Written by Larry Miller, Philadelphia Tribune, July 13, 2009
The case of Mumia Abu Jamal surfaced again when earlier this month NAACP Chairman Julian Bond said the 100-year-old civil rights organization was asking Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the case.
On a segment of Democracy Now, aired on July 20, Bond, speaking with moderator Amy Goodman and citing the case of Troy Davis, stated Holder should look into the case because over the years serious doubts have been raised over whether Abu Jamal received a fair trial.
"We're going to ask Attorney General Holder to look into this," Bond said during the broadcast. "As anyone who's followed this case for a number of years knows that similar doubts have been raised about him as were raised about Troy Davis. And he's had trouble bringing these doubts before a tribunal that can say, you know, these things are true or they're not true. And we think he needs that chance. We think he needs that chance before the state of Pennsylvania decides to snuff his life out."
Bond said the NAACP opposes the death penalty, and particularly so in cases where innocence seems possible.
"I mean, just think of the notion of killing someone and then finding out later, boy, we made a terrible mistake, I'm so sorry," Bond said. "I mean, that cannot hold. That cannot be done. So we're trying to, not only with the Mumia case, but other cases, we expect to talk to General Holder and see if he won't put the force of the U.S. government behind them."
But concern for Mumia doesn't stop there. The day before Bond's statement, former Rep. Cynthia McKinney sent a letter to Holder also requesting that the Justice Department conduct a civil rights investigation of the case.
"I am writing to ask for your personal and immediate intervention to put an end to a grave injustice. Anyone who has read the reports, as I have, including briefs and opinions of the courts, knows that Mumia Abu Jamal was tried and convicted amid sensationalism and hysteria that, at its core, constituted a racial frenzy," McKinney wrote. "Indicting words from the judge, himself, point to racism and prejudice even inside the courtroom. The `Batson Issue' should be of real concern to everyone interested in justice. Sadly, Mumia was convicted amid the very racial cowardice of which you, yourself, have spoken."
McKinney said the "imperative for a civil rights investigation is clear in Abu Jamal's case."
Pam Africa, a long-time supporter of Abu Jamal and coordinator of the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu Jamal, said her colleagues have been trying since 2004 to get the Justice Department to look into the case.
"We were told that if we could show evidence of a consistent and on-going conspiracy to keep Mumia from getting a new trial, then they could look into it," she said. "Having Julian Bond push for this, getting Professor Charles Ogletree's involvement is just what's needed in getting the NAACP's resolution on this case. It's not just about Mumia; this covers Troy Davis, Marshall Eddie Conway and Reggie Clemons. Now is the time to keep the pressure up because Mumia doesn't have a chance without the people's pressure. There was no fair trial. There's going to be a massive movement on this because Mumia is innocent."
December 2008 marked the 27th anniversary of the death of police Officer Daniel Faulkner, allegedly by Abu Jamal, a fiery journalist-turned cab driver.
Since that tragic December night in 1981, the case has been mired in controversy, with accusations of racial discrimination during the trial process being raised almost from the beginning.
Since Abu Jamal's conviction, his defense attorneys have filed numerous appeals and his supporters have staged endless protests calling for his release from prison.
They say there is no doubt in their minds that Abu Jamal is innocent. They also contend that he didn't squeeze the trigger that ended Faulkner's life and that he didn't get a fair trial.
Maureen Faulkner, widow of the slain officer, has stated numerous times that she has no doubt in her mind that Abu Jamal murdered her husband.
"The bottom line is that there were eyewitnesses that saw what happened that night, and the evidence, the ballistics show that Mumia Abu Jamal murdered my husband," said Faulkner on an edition of WHYY's Radio Times. "He confessed in the emergency room, and several people heard him confess, saying `I shot the MF-er and I hope he dies' ... Priscilla Durham, she testified in the court in 1982 that she heard him, the security guard. This man confessed to murdering my husband."
This year of 2009 could well mark the beginning of the next round of protests.
District Attorney Lynne Abraham is calling on the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate Abu Jamal's death sentence and both the DA's office and Abu Jamal's vocal supporters are awaiting a decision.
In March 2008, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit upheld the 1982 murder conviction. The court also upheld a 2001 ruling that tossed out the death penalty because the jury was improperly instructed and agreed with a lower court ruling that Abu Jamal would have to receive a new penalty hearing before he could be executed.
If the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office decides not to grant a death penalty hearing, Abu Jamal would automatically be sentenced to life in prison, an apparent victory, but not as far as Abu Jamal's supporters are concerned.
"Life in prison is not a victory for Mumia, not as far as we're concerned," Africa said.
On Nov. 18, 2008, the District Attorney's Office filed papers asking the Supreme Court to review the lower court's decision.
Hilary Shelton, director, NAACP Washington Bureau and senior vice president for Advocacy and Policy, said there is enough controversy and conflicting evidence in the case to warrant a new trial for Abu Jamal.
"The formal position of the NAACP on this case is that Abu Jamal deserves a new trial," Shelton said. "There's enough contradictory evidence and conflicting statements to call for this. We're also calling for his removal from death row. There's no reason to keep him under that lock up."
Shelton said in the past, the civil rights organization has been asking the United States Attorney General and the Justice Department to review the case.
During past NAACP national conventions and board meetings, resolutions were passed regarding this issue. Shelton said it was the hope of the NAACP that Holder would move forward with their request.
"We spoke with him about Abu Jamal soon after his confirmation and he was familiar with the case," Shelton said. "Our president Benjamin Jealous has also expressed his concerns and mentioned it during our last convention, along with the racial disparity of the death penalty. We do recognize the discrimination regarding this. Abu Jamal deserves a new trial and we fully support this along with the Justice Department's efforts in this matter."