APRIL 12, 2010
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Radio Network to Commemorate Birthday of U.S. Political Prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal
Last week, the Pacifica Radio Network recommended that show hosts at all Pacifica stations "produce special programming on April 24th, the birthday of Mumia Abu-Jamal, in order to highlight and bring attention to his case."
The resolution came before the National Board, which is the governing body of the Pacifica radio network and includes stations WBAI (New York), KPFA (Berkeley, California), KPFK (Los Angeles), WPFW (Washington D.C.) and KPFT (Houston).
April 24th will be the 56th birthday of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the award-winning journalist who has spent the last 28 years of his life on death row in Pennsylvania. Abu-Jamal was convicted for the shooting death of a Philadelphia police officer, Daniel Faulkner, in December, 1981 -- a crime Abu-Jamal insists he did not commit.
The resolution was presented by Alex Steinberg, a Director from WBAI (99.5 FM) and Chair of the station's Programming Committee, to the often fractious national board. In a surprising display of unity the resolution passed it unanimously.
Steinberg said that "it is part of the Pacifica network's core mission to draw attention to a case of injustice that has dragged on for 29 years and of the political uses to which the death penalty is being put."
Drawing connections to the Sacco and Vanzetti case in the 1920s and the Rosenberg case in the '50s, Steinberg continued: "The case of Mumia Abu-Jamal fits exactly into Pacifica's mission as a radio network, which is to to gather and disseminate information on the causes of conflict between groups, and to use the radio to provide accurate, objective, comprehensive news on all matters vitally affecting the community."
The idea for commemorating Mumia Abu-Jamal's birthday on public radio stations was raised in a letter by Yuri Kochiyama, an activist and survivor of the U.S. government's internment camps of Japanese-Americans during World War II. It was further developed by Carole Seligman in California and by Mitchel Cohen, the Chair of the WBAI Local Station Board in New York, who worked with Steinberg on it, and received help from KPFA producer Noelle Hanrahan in formulating the idea for nation-wide programming for April 24th.
Hanrahan, who coordinates the Prison Project and has been supplying broadcasters with Abu-Jamal's commentaries for years, asks: "Why is the simple truth of life in prison and a searing perspective from death row perceived as such a threat? The answer lies in the fact that Mumia Abu-Jamal's voice reaches people, informs them and changes consciousness."
Efia Nwangaza, of Greenville South Carolina's WMXP (95.5 FM) and a representative of the over 140 stations affiliated with Pacifica Radio, supported Steinberg's resolution. "Encouraging programming that highlights Mumia Abu-Jamal's case is the kind of programming for which Pacifica is known and which best serves our nation," she said. "An informed electorate makes for a healthy democracy."
The Pacifica radio network has been at the forefront of informing listeners and challenging government censorship from its inception. Broadcasting the voices of prisoners including Mumia Abu-Jamal and investigating the conditions of imprisonment in the United States is in Pacifica's storied tradition of investigative, uncompromising, groundbreaking journalism.
When National Public Radio (NPR) censored Mumia Abu-Jamal's commentaries in 1994, canceling his debut as a featured regular commentator on All Things Considered at the behest of Senator Bob Dole, it was Democracy Now! and Pacifica radio that aired his voice across their national network.
As scholar Cornell West puts it, "Will we ever listen to, and learn from, our bloodstained prophets? Mumia Abu-Jamal speaks to us of the institutional injustice and spiritual impoverishment of our culture."
Mumia Abu-Jamal represents many others in death-row circumstances similar to his own, both in the fact of his case and in his writings, in which he discusses many other cases but rarely mentions himself. And he faces the same fate that many have faced before him and others still face -- that of being executed for a crime which, he insists, he did not commit.
Another Pacifica National Board Director from WBAI, Jennifer Jager, sums up her views on why she supported the resolution:
"Mumia Abu-Jamal was framed not because of any act he committed on that evil night in December 1981, but for his political writings exposing the corruption and lies of the police department in Philadelphia."
Indeed, in Feburary, 2000, the independent human rights group Amnesty International, among other organizations, released a report sharply criticizing the Fraternal Order of Police in Philadelphia in the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Amnesty wrote: "Mumia Abu-Jamal was sentenced to death for the murder of a police officer in 1982 after a trial that failed to meet international standards. In this report Amnesty International conducts a full analysis of the trial of Mumia Abu-Jamal including the background and atmosphere prevailing in the city of Philadelphia in 1982 and the possible political influences that may have prevented him from receiving an impartial and fair hearing." http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AMR51/001/2000
Jager applauded the Pacifica Foundation "for having the courage and integrity to stand with Mumia and provide information about his case to the public. I am proud to serve on the board of this unique institution which provides true non-commercial free speech radio, and information you cannot hear anywhere else on the dial."
And WBAI Board Chair Mitchel Cohen concluded: "In my opinion, highlighting the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal not only exposes injustices present in this particular case but a racist pattern of abuse by the police and courts. These usurpations of civil liberties affect all of us; they are becoming increasingly evident in other cases as well Troy Davis, Leonard Peltier and numerous others come to mind.
"This sort of national programming is what the Pacifica network is all about, why we do innovative radio to begin with, and why Pacifica is so important in today's America," Cohen said.
For background information and recordings of Mumia Abu-Jamal, please visit:
Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal