'Free Mumia' rally overcomes police intimidation
Published May 3, 2007 1:43 AM
Try as they might, intimidation and terror tactics by the Philadelphia police,
including death threats, could not stop an important solidarity and
informational rally for Mumia Abu-Jamal on April 24. Hundreds came out to
demand justice, due process and freedom for this political prisoner and death
Actor Danny Glover speaks at
‘Free Mumia’ rally.
WW photo: Joe Piette
Each year at this time has seen a rally marking Abu-Jamal’s birthday. The
one this year was particularly significant, however, because his case is
finally going to be taken up by the U.S. Third District Court of Appeals on May
17. As a result, police intensified their campaign to frighten supporters away.
But they did not succeed.
Police first targeted the Clef Club—an African-American jazz club that
receives public funding—and forced it to cancel its contract to host the
Mumia event. However, the Third World Coalition at the American Friends Service
Center stepped up and provided an alternative meeting space.
The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) put pressure on invited speakers, including
actor/activist Danny Glover and Delacy Davis, founder of Black Cops Against
Police Brutality, who told the rally he had received over 20 death threats from
Philadelphia police officers in the last few weeks. Glover and Davis also spoke
at a press conference prior to the evening rally.
Pam Africa, head of International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia
Abu-Jamal, says that when all this couldn’t stop the rally from taking
place, she was informed by the head of the police Civil Affairs Unit that
“400 plain-clothed police carrying weapons” would march on the
Friends Center to “confront” the rally.
Africa then called on the progressive community to unite and stand against what
Michael Coard, an attorney for Abu-Jamal, aptly described to the rally as
“creeping fascism.” The movement answered her call in one of the
most united and spirited rallies Philadelphia has seen for some time.
Meanwhile, outside the hall the police mob—which turned out to be a
little more than 100 nearly all-white, all-male cops—met a strong showing
of Mumia supporters, including Delacy Davis. The police were unable to disrupt
‘The place to be’
Danny Glover opened the press conference with a quote from the late Ossie Davis
who, when asked why he was at an event for righting an injustice said,
“This is where I am supposed to be.”
Glover continued: “This is a critical moment in the fight for Mumia
Abu-Jamal. Every moment has been critical, but at some place we have to let due
process take its course.
“Over the past 25 years that process has been subverted, not only in the
case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, but wherever people are not empowered. The basic
intent of denying people their rights has been to
create a climate of fear. They don’t want us to ask the right questions.
How do we define the truth that’s been denied in this case and
consistently denied to people of color?”
Later, at the solidarity rally, Glover challenged the police to take
responsibility for their brutality against oppressed communities. “When I
walk outside, I see a fraternity of policemen gather to attempt to desecrate
what we do here to hold up justice. When will these same police walk out to the
community and apologize for what they have done to African Americans? When will
they confess to all that they have done?
“Mumia talked about education. We need to know the history of this
movement. People who stood up around justice, civil rights, we saw it
dismantled through the murder of our leaders; then through the drugs when the
system decided it would no longer provide the bread to sustain our communities.
We saw our brothers be turned around by the viciousness of this profit system.
We’ve watched it happen. I am a child of the civil rights movement. We
know the history of lies, of torture. Now we demand a new history—that we
make our own history—you are a testament to that. Free
Delacy Davis of the Black police organization described the climate of racism,
sexism and homophobia within the police force that led him to retire after 20
years of service in New Jersey: “I had to stand up and say to white
America, ‘No, we don’t accept this.’ We know everything about
the workings of this system to see the writing on the wall in Mumia’s
case. We call for his right to a new trial.
“I had to show up today. They can try to kill me if that’s what
they want—it’s a climate of intimidation. It is so painful for me
to return to Philadelphia today with this case because of what our staff has
gone through in the past four weeks with threats like ‘We’re going
to pinch him tonight if they show up.’ But we are the police; we will
shoot back. If I must die, I will stand up as a man. If dissenting voices are
not going to be allowed, you can’t call yourself a democracy.
“I witnessed the Ku Klux Klan in the South growing up and what I just saw
was reminiscent. The few black police out there tonight ‘go along to get
along,’ but I challenge my colleagues. We are not going to go along with
Black people who support white supremacy.”
Temple professor and journalist Linn Washington Jr. addressed the climate of
racism that is a key factor in the FOP’s efforts to deny justice and due
process to Abu-Jamal. Washington compared the virulent nature of the police
intimidation campaign against the Clef Club to the racist commentary that got
shock-jock Don Imus fired.
“The struggle today around Mumia is not new. In the 1850s Frederick
Douglass said that tyrants hate free speech. We are here today in this venue
because there are those who tried to suppress free speech. But the question
that needs to be asked is, if Mumia is as guilty as they claim him to be, if
the evidence is so overwhelming, if it’s ‘an open-and-shut
case,’ why are they protesting outside? Officers involved in the arrest
of Mumia in 1981 were later fired and indicted for corruption in cases
involving suppression of evidence.”
Abu-Jamal was charged with the killing of a white police officer named Daniel
Faulkner. Washington asked why there have been no similar FOP campaigns around
the murders of Black police officers in 1981, the year Mumia was arrested.
“In May 1981 a drug dealer ripped off the car of an off-duty police
officer, shot him in the head and went joy riding. If anyone deserved the death
penalty for premeditated murder, this one did, but he had a competent attorney.
That officer was Black—that’s why you don’t hear about
“They have fought to keep Mumia from having a fair trial, an impartial
jury,” Washington concluded. “The jury has never heard the evidence
because the prosecutor suppressed the evidence.”
Other speakers included Ramona Africa, survivor of the May 13, 1985, State
Police fire bombing of a house belonging to the MOVE organization; Harold
Wilson, the 123rd death row resident to be exonerated; and attorney/activist
Lynne Stewart, who described the upcoming appeal as “Mumia’s last,
best shot.” Stewart noted that Mumia’s chances before the U.S.
Supreme Court, given last week’s abortion ruling, would be nil. “As
a lawyer I know that what happens outside the courtroom is as important as what
happens inside. Because Mumia was an outspoken critic of the corrupt
Philadelphia police department, when they got him near a murder, boy their cups
“Let’s get him a new trial, but let’s never forget that Mumia
is innocent,” she concluded.
Sundiata Sadiq, leader of the Ossining, N.Y., NAACP, noted that Philadelphia
area radio host Michael Smerconish is scheduled to be simulcast on MSNBC in
place of Don Imus. Smerconish served as a lawyer and fund raiser for the FOP
and has been a leader in its public campaigns against Abu-Jamal.
Appeals to be heard May 17
Michael Coard, a Philadelphia-based attorney for the case, reviewed key pieces
of evidence that point to Abu-Jamal’s innocence: inconclusive ballistics
tests; Abu-Jamal’s weapon was a 38-caliber gun but a 44-caliber bullet
was found in Faulkner; claims by the police that Abu-Jamal confessed right
after the shooting were made months later and contradicted statements from
witnesses that he never said anything; and the state’s failure to provide
evidence of a paraffin test. “Police and the district attorney claimed
they did not do this test,” Coard said. “They did it, but it came
back negative. That’s why they never introduced it as
Coard also reviewed key issues to be raised in the May 17 appeal regarding
prosecutorial misconduct and racism in the case. One involves the use of
peremptory challenges in jury selection. Coard explained that while both the
defense and prosecution are allowed to challenge 15 prospective jury members
without explanation, race cannot be a factor. However, in Abu-Jamal’s
case 11 of the prosecution’s 15 challenges were used to get rid of Black
Another issue is the legality of the prosecutor’s instructions to the
jury minimizing the seriousness of a guilty verdict by stating that Abu-Jamal
would have “appeal after appeal.” The Pennsylvania Supreme Court
ruled against this same prosecutor in a similar case in 1986. A third appeal
concerns racist statements made by Judge Albert Sabo during hearings after
The meeting concluded with a standing ovation and a round of applause for the
AFSC’s Third World Coalition members, whose courageous stand against
police terror made this meeting possible.
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