Click Here North Star Writers Group
Syndicated Content.
Eric Baerren
Lucia de Vernai
Herman Cain
Dan Calabrese
Alan Hurwitz
Paul Ibrahim
David Karki
Llewellyn King
Nathaniel Shockey
Stephen Silver
Candace Talmadge
Jessica Vozel
Feature Page
David J. Pollay - The Happiness Answer
Cindy Droog - The Working Mom
The Laughing Chef
Mike Ball - What I've Learned So Far
Bob Batz - Senior Moments
D.F. Krause - Business Ridiculous
Stephen Silver
  Stephen's Column Archive

December 6, 2006

Free Philadelphia From the Mumia Cause Celebre


U.S. Rep. 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.


It would 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.


Abu-Jamal 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.


My college 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.”)


The 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.


Both sides plan rallies in Philadelphia to put forward their respective causes.


Based on 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 man.


There have 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 1985.)


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.


Observers 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.


To offer feedback on this column, click here.

© 2006 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


Click here to talk to our writers and editors about this column and others in our discussion forum.


To e-mail feedback about this column, click here. If you enjoy this writer's work, please contact your local newspapers editors and ask them to carry it.

This is Column # SS20. Request permission to publish here.