KPFK Los Angeles -- August 1, 2007
Listen to the audio at the Uprising Radio website.
In a follow-up to our story in May about the case of Mumia Abu Jamal being heard by the 3rd Circuit US Court of Appeals, we present an interview with the man himself. Abu Jamal has been in prison for over two decades for the murder of Daniel Faulkner, a white police officer in Philadelphia. He enjoys widespread support among grassroots groups in the US and internationally. He has written several books, including Live From Death Row, Death Blossoms, and We Want Freedom. Abu Jamal also regularly records radio commentaries through Prison Radio which you hear often on Uprising and other Pacifica programs. I recently had the opportunity to present him with a series of questions through radio producer Noelle Hanrahan who runs Prison Radio.org Mumia recorded his answers to my questions via telephone from prison. Here is a edited version of our "conversation."
-- Hans Bennett
Sonali Kolhatkar: I'd like to ask you to reflect briefly on one aspect of your achievements in prison, specifically, the radio commentaries. What impact has writing and recording the commentaries had on your life:
Mumia Abu-Jamal: It has allowed me to respond to the events in our lives and to become a voice of affirmation that is missing in the mass corporate press. It has affirmed me both politically and professionally as one who speaks truth to power.
Sonali: You recently recorded a lengthy commentary about rap for the recent US Social Forum. What is your opinion of hip-hop as a means of social expression for youth? Do you think seasoned activists appreciate enough the importance of hip-hop?
Mumia: Hip-hop is a powerful form of social expression for youth. But, one wonders, what's being expressed? While youth may be masters of the art form, they aren't masters of content. Thus, this form has been, in many ways, hi-jacked to serve corporate interests above communal interests. I don't think seasoned activists (I guess that's polite for geezers, like me) really appreciate Hip-hop's importance, which is interesting because Capitalism has latched onto it to sell everything from cars to swimming pools. It's the soundtrack for millions of young folks. Years ago, the Black Panther Party used some of its more talented members to form bands to try to put out the message. While they didn't threaten the careers of the Temptations or Aretha Franklin, they did touch folks in ways that newspapers didn't. Movement folks need to scoop up or even train younger folks to use their skills for movement purposes.
Sonali: Recently, you filed a commentary about women's tennis, based on Venus Williams' Wimbledon win. It stood out from your usual political commentaries on foreign and domestic policy. Are you a tennis fan? What motivated you to write it?
Mumia: I am a tennis fan, well, a women's tennis fan. This is my second piece on Venus Williams. What she did was truly remarkable, not just in a world of tennis but in the world of sports. I recently did a piece on Barry Bonds and, while I'm hardly a baseball fan, sports is a central issue in the lives and fantasies of millions. It shouldn't be ignored by political folks. Our social and political lives are usually deeply linked to the sports world.
Sonali: How is your role as journalist influenced by your status as an imprisoned person?
Mumia: This is one helluva beat! And, it's one that most media seriously ignores. Over two million folks in prison and media studiously ignores it. Why? Most folks know what they think they know about prisons from shows like Oz. Most prisoners look at those shows and almost die laughing.
Sonali: The corporate media has mostly been silent on your case, especially recently regarding the latest hearing. When they do cover it, they commonly refer to you as a "convicted cop killer". Yet, your support internationally continues to burgeon. Do you attribute this to the power of independent media?
Mumia: I think indy media is obviously important but also, since the war, millions of folks have learned in ways that are undeniable that the corporate media doesn't tell the truth, even when it comes to the most important issues facing a nation, war and peace. Now if that's the case when it comes to war, what about everyday issues of social justice?
Sonali: Regarding the various books you've published over the years, what role has book writing played in your ability to express yourself to the outside world? Are you working on any new books?
Mumia: Books are flights of freedom and perhaps one of the last free media around. I'm writing about jailhouse lawyers, truly an unknown breed who have helped many folks find freedom or a touch of civil rights.
Sonali: You have faced the death penalty for many years and in the US there has been a love-hate relationship with this method of punishment. Despite some recent high profile executions, like that of Tookie Williams, there seems to be a waning of support of the death penalty, particularly with some states considering banning it. Are you optimistic that Americans may be starting to reject it?
Mumia: For many folks, there's a great deal of ambivalence on the death penalty and I think the events in Illinois a few years ago and other cases like the Duke rape case, causes folks to question the state. 8b. Because it's time; it's the right thing to do. Public support is always important. I thank you for your time and your interest and I thank those listeners who are my supporters for their loving support. On the move – long live John Africa.
Special Thanks to Julie Svendsen for transcribing this interview
and to Noelle Hanrahan for coordinating and recording this interview.
Hans Bennett is a journalist based in Philadelphia and co-founder of Journalists for Mumia. He attended the May 18th 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Hearing of Mumia's case. The hearing was attended by many high-profile supporters of Mumia Abu Jamal. In the moments after the hearing ended Hans Bennett interviewed Ward Churchill, Ramona Africa, and German Parliamentarian, Volker Ratzmann.