Monday, January 15, 2007

Why Naming Streets for Mumia Makes the Powers Rage

Introduction By Michael Schiffmann

In October 2003, Mumia was made an Honorary Citizen of Paris, with luminaries such as his lawyer Robert R. Bryan, Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe and ex-political prisoner Angela Davis present. Abu-Jamal activists Julia Wright, Pam Africa and Suzanne Ross, as well as many others, also attended. In April 2006, a new street leading to the biggest sports stadion in Europe, the Nelson Mandela Stadion, was named after Mumia Abu-Jamal in the Parisian suburb of Saint Denis. All of this led to a furious campaign on the part of those bent on having Abu-Jamal executed to have these honors revoked. The Mumia support movement answered by a new campaign to name a street in New York's Harlem after Abu-Jamal.

Here is what Princeton University theologist Mark Taylor has to say on the matter.

Why Naming Streets for Mumia Makes the Powers Rage
By Mark Lewis Taylor

Outrage over the French city of St.-Denis, for naming a street after Mumia Abu-Jamal, has poured forth from the City Council of Philadelphia , from some in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, and, of course, from the Fraternal Order of Police. The Philadelphia City Council passed a resolution condemning St.-Denis's action. PA representatives in the U.S. House followed suit with a similar resolution.

Why have authorities in Philly and the U.S. gone ballistic over a suburb in Paris that names a street after Mumia?

This is all the more interesting a question because the outrage has not helped the movement to execute Mumia. In fact, it has reignited the steady advocacy of human rights groups and people of conscience worldwide who have not gone away, who will not allow Mumia's life to be taken. It has forced the press to lift Mumia's struggle back into the public eye.

Official rage has prompted some new and unfounded claims about Mumia and the death of Philadelphia officer, Dan Faulkner. Officials are exposed as all the more clouded by an unreasoning rage. The resolution in the U.S. House, for example, suggests that Mumia struck Officer Faulkner "four times" in the back before shooting him. Not even the prosecutors against Mumia claimed at trial that such an action transpired.

Mumia's accusers now stand exposed in their rage. And just what now is exposed? The answer is this: there is a drive to execute Mumia that runs roughshod over evidence and facts, and that will invent any new "fact" that officials think will help rationalize Mumia's execution. The killing rage is exposed as the unreasoning rage it has been since Mumia's apprehension in 1981.

But how did naming a street in France unleash this rage of Pennsylvania powers? We do well to understand the reasons.

My interpretation is that when citizens of St.-Denis inscribed Mumia's name onto a street sign, they helped pull Mumia out of his cell, setting him loose, as it were, into the valued, everyday existence of people of their municipality. To be sure, Mumia is still in Waynesberg, PA ; not yet greeting his friends in St.-Denis (dare we dream!). Mumia's accusers have always had success when they can cordon him off, deny him presence everywhere save that 8 x 10 cell in a far west corner of PA. In so doing, they seek to put him outside the daily to-and-fro of everyday life, make him less a human being by removing him from our memory, from our thoughts. Hence he becomes "other," demonizable, executable.

But comes now St.-Denis. All of a sudden there's a street sign with Mumia's name on it. It names a thoroughfare. People see the name, they know he must be important if the street bearing his name is
also the place where many walk each day. The powers rage because they cannot stand that. They cannot tolerate Mumia's name and life having
reference outside his 8 x 10 cell, being a name that directs part of the daily flow, part of people's routine coming and going, their
meaningful life and work.

There's a lesson here for those of us in the movement for Mumia. We should inscribe Mumia's name in all the places where we have common interchange and habitation. True, many have already done this. You'll find Mumia's name carved in wet cement, in telephone poles, on walls of prisons and streets throughout the land, in the organizations
of campus, labor and more.

But I'm thinking of a still more challenging way to inscribe his name. Let us make his name a commonplace in the transactions and dealings we all have – at work, at home, in church, at whatever club or society we frequent. A street-naming does that kind of work.

It is of course true that our movement work, our participation in rallies for Mumia, are crucial; but just as important, if not more so, are the ways we talk-up Mumia, inscribing his name, into our everyday places of life and labor.

It has been a baseline truth for Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal that we must etch Mumia's name into our teaching, our writing and our reading. We regard him as an educator. He is a teacher. He is a colleague in education and writing. And so when we write and publish, especially on criminal (in)justice in the , or about a wide array of human rights and justice issues in this country, we should reference Mumia's name, his writings, his struggle. When we inscribe his name in the academic literature, we post his name on the signposts of the academic thoroughfares. We let him live outside that cell where Mumia's accusers would like to keep him, and from which they hope some day to take him to death, in hopes of erasing his name, repressing his insights.

We do this not to make Mumia "poster boy" of anti-death penalty struggle or of justice work in the U.S., but because he has routinely exposed the struggles of so many others in similar situations, beyond his case. It is this that has made him the special target of officials who don't want systemic injustice addressed.

People in Harlem want to name a street for Mumia. I say let's support it. It will make the powers rage even more, to have a street named for Mumia right here in the U.S. But remember, when the powers rage, they show their addiction to hiding evidence, their inventiveness of new lies, and so they undermine their case and help us build ours.

Let's help the powers rage some more. Now, I wonder if there's a way to get a street here in Princeton named for Mumia.