Philadelphia From the Mumia Cause Celebre
Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.), who is running in next year’s election for mayor
of Philadelphia, set off a major firestorm last week when he said that
he supports a new trial for convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal. The
city’s Fraternal Order of Police condemned Fattah strongly and vowed to
ensure his defeat. The flap raised the bizarre specter of an election in
2007 hinging on a murder case from 1981.
hardly be the most absurd event connected to the Mumia case since the
murder, 25 years ago this week, of Philadelphia police officer Daniel
Faulkner, allegedly by Abu-Jamal, a sometime radio journalist who had
ties to both the Black Panther Party and MOVE.
was convicted of the crime and sentenced to death the following year,
and as the case has winded its way through the appeals process for a
quarter century it has, somewhat bizarrely, become a worldwide cause
celebre. As it now stands, Abu-Jamal is no longer on death row, but
remains a convicted murderer, and no new trial is presently scheduled.
I think I
first heard about the Mumia case from some activists in my high school
in the mid 1990s. Indeed, “Free Mumia,” along with “Free Tibet,” was a
hugely popular cause among leftist types throughout the ‘90s, before
George W. Bush came along to draw up their ire several notches.
had “Free Mumia” meetings, and numerous rock stars, most notably Rage
Against the Machine, took up his cause at the time too. And even more
bizarrely, Abu-Jamal recently had a street named after him in a Paris
suburb, and was invited, via video, to deliver commencement addresses at
such hippie-friendly institutions as Evergreen State College in
Washington state and Antioch College in Ohio. (And to think, some at my
university found Shimon Peres “too controversial.”)
pro-Faulkner side hasn’t been silent, however. Police in the past have
refused to provide security services at Rage Against the Machine’s
concerts. A section of Roosevelt Boulevard in Northeast Philadelphia was
renamed the “Daniel Faulkner Memorial Highway” in 2001. And Joseph
Vento, the owner of Geno’s Steaks in South Philadelphia who came under
fire this year when he adopted an “English-only” policy, has also posted
memorials to Faulkner on his front window.
plan rallies in Philadelphia to put forward their respective causes.
evidence that I have seen and heard over the years, it seems a slam dunk
that Abu-Jamal is guilty of the crime with which he is charged, and I’ve
always found it a bit shameful that those who claim to fight for “social
justice” would take up the cause of a man who may very well have
murdered a police officer. And besides, I always felt as though much of
the pro-Mumia feeling had more to do with pure opposition to the death
penalty than with any sort of widespread belief that he was an innocent
been some questions raised about whether or not Abu-Jamal received a
fair trial in 1982, although much of that had to do with the defendant
adopting the Black Panther Party’s traditional tactic, later adopted by
Saddam Hussein, of refusing to cooperate and disrupting every day of the
trial. Abu-Jamal also demanded throughout that he be allowed to have
MOVE founder John Africa represent him. (MOVE was the radical “back to
nature” group that was infamously bombed by Philadelphia police in
It is an
unfortunate feature of American life these days that when a policeman is
shot by a citizen, or vice versa, public reaction seems to come down
entirely along racial lines. We’re seeing it now, in fact, with the
recent police shooting in New York of an unarmed man as he was leaving
his bachelor party, which caused Jesse Jackson to quickly leave Michael
Richards’ side and catch the next plane to LaGuardia.
of such things would be wise to let the facts be their guide, rather
than pure identity politics. And in a city with more than enough racial
unrest as it is, it would be nice if next year’s mayoral race could not
revolve around a racially charged murder from 25 years ago.
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