A Brief Overview of Mumia’s Case

The case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a prisoner on Pennsylvania’s Death Row for 17 years, is one of the most important political cases of the 20th century. In many respects, the case has followed a track eerily reminiscent of the 1920′s trial and execution of the framed anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti.

As a high school student, Jamal was a founding member of the Philadelphia chapter of the Black Panther Party. Mumia’s FBI file began at age 14 when he protested a visit to Philly by the segregationist Presidential candidate George Wallace. Later, Mumia became a writer and radio journalist, developing a style that earned him the nickname “the voice of the voiceless.”

Mumia’s reporting exposed a corrupt Philadelphia police department and its war against the MOVE organization. Mumia became a police target himself: despite having no criminal record, FBI and local police surveillance of Mumia created a file some 700 pages long.

This was the background for the night of December 9, 1981. A shootout at 4 A.M. in a rough neighborhood of Center City, Philadelphia found police officer Daniel Faulkner dead and Mumia critically shot. Mumia was arrested and convicted of killing Faulkner in a trial full of irregularities and prejudice.

While on Death Row, Jamal was been locked alone in a cell 23 hours a day. His confidential legal mail has been opened and reproduced by prison authorities – copies of some of his letters to his attorney were even forwarded to the governor’s office. Since November 1996, journalists have been prohibited from filming or recording interviews with Mumia, who notes: “they don’t just want my death, they want my silence.”

In the early 1990s, he hired civil rights attorney Leonard Weinglass. A 300-page legal brief was filed challenging virtually every aspect of the prosecution case. Mumia’s defense team has unearthed many witnesses not brought forward at the time of the original trial in 1982 to support their contention that a third party, a black man or possibly two men, shot officer Faulkner and fled the scene.

The key point here is that if the shooter ran from the scene, this could not have been Mumia, who was found within minutes on the sidewalk near policeman Faulkner in a pool of blood. Mumia’s life was saved by emergency surgery.

In 1995 Mumia Abu-Jamal was only 10 days away from execution when massive worldwide protest forced the government to grant a temporary stay.

In 2011 Mumia Abu-Jamal’s death sentence is vacated and converted to life in prison. He is transferred to general population to serve the reminder of his life term.

For an in depth look at Mumia’s case over the years please visit our Timeline section.

Source: Michael Arnowitt, Fall, 1998 Issue of Northern Spy

Comments are closed.