new trial in his case.
Meanwhile Seth Williams, who was elected earlier in November as the first African-American to hold the position of Philadelphia District Attorney, campaigned on the basis of support for reinstating the death sentence in Abu-Jamal’s case.
Dr. Suzanne Ross from the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition, who chaired the press conference and indoor rally at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, told how for 13 years the prosecution withheld evidence that a driver’s license belonging to a passenger in the car driven by Mumia’s brother William Cook was found in the pocket of slain police officer Daniel Faulkner.
Attorney Thomas Ruffin who outlined the legal issues in Abu-Jamal’s case told of photos taken by independent photographer Pedro Polakoff who arrived at the scene of the Dec. 9, 1981 shooting before the police forensics team. These pictures exposed the lies told by key prosecution witnesses during the trial. The prosecution, who had access to these pictures, never shared information of their existence with the defense.
Ruffin noted that there was no proof that Abu-Jamal had his gun in hand when he arrived on the scene or that he had fired it. The prosecution never presented paraffin tests for gunshot residue. The prosecution claimed that this standard test administered to a defendant’s hands in cases when a gun was the murder weapon, had not been performed in Abu-Jamal’s case.
SOLIDARITY WITH MUSLIM POLITICAL PRISONERS
One of the significant aspects of the press conference and protest was the open solidarity with victims of the state’s COINTELPRO like campaign that has targeted over 400 Muslims and recently resulted in FBI agents gunning down and murdering Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah in Detroit on Oct. 31.
Several family members and supporters of the Fort Dix Five from N.J. attended the events. Leila Duka, the eleven year old daughter and niece of three of these Muslim political prisoners, spoke at the press conference. Two members of another Muslim prisoner, Shifa , came from Atlanta to take part, and organizers with Project Salam, an organization that works to draw attention to these and others cases, attended from Albany.
In an important act of solidarity plans for a separate protest at the Justice Dept. on Nov.21 to demand that Holder investigate the growing human rights violation of Muslims in the U.S. were changed in order to join forces on Nov 12. At the press conference several speakers made reference to the dangerous campaign growing against Muslims.
The array of support for Mumia Abu-Jamal was impressive. Fignole Saint-Cyr, President of the Autonomous Unions of Haiti delivered 986 signed letters collected on Abu-Jamal’s behalf and flew into Washington to attend a press conference earlier in the day. Saint-Cyr stated “Right now the world should observe American justice because the U.S. is supposed to stand for democracy. Justice should not be two-faced. Justice for Black people and for white people should be equal.”
Thousands of signed letters were also gathered in Germany where the city council in Munich passed a resolution demanding justice and a new trial for Mumia and the abolition of the death penalty in the U.S.
Letters were sent from S. African labor and political groups who had engaged in their own fight to overturn the racist apartheid system and recognized Abu-Jamal as a victim of racist injustice in the U.S. Other letters came from Japan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Spain, and throughout Latin America.
From the U.S. there were letters and resolutions from unions, churches, and national organizations including the NAACP and the National Lawyers Guild, as well as progressive politicians like Cynthia McKinney and Charles Rangel. Representatives of the NAACP, Amnesty International, the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, International Action Center, National Congress of Puerto Rican Rights, and the Riverside Church Prison Ministry spoke at the press conference.
In closing the indoor event Pam Africa, with the MOVE organization and International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, stated “Mumia was railroaded and the evidence is there. Mumia is not on trial here –the movement is. It’s up to us to stand up for what’s right.”