January 17, 2010
Mumia Abu-Jamal, an innocent man on death row and the world’s best-known political prisoner, now faces an immediate new threat to his life from the US Supreme Court. The Court ruled last year on Mumia’s appeal, by summarily refusing to even consider a reversal of his unjust 1982 murder conviction in a blatantly racist court. And last week, the Supreme Court discussed a cross-appeal by the State of Pennsylvania to reinstate Mumia’s death sentence, which had been put on hold by a federal court in 2001. A ruling could be announced as early as Tuesday this week.
It would be an illusion to expect good news. Supporters should stay tuned, and be prepared to participate in actions to free Mumia!
The Vendetta Against Mumia
In making it’s flat-out rejection of Mumia’s appeal (which it did without making any statement), the Supreme Court had to knowingly violate its own precedent in the 1986 Batson v Kentucky decision. This ruling famously said that purging a jury on the basis of race was unconstitutional. In Mumia’s case, at least 10 black jurors were excluded for reasons not applied to their white counterparts. Under Batson, such violations require that the conviction be thrown out!
But this was Mumia Abu-Jamal, the falsely accused “cop killer.” And while evidence of his innocence has always been available, along with evidence of the corruption of the cops who framed him, Mumia is the object of a world-wide vendetta led by the Fraternal Order of Police and numerous pundits and politicians. So an exception was made.
The Spisak Case
Meanwhile, the 2001 federal district court decision (besides upholding Mumia’s conviction) said that Mumia’s death sentence resulted from improper instructions to the jury. The trial judge’s instructions to the jury on sentencing had said that a decision had to be unanimous, even on mitigating factors that could result in a sentence of life in prison, instead of death. This violated another Supreme Court precedent, Mills v Maryland, which held that such mitigating factors required only a simple majority.
After tossing out Mumia’s appeal in 2009, the Court took it’s time on the State’s cross-appeal, because another case, Smith v Spisak, dealt with the same issue of jury instructions in sentencing. Frank Spisak is a neo-Nazi who made racist statements in court, wore a Hitler mustache, and confessed to three hate-crime murders in Ohio. The two cases could hardly be more different, yet appeals courts threw out death sentences in both on the basis of the Mills decision. But now, on January 12th, the Supreme Court has reinstated Spisak’s death sentence. The decision on Mumia followed shortly thereafter, and the implications are clear. The Spisak decision could open the door to what the cops, courts and ruling class generally want to do most: legally murder Mumia!
The Supreme Court said Mills didn’t apply to Spisak for various reasons (that don’t seem to apply to Mumia), but the legal ins and outs aren’t the point. The point is that the entire legal system is at the service not of the law, but of power in society.
As Mumia Abu-Jamal said in a recent interview, “[Spisak’s] case differs from mine substantially, not just in terms of facts, but also in terms of law. But the law is the tool of those in power, so how they use it doesn’t depend on the law; it depends on power.” (-Free Speech Radio News, 15 January 2010).
The Question of Innocence!
As an award-winning radical journalist, former Black Panther, and critic of police brutality and malfeasance, Mumia Abu-Jamal is considered an enemy of the state. As such, legal decisions have systematically gone against him, regardless of the law. Batson is only one example of this “Mumia exception.”
Manufacturing false confessions, planting evidence, corrupting “witnesses” to say they saw what they didn’t see–all of these “illegal” tricks were used against Mumia. The real evidence points to Mumia’s innocence, including another man who confessed, witnesses who said Mumia didn’t shoot anybody but who were never called to testify, and photos of the crime scene that show that police lied. But very little of this has ever been heard in court.
Rather than follow the “law,” the criminal justice system follows a simple rule: “If we want to get you, we will.” The US Supreme Court (Herrera v Collins), and the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (signed by Bill Clinton in 1996), have effectively said: innocence is no defense!
The Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal has never thought that calling for a new trial, or appealing to the US Justice Department to right the wrongs that they helped create, were anything more than distractions, getting in the way of a mass, working-class movement to free Mumia.
Mumia is a class-war prisoner, and it will take a class struggle to free him: that was position of longshore workers in the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) when they shut down all the ports on the West Coast in 1999, and headed the march in San Francisco, to free Mumia. Oakland teachers, and teachers in Rio de Janeiro Brazil also took work actions to support Mumia. Only this kind of working-class action, combined with mass mobilizations, can defeat a determined frame-up by cops, courts and politicians. Mumia Abu-Jamal is now in imminent danger of a new execution order, so the need for action is urgent. For workers action to free Mumia!
Stay in touch for demonstration details this week.
The Labor Action Committee To Free Mumia Abu-Jamal
PO Box 16222 Oakland CA 94610