Askia MuhammadColumnistsOp-EdOpinion

MUHAMMAD: Mumia Abu-Jamal — An Innocent Man Still Persecuted

There’ve been plenty of headlines lately regarding innocent Black men being freed from prison after decades of unjust incarceration. We have also seen a spate of pardons of convicted criminals by merciful authorities.

The most spectacular event was the act by outgoing Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, who pardoned 400 people — including a murderer and even a child rapist — on his way out of the governor’s mansion.

And of course, not to be missed are the pardons of war criminals by President Donald J. Trump, contrary to the recommendations of military and civilian leaders at the Pentagon. He wants to protect savage, lawless war-fighters like the ones he pardoned, as a way to project Trump’s own, narcissistic, exaggerated, Rocky-body image of himself and the troops he commands as tough guys — the toughest, meanest warriors an American adversary would never, ever have to face in combat … really the combat is multimillion-dollar drones, which cost thousands of dollars per hour to operate bombing from the skies, operated by technicians thousands of miles from the battlefield, in order to track down and murder peasant fighters in faraway lands who live on less than $2 per day.

Black men, however, are easy targets for setups because people presume too often that they are definitely guilty of something, if not the crime for which they are charged in court. That’s certainly what happened to award-winning journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal.

On Dec. 9, 1981, a terrible shootout took place in the early, early morning in Philadelphia. A police officer was killed, and WDAS Radio reporter Abu-Jamal, who moonlighted as a taxi driver, was seriously wounded in the altercation.

Because of Abu-Jamal’s involvement for a dozen years in the Black Panther Party, and because of his unflinching support for John Africa and his naturalist commune called MOVE, Abu-Jamal was certain to be convicted of the cop’s murder, even if the cops had to manufacture evidence, and intimidate witnesses — which they did!

Had the law ever been applied fairly, Abu-Jamal would never have spent a day in jail. “The law in terms of court rulings and precedent, as well as the evidence that was presented at trial was faulty,” Linn Washington, a journalist and Abu-Jamal historian at Temple University told this writer in an interview. “All of those things were in Mumia’s favor. The problem has been that courts, Philadelphia courts, Pennsylvania state courts, and federal courts all the way up to the U S Supreme court have refused to follow the law. That’s why Abu-Jamal remains incarcerated.”

No “justice,” “just us.”

Potential Black jurors were systematically stricken from the jury pool in his trial, which was held before a notorious so-called “hanging judge.” That standard could certainly apply to dozens and dozens of men rotting in jail cells all over the country, serving time for crimes they did not commit. They should be free. Mumia Abu-Jamal should be free. He did not kill that police officer. Cops lie!

The prosecution’s case rested on three elements, Washington said: One eye witness accounts; two a confession; and three ballistics. “The two main prosecution witnesses, each had extraordinary reason to lie, number one. And number two, their statements to police changed. The person who actually shot the police officer ran away,” the witnesses said before the evidence was stacked against Abu-Jamal. The so-called confession was in the hospital, where he was drugged and delusional after himself being shot, and came weeks after his arrest, and then only after Abu-Jamal claimed he had been brutalized by the arresting officers.

And then the ballistics evidence is just as unconvincing, Washington said. Prosecutors were never able to match the gun and the bullet who killed the officer that killed the officer to Abu-Jamal’s gun, so the basic evidence is very suspect.

Abu-Jamal never stabbed an “enemy fighter” (or anyone else for that matter) to death in the neck, and then posed with the dead body — as one of the soldiers pardoned by Trump did. Abu-Jamal never ordered any of his supporters or fellow Black Panthers to shoot and kill innocent, unarmed people as one of Trump’s pardoned warriors did.

No, Mumia Abu-Jamal’s crime was not the murder of that cop, but rather the advocacy in behalf of the poor Black people of Philadelphia who were too often (and continue to be, like in cities all over the country) brutalized by cops and framed for crimes they did not commit. That’s just what cops do.

I say: Free Mumia Abu-Jamal! He’s an innocent man!

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Askia Muhammad

WPFW News Director Askia Muhammad is also a poet, and a photojournalist. He is Senior Editor for The Final Call newspaper and he writes a weekly column in The Washington Informer.

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