NEW YORK — On September 14 the Brecht Forum in N.Y.C. hosted a meeting that would both inform and explain the campaign for a civil rights investigation by the Department of Justice into the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. The auditorium was filled with people of every age and color.
Dr. Suzanne Ross, from the N.Y. Coalition to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal spoke first. She said that their coalition had doubled in size since the Supreme Court ruled against a new trial for Mumia. They decided that working for a civil rights investigation should be the next course of action. For 27 years the courts have ruled against Mumia and the Pennsylvania courts are still trying to execute him. They thought the federal courts would be more fair but that hasn’t proved to be true. On April 11th they started to petition for a civil rights investigation. The request is being backed by Rep. Charles Rangel and the coalition is looking for additional allies: the NAACP, the congressional Black caucus, and John Conyers’ House Judiciary Committee. At their convention the NAACP agreed to work on Mumia’s behalf but so far nothing has been done. The coalition believes that Jeffrey Holder might be receptive to the idea because he is the 1st Black Attorney General in U.S. history and also because he was involved in the release of 11 Puerto Rican political prisoners in 1999. In the process of being approved by the senate for his current position he was challenged for what he did and he stood by the release of those prisoners. When asked what we could do to urge this process along Dr. Ross said we could write asking Holder to commit to the investigation and we could urge organizations we belong to to pass a resolution in support of a civil rights investigation. This was done by the National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981.
The next speaker was attorney Lynne Stewart. She said that we are in a no holds barred situation with Mumia – we are almost at the end of a trail. He is close to having a death order signed and we don’t have many places to go. People know he did not get a fair trial and now they are coming to realize that he is innocent. If we could get an investigation of the Philadelphia Police Department from the Justice Department it would help Mumia. It should be pointed out to the NAACP that Mumia’s case has echoes that go back to the Scottsboro Boys and the NAACP’s fight for an anti-lynching law. She ended by saying that we are in a protracted struggle. We have to organize to get all political prisoners out of prison and she quoted Fred Hampton Jr. saying “Free ‘em all.”
Then Danny Meyers, President of the N.Y. chapter of the National Lawyers Guild and one of the original Attica lawyers who fought N.Y.S. for over 30 years on behalf of the prisoners that were tortured in Attica, spoke. He said that the torture in Attica was worse than Abu Ghraib. “Attica is all of us”, he continued. 39 years ago this morning, Governor Nelson Rockefeller ordered a massacre. The prisoners had taken over the prison because of the horrible conditions there. The lawyers that defended the prisoners through decades of litigation were all from the National Lawyers Guild. They established that torture has always been part of American history. He said that the NLG supports the civil rights campaign for Mumia. It is not a rejection of the efforts of dedicated lawyers who have worked for Mumia in the courts over many decades – it is a complimentary effort. There is a contradiction, or an irony, that lawyers advocating zealously for their clients are now going to the government and telling it that it too has a role to play in maintaining the myth of equal justice. He said there was a lot of work and research to be done. Were the judges hand picked? There are 3 judges in N.Y. County that have tried every political case. Also, judges are not immune when they function outside their normal jurisdiction (extra judicial activity). Were there any ex parte communications (communication between the judge and the prosecution or the judge and other parties) in Mumia’s case? It has already been reported that Judge Sabo was heard to tell someone outside the court that he is going to “fry the nigger”.
Alton Maddox, “attorney at war”, spoke next but he led the room in a chant first: “No justice, no peace. What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now.” He said he was glad to be among people who love justice and do something about it. He remembered being called by Pam Africa when she asked him to help pack the courtroom everyday while Mumia was being tried. He brought people there everyday. He said we have to be organized to struggle because, in the words of Fredrick Douglass, “Power cedes nothing without struggle”. The lives of Blacks were worth more in the courts when there was slavery – they had value as property, In today’s courts Blacks have no value and get no justice. He believes that the Supreme Court traded Troy Davis’ life for Mumia’s, stopping the execution of Davis but not Mumia. Attorney General Jeffrey Holder, he said, can do anything if “he can find the starch in his back”. Judge Sabo, “Executed more Black men then anyone in the country.” “Mumia is one of the most important”. He then referred to the racism of Rep. Joe Wilson calling Obama a liar during Obama’s speech before congress. They didn’t openly attack LBJ for signing the Voting Rights Act after the tragedy in Selma. Civility toward a president has never been breached in the history of congress. The struggle for Mumia’s life “can and will be won”, he concluded.
Pam Africa, who has led the struggle to free Mumia for very many years, was the final speaker. She said we are fighting 2 beasts, capitalism and the courts. We must organize and mobilize. The government will drag things out and try to exhaust us but we must keep fired-up. They will wait for the fire to go out and then attack. We can’t let that happen. Seth Williams, a Black man, is running for the position of District Attorney in Philadelphia. One of the top items in his platform is the execution of Mumia. All the other candidates have made that a priority too. Philadelphia is a police state and there is a cesspool in the Police Department. Some police have been prosecuted. It is a corrupt system aggravated by racism and the Justice Department should focus on the possibility of a racist conspiracy in Pennsylvania.
All over the world people know that Mumia is innocent. In Paris they named a street after him. We have to save him, we cannot falter. He is still alive today because the people in the streets have kept him alive.
One of the speakers mentioned that there were several former prisoners in the room. One of them, Lawrence Hayes, who was on death row before he was exonerated, stood to speak. He said that someone should investigate the policies of the judges that ruled against Mumia. Racism is very strong in the criminal justice system. That system has killed more people, more communities, and more families than any war.
When the meeting ended there was a general feeling of optimism for the first time since the Supreme Court ruled against Mumia. Mumia’s supporters left the auditorium with a sense of hope and a renewed determination to stop the murder of an innocent man.