[The following are remarks made at a December 4, 2007 press conference held in Philadelphia by The International Concerned Friends and Family of Mumia Abu-Jamal (ICFFMAJ), and Journalists for Mumia. The purpose of the press conference was to discuss newly discovered crime scene photos in the Mumia Abu-Jamal death penalty case, which were not seen by the jury, yet point to his innocence and the need for a new trial. Abu-Jamal, journalist, former Black Panther and death row inmate, was convicted of the 1981 murder of Police Officer Daniel Faulkner. Participants in the press conference included Hans Bennett of Journalists for Mumia, Philadelphia journalists Linn Washington, Dave Lindorff, Pam Africa of ICFFMAJ, and David A. Love of Black Commentator. In its October 18, 2007 cover story, titled Photos Bolster Claims of Mumia’s Innocence and Unfair Trial, Black Commentator broke the story regarding the photos.]
My name is David A. Love, editorial board member of BlackCommentator.com, a weekly online magazine covering issues affecting the Black community, with a monthly readership of 300,000. My Color of Law column appears weekly. I wrote an article in the October 18, 2007 edition of the Black Commentator entitled “ Photos Bolster Claims of Mumia’s Innocence and Unfair Trial.” The piece re-printed for the Independent Media Center, and the San Francisco Bay View, a national Black newspaper, which published the photos. In the article, I discussed these new photos of the crime scene where Officer Faulkner was killed, but also analyzed the larger implications for the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the problem of racism in the criminal justice system, and the disturbing application of the death penalty in the United States.
To be sure, these photos are important because they suggest that someone, presumably the police, tampered with evidence at the crime scene, removed evidence and switched evidence around, perhaps out of incompetence, perhaps in order to subvert justice and bring about a particular desired outcome. We can only speculate. But we would be misled if we were to believe that these photos are the only evidence pointing to a setup, pointing to Mumia’s innocence and the need for a new trial. The photos, when viewed in combination with the other problems with the case, bolster an already convincing argument that official misconduct took place. For example:
The prosecutor had a history of excluding African American jurors, and struck 10 of 14 Black potential jurors, but only 5 of 25 whites.
In a sworn statement, a court stenographer said she overheard the trial judge, Albert Sabo, saying he would help the prosecution "fry the nigger."
For twelve years, prosecutors withheld evidence that the driver's license of a third man was found in Faulkner's pocket at the crime scene.
Defense witnesses who testified that someone other than Abu-Jamal killed Faulkner were intimidated.
Five of the seven members of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which denied his appeal, received campaign contributions from the Fraternal Order of Police, the primary group that has advocated for the execution of Mumia, whom they regard as an unrepentant cop killer.
It should also be noted that in 1981, the year Mumia was arrested, five men were framed by the Philadelphia Police Department for murder and exonerated years later. Two of the innocent men spent as much as 20 years in prison before their release, and one man spent 1,375 days on death row before he became a free man. A legacy of police corruption, brutality and intimidation of poor people, communities of color and political activists haunts the city to this day, at a time when better police-community relations are needed to stem a tide of gun homicides.
The case of Mumia Abu-Jamal sheds light on the racial inequities in the law. Pennsylvania’s criminal justice system is unfair and unequal. An Associated Press investigation in 2000 revealed that Blacks in Pennsylvania are more likely to receive prison sentences, or longer ones, than white defendants accused of the same crimes. Further, the black incarceration rate is 14 times that of whites, the greatest racial disparity in the nation. African Americans, 10 percent of Pennsylvania's population, are 56 percent of the inmates, with most of them coming from the city of Philadelphia.
And we cannot discuss Mumia without looking at the death penalty, given that he is the most well known death row inmate in America and the world, and his case demonstrates all that is wrong with the death penalty, a system that was not meant to be fixed because it was not meant to be fair and just. Executions are a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, whether they take the form of beheading, stoning, gas chamber, electric chair, lethal injection, what have you. Like lynching, the death penalty is barbaric, arbitrary and infected with racism, placing an emphasis on expediency over due process. In fact, capital punishment is lynching brought into the court system, in an effort to legitimize the practice.
It is no accident that 90 percent of executions take place in the South, where Jim Crow lynchings and racial violence were the norm. It should not be surprising that the most important factor that determines whether someone will get the death penalty is the race of the victim. Over the past 30 years, an overwhelming majority of people executed in the United States - more than 80 percent - were convicted of killing a white victim, according to Amnesty International. African-Americans, however, are about half of all murder victims. And one-third of America's death row is black. And according to a study published in the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies in March 2004, a black person convicted of murdering a white victim is two and a half times as likely to be sentenced to death as a white person convicted of murdering a white victim.
And there are other inherent flaws in capital punishment. Each locality has its own standards, and each prosecutor decides whether to seek death. Only 2 percent of those who are eligible for a death sentence actually receive death. Codefendants may receive different sentences for the same crime, with one receiving death and the other receiving jail time.
Ninety-five percent of death row prisoners cannot afford an attorney and must take a court-appointed attorney, who often is overworked, underpaid, lacks experience in capital cases or, in extreme cases, falls asleep in court.
And since 1973, according to Amnesty International and the Death Penalty Information Center, 124 people in 25 states have been released from death row because they were wrongfully convicted. And we will never know how many innocent people have been sent to their deaths.
Moreover, the death penalty offends international human rights standards. Only six countries carry out 91 percent of the world’s executions: China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan and the United States. Indeed, you are judged by the company you keep. And we should note that Amnesty International and many others in the international community condemn capital punishment, and have called for a new trial for Mumia, based on the mountain of evidence.
In conclusion, I think of the words of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who said, “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” I believe that journalism is at its best when it seeks to get to the bottom of the matter, not regurgitate the official line and shut down the discussion. This is what is necessary for democracy and a free society. As we know in this country, accepting as fact everything that is told to us, and refusing to dig deeper, has cost lives, whether in a senseless war in Iraq or here at home. We are here to discuss the photos that demand a new trial for Mumia. But this is also bigger than Mumia, because Mumia’s case shines the light on official corruption and racism in America’s justice system, and the judicial form of lynching that is the death penalty.
Note: Below Mr. Love’s bio information you will find text taken from the information packet made available to the news media prior to and during the news conference in Philadelphia on Tuesday, December 4, 2007.
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member David A. Love, JD is a lawyer and prisoners’ rights advocate based in Philadelphia, and a contributor to the Progressive Media Project, McClatchy-Tribune News Service and In These Times. He contributed to the book,
States of Confinement: Policing, Detention, and Prisons (St. Martin's Press, 2000). Love is a former Amnesty International UK spokesperson, organized the first national police brutality conference as a staff member with the Center for Constitutional Rights, and served as a law clerk to two Black federal judges. His blog is davidalove.com. Click here to contact Mr. Love.