Monday, September 18, 2006

Update on the Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal

A street named Mumia

By Betsey Piette
Published Sep 14, 2006 8:51 AM

Rafael Barontini, Julia Wright, Pam Africa and
Patrick Braoezec, representative to the French
National Assembly and a former mayor of Saint-Denis.
WW photo: Joe Piette

The importance of keeping the struggle to free Mumia Abu-Jamal front and center was brought home here Sept. 6 at a meeting welcoming French activists who had been instrumental in the naming of a street in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis in honor of the Pennsylvania journalist and world-renowned death row activist.

The delegation included Julia Wright, daughter of the late African-American author Richard Wright; Patrick Braoue zec, representative to the French National Assembly and a former mayor of Saint-Denis; and youth activist Rafael Barontini, coordinator of the Mumia Committee of Saint-Denis.

Saint-Denis is a working-class town of more than 100,000 people, 80 percent of whom are Black and/or Arab. It already has a Che Guevara Avenue, a Bobby Sands Street and streets named after Spanish victims of the Franco dictatorship. Rue Mumia Abu-Jamal runs alongside Human Rights Square near Nelson Mandela Stadium.

Along with the street naming in April, the St.-Denis Mumia Committee conducted a campaign to inform Saint-Denis residents—many themselves victims of police brutality—about Abu-Jamal’s case and its significance to the international struggle against the racist death penalty.

Barontini reported that when a group of right wingers tried to stage a “renaming” of Rue Mumia by pasting up a sign reading “Rue Daniel Faulkner”—the Phila del phia police officer Abu-Jamal was accused of shooting—local residents met them with hostility and forced them to leave.

A primary goal of the delegation from France was to counter a vicious campaign by the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and its allies, who are trying to prevent a new trial for Abu-Jamal. They have promoted anti-St. Denis resolutions at all levels of government. The resolutions, including one passed by Philadelphia City Council in May, are full of lies and distortions about the case, including newly concocted versions of the events of Dec. 9, 1981, when Faulkner was killed and Abu-Jamal was shot and brutally assaulted by Philadel phia police.

The Philadelphia City Council resolution also claims that Abu-Jamal has exhausted all appeals, ignoring the fact that the federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals, based in the city, approved Abu-Jamal’s request for an appeal on four counts last fall.

The delegation had been scheduled to meet with Philadelphia Mayor John Street, but decided to leave after being kept waiting for several hours. As they walked out, Street ran after them saying now they could meet, but Braouezec said no. He told Street that he wouldn’t meet with him after they were left for so long in the hall, but he’d be back with a delegation of French mayors to discuss Mumia Abu-Jamal’s case.

In his talk to the welcoming meeting, Braouezec described Saint-Denis as a working-class town with a strong tradition of welcoming immigrants. He raised the common struggles faced by the workers and poor, whether in Philadelphia or Harlem. Discrimination, police brutality, poverty, social injustice, segregation and unemployment all exist in France and were the primary causes of the uprisings there last November.

He concluded his talk with a quote from the late Ossie Davis: “Each generation has its moral obligation, and our obligation is to save Mumia Abu-Jamal.”
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French Mumia Support Arrives in Philly!

by Hans Bennett
Monday Sep 11th, 2006 1:03 PM

Pam Africa and other supporters has written up their own City Council Resolution to counter the previous one condemning French support for Mumia and are going to present it at Philadelphia City Hall for the City Council opening session first thing in the morning this Thursday, September 14. Africa emphatically urges people to arrive that morning to show support for the new resolution.

“Mumia's writing is so powerful. He's writing on death row against US imperial wars, all the while he's got guards looking over his shoulder. This is a magnificent example of resistance, and France thinks this too.”

Drawn to Mumia Abu-Jamal's death row case because of his inspiring resistance in the face of blatant injustice, Julia Wright is the daughter of the late, famed black writer Richard Wright. The author of such searing indictments of US racism as Native Son and Black Boy, Wright eventually exiled himself and his family to France when US racism became too much. The last straw for Wright was when a three year-old Julia was denied to use of a toilet inside a department store. Julia recounts how she was forced to pee outside and “wet the sidewalk like a dog. But my father was in a rage that took him to Paris with me and my mother.”

Julia Wright founded the French branch of Abu-Jamal's support network in 1995 when he came within ten days of execution. As Wright has continued organizing against the same US racism she experienced as a child, the support for Abu-Jamal in France and throughout the world has only grown. A few of his many international supporters include the Japanese Diet, the European Parliament, and members of both the British & German Parliaments.

Support from France has been extensive. In November, 2002 a delegation of more than 40 French supporters of Abu-Jamal traveled to Philadelphia to hand-deliver a 250,000 signature petition (demanding a new trial) to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania office at City Hall. However, the Supreme Court ultimately rejected the petition on grounds that it was not done on the official form created by the courts.

In 2003 he was declared an honorary citizen of Paris—the first time since Pablo Picasso was similarly honored in the 1970s. Furthermore, students in France now must study and write about Mumia's case as a high school graduation requirement.

Mumia Abu-Jamal has arguably become the world's most famous political prisoner.

Rue Mumia Abu-Jamal

In April, 2006, the Paris suburb St. Denis named a major street after Abu-Jamal. Located in the Cristino Garcia District of the city (named after an anti-Franco Spanish Republican), Rue Mumia Abu-Jamal leads directly to the largest sports stadium in Europe: “Nelson Mandela Stadium.”

Speaking at the inauguration ceremony, the Mayor of St. Denis, Didier Paillard declared that Mumia's struggle “is a symbol for justice, for the abolition of the Death Penalty, and for the respect of the fundamental rights of a human being. It is a symbol of resistance against a system which has the arrogance to reign over the world in the name of those same human rights that it tramples with complete impunity on its own soil.”

More than just a symbolic gesture, Palliard explained that the street-naming has a practical political objective. “International pressure can create the possibility of a significant advance, thus eliminating the risk of killing an innocent person.”

The reaction to Rue Mumia within Philadelphia and the US was predictable given the controversial history of Abu-Jamal's case. The national Fraternal Order of Police organization (longtime advocates of Abu-Jamal's execution) teamed up with local and state politicians to intimidate the city of St. Denis. Resolutions condemning St. Denis were introduced in the US Congress, the Pennsylvania State Senate, and the Philadelphia City Council. The resolutions propose a sanction of St. Denis or a US boycott of the city if the street name is not changed. While the resolution was passed unanimously in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper reported that the State Senate's passage with a 44-4 vote was “split along racial lines. The only 'no' votes came from African- American senators, all from Philadelphia.”

In early September, Julia Wright and two others traveled from France to confront those in the US condemning Rue Mumia. Joined by Pam Africa (coordinator of Mumia's support network) and other local supporters, the French contingent attempted to meet with Philadelphia Mayor John Street. After several hours of waiting for a meeting at the mayor's office, the delegates left in disgust so they could speak at the town meeting several blocks from City Hall that was organized by Abu-Jamal's local supporters.

At the town meeting, the visitors affirmed St. Denis' decision and refused to change the street name. “As long as the city of St. Denis exists, we will have Rue Mumia Abu-Jamal.”

The Voice of the Voiceless

In a 1982 trial replete with both well-documented racism, prosecutorial & judicial misconduct, coerced witnesses, and a denial of his constitutional right to represent himself, Abu-Jamal was convicted of killing white Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. Calling for a new trial, the international human rights organization Amnesty International recently declared the 1982 trial to be a
"violation of minimum international standards that govern fair trial procedures and the use of the death penalty,"

Early in his life Mumia was a public advocate of revolutionary political organizing and a harsh critic of the Philadelphia Police Department's white supremacist behavior. At the age of 15 he became the Lieutenant of Information for the Philadelphia chapter of the Black Panther Party. Besides writing locally for the Philly BPP, he also traveled to Oakland, California to work directly on the national BPP newspaper.

In the years before his arrest, he reported for the nation-wide NPR radio station as well as Philadelphia's WHAT, WKDU, WRTI, and WPEN stations. In early 1981 Mumia was featured as one of Philadelphia Magazine's “People to Watch,” recognized for bringing a “unique dimension to radio reporting.” The President of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists at the time of his Dec., 1981 arrest, Mumia's obvious sympathy for the underdog everywhere earned him the nickname “Voice of the Voiceless.”

Since his incarceration, the “Voice of the Voiceless” has only become more famous and influential. He has now written five books from death row. The most recent is a history of the Black Panther Party, titled We Want Freedom. He records weekly radio essays covering topics as diverse as US military aggression, feminism, popular culture, labor organizing, spirituality, police brutality, and the plight of other political prisoners.

Mumia's struggle has become a lighting rod for activists around the world organizing against racism, poverty, corporate media censorship, mass incarceration, political repression, and the death penalty. Many supporters see the attempted execution as the ultimate form of state censorship—demonstrating the revolutionary potential of alternative media and the subsequent lengths to which the powers that be will go to silence dissent.

Fighting For His Life: The Legal Update

In December, 2001 Federal District Court Judge William Yohn affirmed Abu-Jamal's guilt but overturned the death sentence. Citing the 1988 Mills v. Maryland precedent, Yohn ruled that sentencing forms used by jurors and Judge Sabo's instructions to the jury were confusing. Subsequently, jurors mistakenly believed that they had to unanimously agree on any mitigating circumstances in order to be considered as weighing against a death sentence.

Mumia's case is now in the federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham is appealing Yohn's overturning of the death penalty into one of life imprisonment. Mumia is appealing the affirmation of his guilty verdict.

If Yohn's death penalty ruling is overturned, a new execution date will be set for Mumia. But if his ruling is upheld, DA Abraham still has the option to impanel a new jury to rehear the penalty phase of Mumia's trial. This new jury could then sentence Mumia to death—regardless of the Third Circuit Court's ruling.

Because DA Abraham immediately appealed Yohn's death penalty decision, Mumia has never left death row, and is therefore unable to have such “privileges” as full-contact visits with family.

Since analysts agree that Mumia is highly unlikely to find a sympathetic ear in the US Supreme Court, the current phase is probably his last chance at obtaining a new trial. While the specter of execution still hangs over Mumia's head during this final appeal, there is also reason for hope. In December, 2005, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals announced the beginning of deliberations and shocked many by agreeing to consider two of Abu-Jamal's claims that had not been recognized as legitimate by Yohn in 2001.

Abu-Jamal's attorney Robert R. Bryan declared the December ruling to be “the most important decision affecting my client since his 1981 arrest, for it was the first time there was a ruling that could lead to a new trial and his freedom.” Bryan filed his brief this summer, and now the courts will consider the following four issues.

The first issue is whether the penalty phase of Mumia's trial violated the legal precedent set by the US Supreme Court's 1988 Mills v. Maryland ruling. This issue was Judge Yohn's grounds for overturning the death sentence and is currently being appealed by the Philadelphia DA.

The second issue had been “certified for appeal” by Yohn in 2001, meaning that while Yohn ruled against the claim, he felt it was strong enough that it should be considered by the appeals court above him. Known as the Batson claim, it addresses the prosecution's use of peremptory challenges to exclude African Americans from sitting on Mumia's jury. In 1986, the US Supreme Court ruled in Batson v. Kentucky that a defendant deserves a new trial if it can be proved that jurors were excluded on the grounds of race.

At Mumia's trial, Prosecutor McGill used 11 of his 15 peremptory challenges to remove black jurors that were otherwise acceptable jurors. While Philadelphia is 44% black, Abu-Jamal's jury was composed of ten whites and only two blacks. From 1977-1986 when current Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell was Philadelphia's District Attorney, the evidence of racism is striking: from 1977-86, the Philadelphia DA struck 58% of black jurors, but only 22% of white jurors.

The third issue is the legality of Prosecutor McGill's statement to the jury that minimized the seriousness of a verdict of guilt, by saying the verdict would not be final. McGill proclaimed that “if you find the Defendant guilty of course there would be appeal after appeal and perhaps there could be a reversal of the case, or whatever, so that may not be final.” McGill had previously used the same statement in another case that was later declared a mistrial (for precisely this reason) on appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

In 1986 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled against McGill in another case (Commonwealth v. Baker) on the same grounds. When Abu-Jamal addressed this same issue in his 1989 appeal with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the court reversed its decision on the legality of such a statement—ruling against Abu-Jamal's claim for a mistrial.

Incredibly, just one year later, in the very next case involving this same issue (Commonwealth v. Beasley), the State Supreme Court flip-flopped and restored the precedent. However, this would not affect the ruling against Mumia, because the court ruled that this precedent would only apply in “future trials.” Such outlandish behavior clearly suggests that the rulings were designed to specifically exclude Mumia's case from the “benefits” of the ruling.

The fourth issue regards the fairness of Mumia's 1995-97 PCRA hearings when the retired, 74-year-old Judge Sabo was called back specifically for Abu-Jamal's hearing. Besides the obvious unfairness of recalling the exact same judge to rule whether or not he had been fair in his original 1982 ruling, his actual PCRA bias has been extensively documented.

During the 1995 hearings, even the pro-execution Philadelphia Inquirer wrote that the “behavior of the judge in the case was disturbing the first time around—and in hearings last week he did not give the impression to those in the courtroom of fair mindedness. Instead, he gave the impression, damaging in the extreme, of undue haste and hostility toward the defense's case.”

Concluding the PCRA hearing, Sabo rejected all evidence and every witness presented by the defense as not being credible. Therefore, Sabo upheld all of the facts and procedures of the original trial as being correct.

“I'm Going To Help Them Fry The Nigger”

There is one more witness whose testimony challenges Sabo's integrity, but in 2003, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled against the defense's right to include her affidavit in their current federal appeal. Terri Mauer-Carter was working as a stenographer in the Philadelphia Court system on the eve of Abu-Jamal’s 1982 trail when she states that she overheard judge Sabo say in reference to the Abu-Jamal case that he was going to help the prosecution “fry the nigger.”

Journalist Dave Lindorff recently interviewed Mauer-Carter's boss, Richard Klein, who was with Mauer-Carter when she states she overheard Sabo. A Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge at the time, who now sits on PA's Superior Court, Klein told Lindorff: "I won't say it did happen, and I won't say it didn't. That was a long time ago." Lindorff considers Klein's refusal to firmly reject Mauer-Carter's claim to be an affirmation of her statement.

The 2003 state Supreme Court ruling was an affirmation of state Common Pleas Judge Patricia Dembe earlier ruling. Dembe argued that even if Maurer-Carter is telling the truth about about Sabo's intent to use his position as Judge to throw the trial and help the prosecution "fry the nigger," it doesn't matter. According to Dembe, since it "was a jury trial, as long as the presiding Judge's rulings were legally correct, claims as to what might have motivated or animated those rulings are not relevant."

Protest at City Council Opening Session Thursday!

As the battle in the courts is heating up, so to is the battle in the streets to apply pressure to the court system. Calling for people to “rise up” and make the courts accountable to the people, Pam Africa (coordinator of Mumia's support network) declared: “We understand that they're getting ready to kill another black revolutionary who has refused to bow down and suck up to his oppressor. Mumia's case represents all that is wrong with this system. We must take action now before it is too late!”

Pam Africa and other supporters has written up their own City Council Resolution to counter the previous one condemning French support for Mumia and are going to present it at Philadelphia City Hall for the City Council opening session first thing in the morning this Thursday, September 14. Africa emphatically urges people to arrive that morning to show support for the new resolution. After listing twelve points of fact, the resolution concludes by stating:

FURTHER RESOLVED, That the Council-

1) Continues to condemn and lament the murder of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner.
2) Urges legal and legislative officials and bodies to allow hearing of all evidence pertinent to Mr. Faulkner's murder and to Mr Abu-Jamal's claim of innocence.
3) Affirms that different city government entities such as those in Saint-Denis, France, and different sovereign national governments throughout the world, have a right to varying viewpoints, and to express them as they see fit, on the internationally case of Mumia Abu-Jamal and on the death penalty.

“Conventional wisdom would have one believe that it is insane to resist this, the mightiest of empires...But what history really shows is that today's empire is tomorrow's ashes, that nothing lasts forever, and that to not resist is to acquiesce in your own oppression. The greatest form of sanity that one can exercise is to resist that force that is trying to repress, oppress, and fight down the human spirit.”--

Mumia Abu-Jamal

9/3/06 Legal update from Attorney Robert Bryan

[Note: "help'em fry the ni - - er" was misspelled only to avoid email profanity filters that would prevent this urgent message from reaching some recipients if the text were to be copied for email distribution]

From Mumia Abu-Jamal's Lead counsel, Robert Bryan -

Dear Friends: On October 4, 2006, our Reply Brief in response to the briefs submitted by the district attorney will be filed on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal in the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, Philadelphia. This is pursuant to a September 1 court order. We continue to aggressively pursue relief for Mr. Abu-Jamal. On July 20, Professor Judith L. Ritter, associate counsel, and I filed a lengthy opening brief supported by voluminous exhibits. A week later NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., through Christine Swarns filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief. A separate amicus curiae brief was filed for the National Lawyers Guild by Jill Soffiyah Elijah of the Harvard Law School, Professor Zachary Wolfe of George Washington University Law School, and Heidi Boghosian, its Executive Director. They were joined by the National Conference of Black Lawyers, International Association of Democratic Lawyers, Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice of Harvard Law School, Southern Center for Human Rights, and the National Jury Project. These amicus briefs greatly strengthen our quest to protect the constitutional rights of Mr. Abu-Jamal and secure a reversal. This case concerns my client's right to a fair trial, and the struggle against the death penalty and the political repression of an outspoken journalist. Racism and politics are threads that have run through this case since his 1981 arrest. The issues under consideration by the court are complex and of great significance under the United States Constitution, include:

1. Whether Mr. Abu-Jamal was denied the right to due process of law and a fair trial under the Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments because of the prosecutor's "appeal after appeal" argument that called upon the jurors to disregard the right to the presumption of innocence and reasonable doubt, and err on the side of guilt.

2. Whether the prosecutor's use of peremptory challenges to exclude African Americans from sitting on the jury violated Mr. Abu-Jamal's right to due process and equal protection of the law under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments and contravened the prohibition against racism in jury selection held in Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986).

3. Whether the verdict form and jury instructions that resulted in the death penalty deprived Mr. Abu-Jamal of rights guaranteed by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to due process of law, equal protection of the law, and not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment, and violated Mills v. Maryland, 486 U.S. 367 (1988), since the judge precluded jurors from considering any mitigating evidence unless they all agreed on the existence of a particular special circumstance.

4. Whether Mr. Abu-Jamal was denied due process and equal protection of the law under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments during post-conviction proceedings as a result of the bias of Judge Albert F. Sabo which included the statement that he was going to "help'em fry the ni - - er".

The case continues to move rapidly. Once the briefing phase is complete, we will present oral argument before a three-judge panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals. I will notify you when a date is eventually set.

Our purpose is to win this life-and-death struggle, gain a new and fair trial, and see our client walk out of jail a free person. However, Mr. Abu-Jamal remains in great danger. We must redouble our efforts to prevent his execution.

Thank you for your concern in this campaign for justice.

With best wishes,

Robert R. Bryan
Law Offices of Robert R. Bryan
2088 Union Street, Suite 4 San Francisco, California 94123
Lead counsel for Mumia Abu-Jamal

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