Dissecting May 13, 1985, Mumia Abu-Jamal’s May 17 oral arguments, the FOP, racism, police brutality, and mainstream media bias
"I think the level of fanaticism with Mumia’s case is a reaction to the level of support that he has received internationally. Further, I think the intense reactions revolve around race, specifically racism…plus Abu-Jamal’s identification with the Black Panther Party and MOVE. 'Law & Order' types hate the Black Panthers. And Philly police hate MOVE. Focusing anger on Abu-Jamal gives police a counter to criticism directed against them for persistent police brutality."
---Linn Washington, Jr.
The full text transcript and audio of the interview are available at Hans Bennett's blog, Insubordination
Interview by Hans Bennett
“Attention, MOVE: This Is America!” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sambor declared through a loudspeaker 22 years ago, minutes before the May 13, 1985 police assault on the revolutionary MOVE organization’s home. This assault killed 5 children and 6 adults, including MOVE founder John Africa. After police shot over 10,000 rounds of bullets into their West Philadelphia home, a State Police helicopter dropped a C-4 bomb, illegally supplied by the FBI, on MOVE’s roof. The bomb started a fire that eventually destroyed 60 homes: the entire block of a middle-class black neighborhood. Carrying the young Birdie Africa, the only other survivor, Ramona Africa dodged gunfire and escaped from the fire with permanent burn scars.
The 1985 police bombing was the culmination of many years of political repression by Philadelphia authorities. At the time of the 1985 confrontation, MOVE was working to publicize the imprisonment of the “MOVE 9”: Janine, Debbie, Janet, Merle, Delbert, Mike, Phil, Eddie, and Chuck Africa. These nine MOVE members were jointly sentenced in the 1978 killing of Officer James Ramp after a year-long police stakeout of MOVE’s Powelton Village home. Their parole hearings come up in August, 2008.
In this interview, veteran black journalist Linn Washington, Jr. talks about reporting on the city of Philadelphia’s confrontations with MOVE, mostly focusing on the August 8, 1978 standoff, and the subsequent evidence used to convict the MOVE 9 prisoners. Washington passionately critiques the mainstream Philadelphia media’s bias against MOVE: “when you look at the media coverage of MOVE, everything that was perceived as MOVE doing something wrong, was publicized. In contrast, the attacks on MOVE, the injustices, and the deprivations that they endured never found any coverage in the mainstream media.”
On May 17, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in the case of Linn Washington’s former colleague, black death-row journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal. Widely considered to be a political prisoner, Abu-Jamal was convicted of killing white Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in a 1982 trial that Amnesty International has declared a "violation of minimum international standards that govern fair trial procedures and the use of the death penalty."
Abu-Jamal is a longtime supporter of the MOVE organization, dating back to his days as a Philadelphia journalist in the 1970s. Since his imprisonment, MOVE has spearheaded the international support network for Abu-Jamal that is now organizing for a new trial.
Concerning the injustice in Abu-Jamal’s case, Washington is just as passionate in calling for a new trial, and in this interview, he documents the bias of the Philadelphia media: “It’s not for the press to take a position one way or the other, but it is the responsibility of the press to scrutinize all sides with the same rigor. One side (the Danny Faulkner side) can say anything they want, even if it makes no sense at all, yet it gets credibility and traction in the media. On the other side, Abu-Jamal’s side can say anything they want, and irrespective of the substance and factual accuracy, and they get no coverage at all.”
Washington concludes: “Where’s the journalistic fairness, balance, and accuracy? These are the three things that are supposed to be fundamental to journalism. Are they happening in this case? No, they are not.”
Linn Washington, Jr. is currently a columnist for the Philadelphia Tribune newspaper and a freelance journalist for publications nationwide. He writes extensively on matters involving the criminal justice system and racism. An Assistant Professor in the Journalism Department at Temple University in Philadelphia, he holds a Master Degree from the Yale Law School and a B.S. in Communications from Temple University.
This interview was conducted on May 8, 2007.
Hans Bennett: You recently traveled to France with recently exonerated death-row prisoner Harold Wilson and others?
Linn Washington, Jr.: I was over there for the one year anniversary of the naming of a street for Mumia, Rue Mumia Abu-Jamal, in St. Denis, just outside of Paris.
HB: How did that go?
LW: First, it was fascinating to me to actually see the street, considering the fact that the Philadelphia City Council, Pennsylvania State Senate, and US Congress were so outraged. This is the same US Congress that does nothing about global warming, health care for people without insurance, the Iraq war, etc., but it could take the time to order a town 3500 miles away to take a name off a street.
The incredible thing is that this street is about 150 paces long and sits between two one-way streets in a secluded section of St. Denis. This is not a place that The Tour de France or any tour buses will be going through because the streets are so small that you could not get a tour bus to the area. For this to cause so much consternation I think takes absurd into the level of obscene. The significance of the street for people in St. Denis is not its size but the symbolism of it standing for the notions of equal justice and a fair trial as represented in Abu-Jamal's struggle. So that’s my personal reaction.
In terms of the overall visit, there was a brief ceremony with 20-30 people that included the current Mayor of St. Denis and the previous Mayor who is now the equivalent of a congressman of that whole area, also one of the deputy Mayors, in a little park about a block away from the street. They were reaffirming why they had dedicated the street, and explained that they feel Mumia has not received a fair trial and they are calling on the United States to live up to the constitutional mandate that everyone receive a fair trial.
The US contingent included Suzanne Ross from the NYC Free Mumia Coalition, and Sundiata Sadiq, who is the President of the Ossining, NY chapter of the NAACP. Sadiq was the one that spearheaded the efforts that led to the national NAACP adopting a resolution calling on all of its chapters around the country to support Mumia getting a new trial. Curiously, for a civil rights organization that prides itself on being progressive, the President of the NY state chapter, Hazel Dukes, filed some very specious reason to suspend the Ossining chapter, which again takes absurdity into obscene dimensions.
HB: How do you explain such an intense reaction here at home?
LW: It typifies US arrogance where we can tell everyone what to do but we don’t actually practice what we preach. We are all over the world “installing democracy” literally at the barrel of a gun, or at the tip of a cruise missile, depending on which goes in first, yet we do not practice democracy here at home.
A couple examples:
There are strong reactions to this street and very little concern about what the case represents. There are fundamental flaws in our criminal justice system. Not only from the perspective of the death penalty, but all the way down to minor crimes like “breaking and entering,” where justice is not fair. Justice in America is a matter of how much money you have, where there is not “equal justice under the law” (which is THE PHRASE chiseled in stone at the entrance to the Supreme Court in Washington).
We don’t have equal justice under the law. There are some people who commit crimes and get virtually no criminal penalties, if they face any at all. Meanwhile, others get severe penalties for the same crimes committed under similar circumstances.
Let me give you an example close to home.
May 13, 1985, what happened? Police conducted a raid in the 6200 block of Osage Avenue in West Philadelphia. Essentially to fulfill misdemeanor warrants, the Police Commissioner authorized the dropping of a bomb that caused a fire, and the Ppolice Commissioner gave the unconscionable order to let the fire burn. MOVE members attempted to exit the building with temperatures as high as 2000 degrees, according to subsequent investigations, but were shot at and forced back inside. In the end, 11 people in the house were incinerated, including 5 children. 61 homes were completely destroyed and 250 people were homeless.
Not a single police officer or city official even faced any kind of criminal prosecution. Note that this is totally separate from whether they should have been convicted of crimes committed that day. Given the fact that there were a series of crimes committed, they should have at least faced their day in court. That is equal justice where no one is above the law. The District Attorney, Ed Rendell (now Governor) initially refused to do a Grand Jury investigation. That was a dereliction of duty. The subsequent DA, Ron Castille, who now sits on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, did do an investigation and just white-washed it. He claimed nobody that day had criminal intent that day, which is a very specious argument.
However, there are crimes that could have been brought against the Police and Fire Commissioners which were not “intent based” crimes. Maybe murder and arson are intent based, but “risking catastrophe” and “reckless endangerment” are based on what happened as a result of the actions.
This grand jury, under the control of the DA’s office issued a report written by the DA’s office stating that charges won’t even be brought against police officers, who had been caught lying to the grand jury. Lying to a grand jury is a crime called perjury, and perjury is a crime all day and every day. The Grand Jury Report stated it would be unfair to bring perjury charges against low-ranking police officers, when, in fact, top city officials were at least morally responsible for what had happened on Osage Ave. on May 13th.
Well a crime is a crime, and equal justice would mean that you bring charges against all who committed crimes…particularly since most major investigations begin with charges against lowly folks who provide evidence on higher ups. So, on many levels, America doesn’t practice what it preaches. So that is under girding the reaction to Rue Mumia.
Let me give you another example.
In the early 90’s in New York City an Irish Republican Army operative, named Joe Doherty, was being held at a jail in NYC. He had been convicted in Northern Ireland of murdering a British Special Forces officer during one of the IRA’s clashes with the British. Set aside for the moment the propriety of what was going on there, and whether the IRA were actually terrorists or were fighting for their homeland. The fact of the matter is that Britain is a major US ally and Dogherty had been convicted of murdering a British military officer. He escapes from Northern Ireland and comes to the US as a fugitive, hides out a couple years and is eventually arrested, and is being held in a federal detention facility. Efforts by the US government to deport him and send him back, were countered by officials in NYC and about 100 members of Congress.
They’re standing up for this convicted murderer on the claim that he did not receive a fair trial in Northern Ireland. In 1990, as a part of this effort to Free Joe Doherty, his supporters authorized the renaming of the street in front of the federal prison in Manhattan, and renamed it to Joe Doherty Corner.
Here you have officials rename a street for a convicted murderer, but then people are outraged when France does the same thing for an alleged cop-killer on the same basis, that they don’t feel that Abu-Jamal received a fair trial. Hypocrisy, contradictions, double-standards of justice, you choose the name.
HB: What do you think it is about Mumia’s case in particular that causes such a fanatical reaction?
LW: I think the level of fanaticism with Mumia’s case is a reaction to the level of support that he has received internationally. Further, I think the intense reactions revolve around race, specifically racism…plus Abu-Jamal’s identification with the Black Panther Party and MOVE. “Law & Order” types hate the Black Panthers. And Philly police hate MOVE. Focusing anger on Abu-Jamal gives police a counter to criticism directed against them for persistent police brutality.
The police are taking it on the chin all the time for continuing brutality, and this is the case that they have decided to dig in on. You get all this police rage against Abu-Jamal despite the fact that he’s not the only person that allegedly shot and killed a police officer in US history. There were at least three police officers shot and killed in Philadelphia in 1981, do you know about that?
HB: Yes, you’ve been researching that, and the two others in Philadelphia were black police officers?
HB: Do you feel that the Fraternal Order of Police’s behavior is racially motivated?
LW: Yes, and it has always been racially motivated. This is one of the most outrageous aspects of it, because that organization is racist. I became a full time reporter in Philadelphia in October of 1975. One of the first big stories that I covered was a protest in front of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) headquarters, by members of the black police officer organization, The Guardian Civic League. Some of the people who participated in that demonstration are now State Rep Harold James, who was a police officer at the time, and also the current Sheriff of the City of Philadelphia, John Greene.
Why were these black police officers out in front of the FOP headquarters?
Because there is a bar in the basement of the FOP building, and black police officers (including ones there with their wives) would receive racist treatment when they went to the bar at their union headquarters and they were protesting against that. That type of racism didn’t end in the 1970s. Do a lot of officers find themselves treated badly on a bureaucratic level within the PPD? Yes, but who does the FOP stand up for?
Invariably, it’s white police officers.
One example, a couple years ago, the FOP made some public statements about the unfairness of the police departments in terms of their refusal to allow a police officer, I think his name is Flemming, to move up to become a detective. Flemming has cost the City of Philadelphia over one million dollars in legal settlements because of police brutality. Just a year or so before this controversy about his being promoted to detective, the City had to pay out $750,000 because Flemming beat up a man at the airport without provocation. So here’s the FOP standing up for a chronically brutal cop, instead of saying, “No, this isn’t the type of behavior that we as an organization want to endorse.”
But, it gets worse.
This officer Flemming also beat up a former police officer in 1995, an ex-cop named Gary Wakshul, days before that officer became a witness for the prosecution during the appeals hearing for Mumia Abu-Jamal. Flemming and one of his partners on the police force beat the stuffings out of Gary Wakshul in the hallway of Philadelphia’s Criminal Justice Center, beating him so bad that he sustained multiple injuries. Wakshul subsequently sued the City for the beating and got $60,000 for it.
As you know, Wakshul was a police officer involved in the Mumia Abu-Jamal case. He was the one who brought Abu-Jamal from the scene to the hospital on the morning of Dec. 9, 1981 and Wakshul stayed with him until he was brought in for surgery. Initially, Wakshul filed an official report stating that “the negro male made no comment.” Two months later, he came out and said that he had heard Abu-Jamal confess. Then, when the police asked him about the contradiction between his official report and the later confession claim, Wakshul came up with the absurd response that he “didn’t know the confession had any importance until today.”
Now, why was Wakshul working for the court system in 1995?
Because, in 1984 Wakshul almost beat a man to death in a hospital emergency room, and he was fired. When he was put on trial for this, the judge said, “Well, I think Wakshul’s a good guy and since this happened in the heat of battle,” he chose to acquit him of this unjustified beating. Now, the man he almost killed was in handcuffs, so there wasn’t any battle. And then, guess what? The FOP tried to get Wakshul’s job back.
I will raise the question: what type of law enforcement does the FOP represent? Good lawful law enforcement, or does it support unlawful acts of brutality, many of which are tinged, if not saturated, with racism?
HB: Going back to the Wakshul beating, what do you think was going on there just days before his testimony at Mumia’s PCRA hearing?
LW: The short answer is that I don’t know.
There’s been speculation that the beating was meant to send a message to Wakshul, not to deviate from his testimony that Abu-Jamal actually confessed.
Given all the solid and verifiable facts in Abu-Jamal’s case, I feel that it’s counter-productive and detrimental to engage in a lot of speculation. The factual record is this: Wakshul was beaten up and came to court and gave absurd testimony. The importance is this: Judge Sabo’s 153 page opinion rejected all of Abu-Jamal’s appeal items including claims that Wakshul lied. Incredibly Sabo’s opinion was issued just three days after the hearing, and incredibly Sabo’s opinion was a verbatim copy of the DA’s finding of facts that had been submitted (including grammatical and factual errors).
Sabo ruled that there was no such thing as police brutality in Philadelphia, and that in making that claim, Abu-Jamal was making one more absurd claim to deflect his guilt. Here we have a former police officer who testified for the prosecution during the hearing, who was a victim of police brutality within days of the hearing. That just is yet another
example of the manifest unfairness and factual distortion in Sabo’s ruling and his entire presence throughout the case.
HB: Sabo’s fairness in the PCRA hearings is one of the issues being considered on May 17 by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Any thoughts on next week’s oral arguments?
Clearly Mumia deserves a new trial and I think it is bogus for people to argue that he doesn’t deserve a fair trial because he disrupted his original trial. If you look, his disruptions occurred after it was clear that Sabo in collusion with Prosecutor McGill was intent on violating all of his rights, not just the right to self-representation.
They also hamstrung his attorney by not providing adequate resources, and they tried to sabotage his efforts at every turn. That is when Abu-Jamal started “acting out.” Did he take the right tact in doing that? It’s arguable, but the fact is that everyone is entitled to a fair trial.
In 1959, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a ruling in a murder case from Philadelphia where a guy pled guilty to the murder, and the judge and prosecutor tried to cut corners. The court said that even with evidence of guilt piled as high as Mount Everest, everybody is entitled to a fair trial.
Now, with the hearing coming up on May 17, I think it’s interesting to note that there are a couple of items that this court wanted to hear in oral arguments that the federal District Court Judge had not certified for appeal. One of the items is the bias of Sabo in the 1995 hearing.
Here’s something interesting.
Sabo’s bias has always been obvious and objectionable to anyone with their eyes open, but in 1995, Sabo was so bad that both the Daily News and Philadelphia Inquirer harshly criticized his behavior. The New York Times criticized Sabo’s behavior and was joined by other national publications like the Christian Science Monitor and also an article came out in the American Lawyer, where a lawyer/journalist named Stuart Taylor observed the entire proceedings and concluded that Sabo was thoroughly biased and also concluded that he thought Abu-Jamal did it, but did not receive a fair trial.
There is this incredible record of Sabo’s biases, and the importance of the criticism from the Philly media about Sabo’s bias is that normally these people are rabidly anti-Abu-Jamal and they felt that because of Sabo’s continuing presence on this case and his obvious and detestable bias, that it would undermine any credibility of a fair trial. By undermining that, it would give further credence to criticism that Abu-Jamal did not receive a fair trial.
They were saying, “Take this clown off the case so you don’t give more ammunition to the Mumidiots.” So when it got to the State Supreme Court and when that Court issued their rejection of Abu-Jamal’s appeal in Oct. 1998, there was a paragraph in there talking about Sabo’s bias, and it said the opinions of a handful of journalists “do not convince us” that Sabo was biased. The court said yes, he was intemperate, and made remarks he shouldn’t have, etc., but the Court declared that Sabo wasn’t biased.”
The law and the logic that has been used consistently by the Pa Supreme Court in their rulings on this case would make a Philly pretzel look straight. The Court has bent and broken law and legal precedents in their rulings on the Abu-Jamal case.
HB: Given all of this that you lay out, how is it today that the media is still so biased and does not report the key facts that expose all this injustice?
LW: Because the media of today is like the mainstream white media has always been in this country. They accept a basic narrative and do not deviate from that.
You have to understand that in 1970, a group published a report on the Philly media and it said they reflexively take the side of the police and the prosecutors anytime there is an allegation of police brutality. This is 1970. It wasn’t until the late 1970s that Philadelphia’s media started covering police brutality. The local white media started reporting on brutality after the Inquirer started reporting on it. The Inquirer subsequently won a Pulitzer Prize for that coverage. But before that, they ignored it.
Now I’m not just telling you that from scholarly research and examination. I’m telling you what I know from experience.
From 1975 on, I worked as a reporter covering police brutality. From 1975-78 when I worked for the Philadelphia Tribune (a black newspaper), almost every other day people would come into our office beaten and bloody. The blood was dried on their faces and clothes.
The police refused to allow these brutality victims to file brutality complaints. They would go to the Inquirer in an attempt to talk to a reporter, but they couldn’t get through the door. The Daily News was the same way. Then, they’d go across town to the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, and still couldn’t get through the door. Finally they’d come to the Philadelphia Tribune and they would get through the door. So, I know from personal experience that the mainstream Philadelphia media refused to cover police brutality and really many other issues involving race. They’ll only write about it superficially.
Listen. Why is it that the media in Philadelphia can occasionally cover issues involving police brutality, but never say that there is a pattern and practice of it? Why do they treat these incidents of police brutality as “isolated incidents” instead of examples of an endemic problem?
The Inquirer also won a Pulitzer Prize writing a story about a man who had been falsely convicted of murder, and their coverage got him out of jail and others. So all these examples they’ve written about people being falsely incarcerated, mistreated by police and prosecutors—which shows a pattern—why is it, then, that they stop and say “Yes, all these improprieties have happened, but it doesn’t have any effect at all on the Mumia Abu-Jamal case.”
HB: You and Mumia both covered the MOVE 9 trial. Looking back at it, what
things about the trial remain most vivid in your mind?
LW: To clarify, I covered the preliminary aspects of the MOVE 9 trial, but I did not cover the trial itself. I covered a few parts of the trial when MOVE was actually representing itself. That right of self-representation was revoked, and I think correctly because MOVE was not really trying to represent themselves, but rather to “put the system on trial.” That may be okay, but when your body is in danger of going to jail for a long time, I think you should direct your attention to the evidence (or lack thereof ) and try to get yourself off.
One of my most vivid memories was of MOVE’s house being destroyed around 1:30 that afternoon, just hours after MOVE’s arrest. The shoot out had stopped around 10:30, and the last MOVE person was out around 11:00.
The police had dumped 250,000 gallons of water into the basement. I know this because I was hiding behind the pumping truck that they used for the water cannon when the shooting started. I was talking to the guy as he was pumping the water in. So I know how much water went into that basement. It was a darkened basement filled with water and tear gas, and you can not adequately do an investigation of that within a few hours. Yet police claimed they conducted a thorough investigation and then they tore the compound down.
So, the destruction of evidence alone raises serious questions about the propriety of the evidence used for the charges against them.
HB: Why do you think they destroyed it?
LW: I think they tore down the house in part because they wanted to destroy evidence. Mayor Frank “the racist” Rizzo’s administration and Police Commissioner O’Neill claimed they tore it down because they didn’t want it to become a shrine for MOVE and they felt that they could not maintain security around the house to prevent MOVE people from occupying it again.
The patent absurdity of that is shown by this: From the beginning of March to around the middle of April, 1978, the police enacted a starvation blockade around the house where they sealed off a whole section of Powelton Village, and did not let anyone in or out. People that lived there had to have special passes like in South Africa to get in and out of their homes. So the notion that police couldn’t adequately secure the house is absolutely absurd.
One point of view is that the destruction of evidence destroyed any semblance of a fair trial.
You asked about “vivid memories,” and I remember covering one of the early preliminary hearings. It was held in prison, where they brought in a mini-courtroom and a presiding judge (who was later fired for corruption). I remember vividly when the medical examiner came in and gave his testimony based on the autopsy report related to James Ramp, the officer who was killed.
The medical examiner testified to one thing, in terms of how the bullet entered the body and such. Then, when the prosecutor was getting ready to introduce the medical examiner’s report as evidence, he looked at the first couple paragraphs, and said “Oh, your honor, the medical report here does not conform with the testimony you just heard, let me correct it right here.” This dude pulled out a pencil and changed the damn report right in the courtroom, and then introduced it as evidence. Unbelievably, the judge accepted it!
Once again, this was a very fundamental and egregious violation of procedures. I left the courtroom and called my boss at the Philadelphia Journal, where I was working at the time. I was told, “Yeah, okay, well, we’ll talk about it when you get back.” I was also covering it for the United Press International (UPI) news service, so I called them up, but they told me they weren’t interested.
I said, “Wait a minute. This whole confrontation between the city of Philadelphia and MOVE, starting from 1972, has been about double-standards of justice and violations of
rules and procedures. Here you have a clear example of one, and it’s not newsworthy?” UPI answered: “No. It’s not newsworthy, Linn. If you find something else out, give me a call back.”
HB: So, did anybody use your story?
Nobody used it because they didn’t think it was important. This is a separate argument from whether MOVE is right or wrong, but when you look at the media coverage of MOVE, everything that was perceived as MOVE doing something wrong, was publicized. In contrast, the attacks on MOVE, the injustices, and the deprivations that they endured never found any coverage in the mainstream media. I know it was covered in the Tribune because I was covering for them. It was also on black radio stations because there were black reporters that believed that you should be fair and balanced, and we were criticized for it, Mumia being one of them. This was just because we felt that there were two sides to the story. We weren’t taking MOVE’s side, but we felt they had a legitimate side that needed to be accurately presented.
If they’re getting beaten up, the women getting kicked in the vagina and having miscarried babies, that should be a news story.
February of 1978, there were MOVE members being held in the Philadelphia prisons. The guards jumped on these guys and beat them horribly and then turned around and charged them with assault on the prison guards.
Now, MOVE would normally say, “No, we don’t participate in any kind of cooperation with the system, because we know the system is corrupt.” But, in this particular instance, they said “We’ll cooperate just to show that even if we do cooperate, it won’t mean anything.” So they cooperated with the DA’s office (then headed by Ed Rendell), and after a lengthy investigation, the DA concluded that the victims had indeed been MOVE, who had been attacked by the guards.
So, that meant that the prison guards should have been charged with assault and other crimes. However, Rendell’s office concluded that the appropriate action was not to take any action against the guards, but rather to simply drop the false charges against the MOVE members.
Now, filing a false police report is a crime, as well as lying about something in the report. There are many crimes short of assault (that had been proven in the investigation) that could have been brought against them, but they didn’t do anything.
And, you know what? Little of this that I just told you about that confrontation at the prison ever got into the news media.
HB: In the recent documentary on MOVE, you cite your sources within the police
department who told you that the police know Ramp was killed by police gunfire. Can you say anything more about this?
LW: I will confirm that I was told that by my sources in the police department. However, I have never identified the sources to MOVE, and I will never identify them to anyone else.
But I will tell you this.
Officer Ramp was allegedly shot and killed by a bullet that came from a weapon that fired a .223 caliber round. .223 is the same caliber used in an M-16. Inside MOVE’s house, police claimed that they found four carbines called Mini-14’s, made by Ruger and they fired this .223 round.
The day immediately after the shootout, police were claiming that not a single officer out there that day carried that particular type of weapon. About three weeks later, during the pre-trial proceedings, the police department began to acknowledge the fact that there were police officers who had the Mini-14s firing the .223 rounds. They first said that they had just been out there, but not near the scene. Then, subsequent reports put the officers with those guns closer to the scene, however the official version was “Yes, they were part of the assault, but no, they never fired their weapon.”
So, if in fact, there were no improprieties, why the constantly changing stories and why the heavy-handed cover-up?
There’s another thing, and this is where the destruction of the property precluded a thorough examination, as well as how the trial was handled by MOVE and when the court-appointed attorneys came in, it really became a circus.
But let’s think about this for a minute. You don’t have to be a ballistician to figure this one out. It’s just common sense. You’ve got four male MOVE members in the basement allegedly armed, according to police testimony. A basement by its very nature means it’s below ground level. They’re allegedly firing out of windows, and let’s understand, this was not like The Alamo where people are close up at the window and shooting out. They’re away from the windows, hiding behind pillars in the basement. So, anything they’re shooting out of the windows has to be at an upward trajectory. They would have to shoot up to get out the window.
Ramp was directly across the street at ground level. So how could something hit him in what was said to be a downward type angle when MOVE members were firing upward from that basement?
Okay, maybe the bullet could have ricocheted a little bit. The apartment building across the street from the old MOVE compound is a brick building. However, their compound was made of wood, so the idea that the bullet ricocheted off the brick, back towards MOVE’s house, and then back again to hit Ramp somewhere near ground level, is highly problematic.
Furthermore, the .223 bullet is actually a very small, light weight bullet. Since it’s a very light bullet it will likely break up bouncing back and forth off a brick wall. It’s not going to maintain its integrity and be able to ricochet back and forth a couple times. Unless this was a bullet like the one that Arlen Specter, when he worked for the Warren Commission, said killed Kennedy. You know, one able to change directions in the air a couple times? It’s questionable to unlikely that the bullet that killed Ramp came from that basement.
But, it’s hard for anyone to ever know, because police destroyed evidence. Earlier that year, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that it’s illegal for authorities to destroy a crime scene before the defense has a chance to examine it.
Furthermore, a couple days before the Aug. 8, raid, a Philadelphia judge signed an order barring the city from destroying the MOVE house. Yet, the city did it in violation of this order.
And guess what? They were never called to account for violating that court order. There are copies of the court order too, so they can’t say that it does not exist. That’s bullshit.
HB: Do you think the MOVE 9 should be granted parole in 2008?
LW: Parole is supposedly based on adjustment to prison. From what I understand, there have been few infractions, if any at all. So, the short answer is yes.
They’ve served 30 years in jail for a third-degree murder conviction. The average sentence for third-degree murder is 10-15 years, so they’ve already served twice that. So, yes, they should be released.
Will that happen? I don’t think so.
The Parole Board has a couple of arguably illegal standards in place. One of them says you have to accept responsibility for your crime. But, if you’ve maintained your innocence the whole time you’re in there, how can you say “Okay, I did it?”
This next standard is clearly illegal. It will demand that for MOVE members to be released without serving their full sentence, they will have to renounce membership in MOVE. This is something that would easily happen in China, North Korea, or Russia, saying “You have to denounce these un-communist feelings that you have.” But in America, we’re not supposed to do that. But we do that in Pennsylvania with MOVE members, and nobody says that it’s a problem.
Once again, this is another example of what I was saying at the beginning of our conversation, that there is a big gap between what America says it is and what it actually does.
HB: Anything else on your mind?
LW: Looking at Abu-Jamal’s appeal with the Third Circuit, I hope that the court follows its own legal precedent in a case involving Abu-Jamal. The legal precedent is this: there is a rule that courts are supposed to follow previous rulings because this keeps some stability in the law, so a Judge doesn’t wake up one morning with a bad hair day and change everything, and then the next day change it back. Had the Pa Supreme Court followed its own previous rulings, Abu-Jamal would have had a new trial and/or been released over a decade ago.
The Third Circuit has an opportunity to show whether the rule of law actually means something. The Third Circuit has granted hearings that have led to new trials to individuals on the issue of jury discrimination. So, if they follow their own precedent, then Abu-Jamal will receive a new hearing, if not a new trial.
Earlier on, you mentioned a guy named Harold Wilson. One of the legal victories that eventually led to his release was the a claim of jury discrimination and in this case it was a local Philadelphia judge who called for a new trial and the Philadelphia DA didn’t even oppose it.
HB: We have to hope, and of course keep raising awareness and applying pressure.
LW: But for the international movement supporting him, Abu-Jamal would have been executed by now. Let’s look at 1995. Pa prison authorities were illegally opening Abu-Jamal’s mail as a result of the FOP complaints about him writing articles and a book while in prison. So, the Pa prisons, who had previously allowed prisoners to work with authors to publish accounts of their crimes, and actually helped facilitate interviews for them, are now cracking down on Abu-Jamal.
It was bad enough that they were opening his mail, and not just mail from family and friends, but mail from his lawyer, which is fundamentally illegal. They were copying his stuff and sending copies to the Governor’s office. So, when Gov. Ridge signed the death warrant on Mumia in June of 1995, he was doing it with the full knowledge that Mumia’s attorney’s were preparing to formally file an appeal.
What Ridge did was fundamentally illegal. But he later became the first Homeland Security Czar. So what does that say about America’s adherence to law?
These are findings of fact from a lawsuit that was filed by Mumia, and these findings of fact are contained in a ruling favoring Abu-Jamal that was issued by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. So, these are rulings from federal judges in the late 1990s.
HB: It at least seems like the DA is afraid of the Third Circuit, with their recent request for the court to recuse itself from Abu-Jamal’s case, which the court denied.
LW: That was so patently absurd. They initially started that with a letter, saying “Listen, we think all you guys should step aside.” Abu-Jamal’s attorney, Robert R. Bryan wrote a letter in response, which cited numerous rulings and precedents. The Third Circuit then told the DA that if they wanted to challenge it, they’d have to file a formal legal brief. The DA filed the formal brief, but it still contained all of the factual inaccuracies and inappropriate law that they had alleged in the letter brief. The court threw it out.
Let me tell you something that is of relevance. If they really cared about a fair trial, why did the DA’s office not oppose Sabo sitting on the 1995 appeals, when one of the appeal items was his bias in 1982. If the judge was biased in 1982, would you not think that he’d be biased in 1995? The DA fought that and said that they wanted Sabo on the case.
When the PA Supreme Court was deciding on the appeal that came out of the 95 hearing, the defense said, “Listen, we seek the recusal of one member of the Pa Supreme Court: Justice Ron Castille, who had been a Philadelphia DA.” They wanted his recusal on grounds of the Judicial Code of Conduct, section 3D, it says that any judge who was a lawyer for a governmental agency, and through that position, has knowledge of the facts of the case in front of him, must recuse himself. So, here we have Castille, who was DA of Philadelphia, who signed papers to oppose Abu-Jamal’s appeals, and is now sitting on the deliberation. That is a violation of ethics and the DA office didn’t care about that at all.
So, when the Pa Supreme Court issued its second rejection of Abu-Jamal’s appeals, Castille wrote a second opinion explaining why he had refused to recuse himself. In there he says (paraphrased), “Abu-Jamal’s attorney’s are jumping all over me because I took campaign funds from the Fop because the FOP worked on my campaign to become a Supreme Court Justice, and a few years ago the FOP named me as their ‘Man of the Year,’ well that’s unfair to focus on me, because four other members of this court received campaign financing and campaign support from the FOP.”
So we have five members of a seven member court, and all were saying that it did not show any kind of impropriety. On issues of recusal of judges, its not just impropriety, but it is the appearance of impropriety. If you have five members of a seven member court receiving money and support from the prime organization seeking the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal, does that not raise the issue of appearance of impropriety?
HB: What other examples are there of media bias?
LW: In this Mumia affair there have been many allegations of his misconduct, including allegations of him confessing. In 1995, there was an article in the Washington Post, which featured an interview with Maureen Faulkner, and it was talking about how she was outraged that Abu-Jamal had been able to publish a book. The article started with an anecdote from her where she claimed that in court, during the trial, when her husband’s bloody shirt was displayed, Mumia turned around, looked at her, pulled his dreadlocks back, and smiled at her.
However, the official court transcript documented that Mumia was not even in the courtroom on the day that Mrs. Faulkner claimed this smiling incident took place. So, I wrote a column questioning this account and others. Maureen Faulkner wrote me a three page, single-spaced letter calling me everything but a child of God.
I wrote her back and said, “Ms. Faulkner, listen, if there are any ambiguities in this matter, it’s because of you and what you said.” So she then claimed that the Washington Post reporter had gotten the wrong date. She then cited an Inquirer article that says she left the courtroom after the shirt was displayed. However, when I checked it, the article did not say anything about Mumia turning around and smiling at her.
When you look at the rest of the articles from the trial, nowhere does Ms. Faulkner say that she had to leave the courtroom because Mumia smiled at her.
Interestingly, that article Mrs. Faulkner cited did quote the trial prosecutor telling the jury that his Office had made no deals with key prosecution witness Cynthia White. Of course, after the trial, the DA drop a lot of criminal cases filed against White. If the deal didn’t exist on that date, it happened soon after. The jury never knew White was getting special deals from the DA – which is another element undermining a fair trial.
This smiling incident and other incidents are things where I fault reporters. The problem with much of the media is that due to turnover, there is not much institutional memory, and not enough people who have the expertise to write intelligently about such things. Apparently, that Washington Post writer must have never covered a trial, because otherwise she’d have known that at a high profile trial such as this, there are many people and 80 percent of those people are looking at every twitch, movement, smile, or frown from the defendant. A question should have been asked as to who else saw this and why it wasn’t reported. But that article didn’t contain that type of question.
No one saw this allegedly objectionable action.
That seems so consistent in a parallel to the alleged confession. No one heard this confession, except for Gary Bell (who was Faulkner’s partner) and he didn’t remember it until over two months later. Gary Wakshul initially reported that the “negro male made no comment,” but after a police brutality complaint by Abu-Jamal, he suddenly remembers the confession. Wakshul and Bell allege that there were over a dozen officers in the area who also heard the confession, and in 25 years not a single one came forward.
In 1995, the defense tried to get Judge Sabo to issue subpoenas to bring them in and ask them what they heard, and why they didn’t report it. Sabo refused. He said “These are officers. They’re honorable people, so I’m sure if you ask them, they’ll come in.” They were asked and didn’t come in. Then, in his opinion, Sabo wrote that there was no contrary evidence that the confession didn’t take place, because all the people who testified in court said there was a confession. By his rulings, Sabo made certain that officers would not come in and testify.
The first person to allegedly report the confession was hospital security guard Priscilla Durham. Interestingly, she claims to hear a confession to a murder, but does she talk to a detective, uniformed officers, or police internal affairs?
She claims that she went to her supervisor and allegedly writes this down on a hand-written report. Did her supervisor give this report to the police? No. So what does that say about the validity of the confession?
HB: Did you follow how the week of December 9, two more accounts came out from William Colarulo (now a Chief Inspector for the Philadelphia police) and Kathleen Gerrow (now an executive producer at NBC 10)?
LW: Hans, let me tell you something. These two accounts sound suspicious like dog dirt…dropping on a sidewalk.
Let’s think logically here. William Colarulo was the head of the police department’s press office for over two years, and he never once said anything about this? That’s ridiculous!
But when you read his news media statements about this confession, what he said about what Abu-Jamal was wearing is totally different from what Wakshul said he was wearing, when Wakshul voluntarily went to police on Dec. 16, 1981 and volunteered more information where he was able to remember the type of clothing, the color, and the texture. The last question the police asked Wakshul on 12/16/81 was, “Is there anything else that you would like to add?” He said no. There was nothing about a confession. It is absurd.
Furthermore, what Colarulo said was not based on what he saw or heard himself, but was based on what someone told him. Has the police officer that Colarulo cites as having heard the confession ever come forward and said anything about it?
Now, reporter Kathleen Gerrow. This is what’s really strange. We have a reporter that claims to have heard a confession in the largest murder case that was going on in Philadelphia at the time, and she said nothing about it? Journalistic careers are made on bits of information like hearing a major piece of information in a major murder case. If she had this information, it could have made her career. Why did she not say anything about it for 25 years?
These sorts of things defy logic and common sense. But this is what passes as journalism in Philadelphia…and evidence of Abu-Jamal’s guilt. Why didn’t the so-called reporter interviewing Gerrow ask a follow-up question, like “Why didn’t you say something earlier? It could have made your career?” These questions should be asked.
It’s not for the press to take a position one way or the other, but it is the responsibility of the press to scrutinize all sides with the same rigor. One side (the Danny Faulkner side) can say anything they want, even if it makes no sense at all, yet it gets credibility and traction in the media. On the other side, Abu-Jamal’s side can say anything they want, and irrespective of the substance and factual accuracy, and they get no coverage at all.
Where is the journalistic fairness, balance, and accuracy? These are the three things that are supposed to be fundamental to journalism. Are they happening in this case?
No, they are not.
Hans Bennett (insubordination.blogspot.com) is a Philadelphia-based photojournalist and co-founder of “Journalists for Mumia,” whose new website is: Abu-Jamal-News.com