[Paleopsych] Front Page: Free Mumia?
checker at panix.com
Mon Jan 24 21:31:31 UTC 2005
[This is a little old, but support for Mumia rages on.]
By Paul Mulshine
FrontPageMagazine.com | August 1, 1995
Heterodoxy | August 1995
SEVERAL YEARS AFTER THE MURDER of her husband, Maureen Faulkner moved
to Southern California. It was as complete a change as she could
imagine, from the confined rowhouse neighborhoods of Philadelphia to
the wide-open beaches of the Pacific. She wanted to get away from it
all, but the horror of his death has followed her.
"I had a very interesting experience the other day," she told me. "I
was pumping gas and I saw this guy get out of his car and he had on a
'Free Mumia' T-shirt. I went over to him and I said, 'Excuse me. Where
did you get that shirt?'
" 'At a rally at UCLA,' he said.
" 'Tell me about the case,' I said.
" 'It's about a Black Panther and the police framed him,' he said.
"I said, 'Who do you really think shot the cop?'
" 'Some other guy did it and ran away,' he said.
"I said, 'You better get your facts straight, because the next time
you walk around wearing a shirt like that the widow of the officer may
come up to you.'
"He said, You mean you're the widow?'
"I said, 'If you give me your name and address, I'll send you the
facts of the case!
"He said, 'No, thanks. "
Maureen Faulkner wasn't surprised by this response. Those who worship
in the cult of Mumia Abu-Jamal are allergic to the facts. In fact,
ignorance is a precondition for the religious experience. Far better
to restrict oneself to the experience of Jamal's cuddly image as an
existential dreadlocked intellectual and of his voice, a wonderful,
mellifluous instrument familiar to listeners of National Public
Radio's All Things Considered. In a gesture reminiscent of the
Ayatollah's communiqués from Paris during the years of his exile,
Jamal regularly sends out from death row cassettes that teach the
hands of the faithful in faraway places.
In Pennsylvania, where people know about him, Jamal is a nonentity,
but in California he's a star. TV actors like Ed Asner and Mike
Farrell preach his gospel, And college students in Los Angeles wear
T-shirts emblazoned with his image and reject any invitation to learn
the facts about his case.
The University of California has done some amazing things over the
years, but perhaps its most remarkable accomplishment has been to make
available to the masses the sort of high-minded ignorance that used to
be the sole province of Ivy League alumni. It produces an amazing type
of person, superficially educated yet totally devoid of the type of
intellectual curiosity that the university education is supposed to
When I covered the wars in Central America in the 1980s, I was amazed
at the number of University of California students I'd run into in
places like Nicaragua and Guatemala. I'd hear these people making
huge, sweeping statements about local politics that had absolutely no
basis in fact. I'd offer to show them some writings and documents that
might alter their views, but theylike the guy Maureen Faulkner met in
the gas stationwould decline. Thought to them was not a matter of dry
facts and boring theories; it was a question of consciousness. Once
one's consciousness was raised about a given question, that was that.
Though I grew up and live in the East, I attended the University of
California in the 1960s, so I'm not unaware of the roots of this
phenomenon. It's what could be called the California Fallacy: that
high moral authority derives from living in a beautiful place. When
you're up in the eucalyptus groves above Berkeley, gazing at a
panorama of the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean beyond, it's
easy to believe that your thoughts are as wonderful as the view. This
isn't true, but it has one major advantage from my point of view:
Practitioners of the California Fallacy rarely show up where I live,
just outside Philadelphia.
So it was a bit of a shock when, upon emerging from the dingy, gray
Philadelphia courtroom in which the case of Mumia Abu Jamal was being
argued, I found myself surrounded by a handful of University of
California types who had caravanned east to chant on behalf of their
favorite political prisoner. It was only a little more shocking
whenfifteen minutes laterI was being assaulted by two of them on the
street in broad daylight.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. I was at the hearing in August 1995
because I was trying to discover just what it is about Jamal that has
made him into an international celebrity. His fame is certainly a
mystery to the working journalists of Philadelphia who have covered
his case since the beginning. The evidence against Jamal at his trial
was so conclusive that no one, not even those who are Philadelphia's
politically liberal equivalent of the conservative, wealthy Main Line
residents, doubts that Jamal shot police officer Daniel Faulkner.
One of the journalists who knows the case best is David Holmberg, who
covered it for the Philadelphia Daily News. At the time of the trial
in 1982, he was a committed liberal who was very skeptical of the
Philadelphia police. He was prepared to give Jamal the benefit of the
doubt. "It was just one of those things where the whole tone was, hey,
this is a black guy. This is the Philadelphia police. If you were
there at the time, your first inclination was to identify with Jamal,"
says Holmberg. "But the evidence was just so overwhelming. The
testimony was so convincing."
Not only that, but Jamal also sabotaged his own defense by demanding
to act as his own attorney. The crusty old judge, Albert Sabo, granted
that request but refused to grant a further request that Jamal be
aided in his defense by John Africa, leader of a weird back-to-nature
cult called MOVE that Jamal had embraced. Mumia's ties with the cult
had become so strong, in fact, that he had left his part-time job as a
correspondent for public radio. Although in late 198 1, the time of
the killing, Jamal was the head of the local chapter of the National
Association of Black journalists, by then he had only a tenuous
connection to the journalism profession. He made his living by driving
When Judge Sabo refused to permit John Africa to join the defense
team, Jamal responded by disrupting the trial and playing to the
audience, which was composed largely of MOVE members. A pattern
developed. After warning him several times to cease disrupting the
proceedings, Sabo would have Jamal removed from the courtroom and let
his backup attorney, Anthony Jackson, handle the defense. Then Jamal
would return for a while, until his next disruption.
After the jury returned a guilty verdict on first-degree murder, Jamal
sealed his fate by choosing to address the jury during the penalty
phase. He began a long political harangue during which he openly
insulted the jurors, two of whom were black. They responded by
sentencing him to death. Jamal's behavior was so bizarre that a
Philadelphia Inquirer reporter speculated in print that the defendant
David Holmberg, now with a Florida newspaper, says he can't understand
how the pathetic character on display at the trial metamorphosed into
the cult hero of an international movement. "It's amazing the way
these people come out of the woodwork for Mumia," he says.
That's what I figured and that's why I was in the courtroom when Jamal
was brought into Philadelphia for hearings on the appeal of his death
sentence. I wanted to find out just who was behind the Mumia
phenomenon. One day, after the hearing ended, I went into the plaza to
interview the demonstrators who'd been showing up faithfully for
several weeks. A rather pleasant looking young woman handed me a "Free
Mumia" pamphlet. I asked if I could interview her. It began well
enough. She gave her name as Karla and her age as twenty-three. A
graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz, she was looking
for something to do during the summer, so she joined a six-car
"caravan for justice" that began in Santa Cruz and eventually brought
twenty-seven people to Philadelphia. She was a very nice, very sincere
person whoin the great University of California traditionwas innocent
of any knowledge of the case that she had traveled three thousand
miles to protest.
I knew a lot more about the case than she did, and not simply because
I'm a journalist. By pure coincidence I happened to be what might be
called an "earwitness" to the crime. On December 9, 1981, 1 was living
just two blocks from 13th and Locust streets in Philadelphia. I was up
late that night writing. I was still awake when, just before 4:00
A.M., I heard a quick burst of what sounded like gunfire. I heard five
or six shots, and it was over almost as soon as it began. Then I heard
The next morning, the newspapers said that a twenty-five-year-old cop
by the name of Daniel Faulkner had been shot to death. Jamal was also
shot, apparently by the cop. The facts were not controversial.
Faulkner had stopped Jamal's brother, William Cook, for a traffic
violation. Jamal happened, by what appears to have been pure
coincidence, to have been driving a cab nearby. He observed Faulkner
and Cook struggling. He ran across the street toward them and shot
Faulkner in the back, according to the police account. Faulkner got
off one shot and hit Jamal in the chest. Jamal then stood over the
fallen officer and fired four more shots. When police arrived on the
scene they found Faulkner dying from a bullet between the eyes and
Jamal sitting on a curb nearby. A .38 caliber Charter Arms revolver
registered to Jamal was at his feet with five spent cartridges in it.
Jamal was wearing a holster.
I asked Karla to explain to me how Jamal could possibly have been
innocent. Why was he wearing a holster? What happened to Jamal's five
bullets? Had he, in a burst of compassion, fired them into the air
while some Good Samaritan came to his aid and shot the officer?
"I don't know," Karla said. "There's a big possibility that another
person shot him."
"Give me a scenario," I said. "Just one."
At this point she became a bit confused. She fetched another Mumiaite.
He gave his name as Dan.
.Did you graduate from UCSC?" I asked.
"I went there," he said.
"Give me a scenario."
"There's a lot of scenarios" he said. "There were 125 eyewitnesses who
claim they saw what happened, and the defense didn't get a chance to
"Wait a minute," I said. "One hundred and twenty-five eyewitnesses at
Broad and Locust at 4:00 A.M. on a December night? Have you ever been
to Broad and Locust?"
Dan admitted he hadn't. I pointed out to him that, having traveled
three thousand miles, he might want to walk three blocks to visit the
murder scene. This might aid him in realizing that the intersection of
Broad and Locust was certainly not the type of place where hundreds of
people congregate at 4:00 A.M.
He backpedaled: "I'm not saying 125 people saw who did what."
"What are you saying? You mean you came all this distance and you've
never even thought of a scenario by which your man could possibly be
At this point Dan and Karla seemed to realize that, unlike most of the
out-of-town journalists who had descended on Philadelphia for the
Jamal hearings, I was not a fan.
"I don't want you to quote me," said Karla. "I want my quotes back."
"I'll consider it," I said.
"Me too," said Dan. "I don't want you to quote me."
I began to walk away. The City Hall courtyard was filled with
Mumiaites, and I didn't want to attract a crowd of them. They were the
usual collection of clueless Quakers, burned-out sixties radical
women, and rasta-dressed middle-class black people. They'd been having
their little party out there for days, and it was a pathetic sight. A
woman who identified herself as the Socialist candidate for New York
City Council took the megaphone to praise Cuba as "the only
revolutionary free nation on the earth." At another point, a young
black man who might have been a college student actually smashed a
black-and-white TV with a crowbar to show his contempt for the media.
I hadn't the heart to tell him that that particular piece of guerrilla
theater had become a cliché before he was born.
No, I didn't want to get mau-maued by that crew. So I tucked my
notebook in my back pocket and melted into the midday crowd. It was
when I was a block away from City Hall that it happened. I felt a tug.
I turned and saw Karla trying to escape with my notebook. I grabbed it
back. Karla, to give credit where it's due, had a hell of a strong
grip. Before I could work my notebook free, I felt someone grabbing me
from behind. It was a tall Jamal supporter whom I'd seen back at City
Hall. "Call the police!" I began to yell at bystanders.
The thought of an imminent arrest by the Philadelphia police instantly
inspired a burst of rationality in the Mumiaites. The tall guy let go,
and Karla surrendered the notebook. I stuck my finger in the tall
guy's chest. "Listen, bozo, I could have you arrested for assault!"
"I am not a bozo!" he replied.
"Can't we compromise?" said Karla. "Those are my quotes. I don't want
"Well, if you don't want your quotes used, don't talk to journalists,"
I told her. "This is the East. We play for keeps."
I went looking for a pay phone to dial 911 and have the two arrested.
But by the time I found one, I began to appreciate the humor in the
incident. "I am not a bozo!"they should print that up on the back of
all those T-shirts that say "Free Mumia!" in front.
The next night I attended a panel discussion on the Jamal case. By
coincidence, the annual convention of the National Association of
Black Journalists was in town. Security was heavy. The Mumiaites were
out in force, picketing at the entrance to the hotel where the
convention was being held. The panel featured attorneys on opposite
sides of the case. For Jamal, there was Leonard Weinglass, the
leftwing lawyer who has represented everyone from the Chicago Seven to
the men who bombed the World Trade Center. The anti-Jamal side was
represented by Joseph McGill, who had prosecuted Jamal in the original
trial in 1982. McGill had since left the district attorney's office
and gone into private practice, but he retained an interest in the
Jamal case. He was fond of telling the media that the case was a
prosecutor's dream, with every base coveredfrom motive to physical
evidence to eyewitness testimony.
The panel discussion promised great drama, tremendous tension. The
room was packed with the cream of the nation's black journalists,
hundreds of reporters and editors from all over the country who were
eager to examine the racially charged case of a black journalist on
death row for killing a white policeman in a city that had had a
history of bad relations between the races. As it began, the
principals fiddled with their microphones and talked nervously.
Then an amazing thing happenednothing. Weinglass got a bit of a charge
out of the audience by bringing up every possible racial aspect of the
case. He hit hard on the idea that the Philadelphia police were out to
get Jamal because he had been a Black Panther in his youth. But McGill
pointed out the simple facts of the case. Even if the police had been
out to get Jamal, there is no way they could have arranged for him to
show up at that particular intersection, armed, at the exact moment
his brother was being arrested.
"It is almost beyond belief to imagine a conspiracy so wide and so
deep as to get all this evidence together:' McGill said. He pointed
out that the defense had failed to come up with any challenge to the
fact that Jamal's gun was found at his feet with five spent casings in
As for Jamal's political involvement, it was more likely to prove his
guilt than his innocence, McGill argued. Jamal's obsession with the
MOVE cult had led him to grow dreadlocks and become an advocate of the
group, if not a member. Shortly before the Faulkner shooting, Jamal
had covered a trial at which MOVE members were convicted of killing a
white policeman during a siege at one of their fortified houses.
"Abu-Jamal indicated he was just overwhelmed with anger in 1981 when
the MOVE members were sentenced," said McGill.
Shortly after this statement I first noticed a curious phenomenon: The
black journalists in the audience were filing out. Discreetly, in ones
and twos, they began making their way to the back of the room.
Elsewhere in the hotel were hospitality suites, recruiters from major
newspapers, all kinds of attractions for the young, well-dressed,
upwardly mobile cream of the African-American journalistic
establishment. Inside was a debate between white people about what,
when you got right down to it, was the sort of local crime story that
most reporters have seen enough of.
The question-and-answer session began. A Jamal supporter, one of those
aging-hippie types with long hair on the sides but none on top, began
a tirade on the subject of how unfair it was to call Jamal a
"convicted cop-killer." This characterized Jamal as someone who
habitually killed police officers, when, in fact, he was accused of
having done it only once. The moderator cut him off after a minute or
so: "Do you have a question?"
"Yes," the man said. "Mr. McGill, how can you call Mumia Abu Jamal a
"He killed a cop," McGill replied.
"That doesn't make him a cop-killer!" the guy yelled.
This dialogue caused the remaining black journalists to look at each
other. The movement toward the doors became less discreet. There were
still some unfortunates left, however, when Pam Africa got to the
microphone. She had wild dreadlocks and a child, also in dreadlocks,
on her hip. The assembled black journalists seemed appalled. Unlike us
white male journalists, who generally dress only slightly better than
carpenters, black journalists tend to have a sense of style. Pam
Africa was a living stereotype of every upwardly mobile black
In a guttural voice, Ms. Africa began a tirade on the innocence of
Jamal. The trickle to the exits became a flood. After the panel
discussion ended, a few black journalists whom I knew came over and
discussed the Jamal case with me. They knew I was covering the case,
and they were being polite. But to them, it was a non-story.
And for good reason. Leonard Weinglass has done an admirable job of
fooling the national media into thinking there is some doubt about who
shot Faulkner. But he's up against a problem often cited by a football
coach at my old high school: You can't make chicken salad out of
chicken shit. Jamal's decision to act as his own attorney at his 1982
trial left Weinglass with a trial record that is extremely damaging to
his client. Weinglass can nibble at the edges of the evidence all he
wants, but he can't get rid of that Charter Arms revolver found at
Mumia Abu-Jamal's feet. Weinglass concedes there were five spent
casings in the gun, but he criticizes the police for not testing the
gun to see if it had been fired recently.
"How do you do that?" someone asked. Weinglass said, "You just smell
Wonderful: His client was literally caught with a smoking gun, so he
criticizes the police for not smelling the smoke.
The other objections raised by Weinglass and the Jamal supporters have
little coherence. The objections represent at least four separate and
mutually exclusive theories of what happened that night. The theories
get more and more fantastic as the case progresses. In this latest
hearing, the defense one day produced a witness who said Faulkner was
shot by a passenger in William Cook's car and on another day produced
a witness who said Faulkner was shot by a guy with "Johnny Mathis
hair" who drove up to the scene in the middle of the action and fired
the coup de grace into Faulkner's face.
The press reported these scenarios as if they might have had validity.
This is nonsense. The media haveamazinglyfailed to report the most
salient fact about the Jamal case: Jamal has never once said he didn't
shoot Faulkner. A Time magazine article, for example, repeated the
oft-stated contention that Jamal has denied shooting Faulkner. But in
fact, he's never made such a statement. At his trial, he divided his
time between political tirades about the MOVE organization and
questioning that seemed to indicate a mild endorsement of the
mystery-gunman theory. This strategy backfired when Jamal, acting as
his own attorney, challenged the testimony of a prosecution witness, a
cabdriver named Robert Chobert, who said, "I saw you, buddy. I saw you
shoot him and I never took my eyes off you."
Jamal didn't take the stand at that trial to give his story. Nor did
he call as a witness his brother, who presumably could have identified
the mystery gunman. In all public statements since the trial, he has
studiously avoided any discussion of the events of December 9, 1981.
Reporters who get jailhouse interviews with him are told in advance
they can't ask about the only moment in Jamal's life that is in any
way newsworthy. All the various fantastic scenarios involving mystery
gunmen come not from Jamal, but from his acolytes. What we have here
is a first in historya debate in which one of the participants holds
up his end without talking.
Why the silence? On two separate occasions I asked Weinglass if he
intends to stick to the mystery-gunman theory in the event Jamal wins
a retrial. On both occasions he declined to comment. I upped the ante.
"You're going to plead self-defense, right?" I asked. At this point he
got a bit testy and called me a "prosecuting journalist."
The reason for his testiness is obvious. The search for a mystery
gunman is a charade, a fund-raising stunt, a way of getting a new
trial. In the event that he and his supporters outside the courtroom
manage to win a retrial, Weinglass is likely to admit the obvious:
that Jamal shot Faulkner. He could then claim that Jamal acted only to
save his brother from a beating like that Rodney King received. (This
isn't trueCook sucker-punched Faulkner, eyewitnesses said.) He could
stage a defense of the variety pioneered by Huey Newton in 1967a
political extravaganza of white guilt, inquiries into American racism,
and cop-baiting. Putting the nation on trial, Weinglass might well
create doubt about a few very hectic seconds of violence. The
advantage to this strategy is that Weinglass doesn't have to win an
acquittal. Under Pennsylvania law, any verdict below first-degree
murder would permit Jamal to walk out of the courtroom the next day by
virtue of time served.
This is the long-range strategy. For now, Mumia must remain silent. If
he were to deny right now that he shot Faulkner, the political defense
would be sidetracked because his statements could be used against him
in a retrial. "You lied about shooting the officer," the prosecutor
could ask. "What else are you lying about?"
Weinglass's plan may be a good one for his client, but it's an awful
one for the United States. People around the world are being told that
Jamal is a political prisoner who is on death row for a murder that
someone else committed. It isn't true, but it's a compelling story,
and he's a compelling character. On several occasions I've seen Mumia
Abu-Jamal in the flesh, and he isand this is a strange thing to say
about a convicted murderercute. The dreadlocks, the granny glasseshe
looks like a white hippie in racial drag. He reminds me not of any
black person I've ever known but of my organic-farmer friend, George
(who, coincidentally, is also a graduate of UCSC).
The Jamal people make a lot out of the racial nature of the case, but
in fact few blacks in Philadelphia give a damn about Mumia. The MOVE
group has zero popularity in the black community. The 1985 siege in
which eleven MOVE members died was prompted because the neighbors of
MOVE, virtually all of them black, demanded that the police do
something about the noise and filth at the compound. Among the black
journalists in Philadelphia, support tends to be limited to those who
were friends of Jamal before the shooting. The crowds outside the
courtroom are made up almost entirely of non-Philadelphians.
No, the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal does not strike a chord with most
black Americans. In fact, his support comes almost exclusively from
white Americans who are stuck in the sixties. These people, like the
Santa Cruz students, hate the idea that actions have consequences,
that a man can, in a few seconds, embark on a path that will put a
permanent stain on his life. The ethos of the sixties was "If it feels
good, do it." And perhaps it felt good, that night, for Mumia
Abu-Jamal to take out a gun and even the score for what he perceived
to be three centuries of racism. In the minds of the Jamal supporters,
a balance has been struck. The racism of the Philadelphia police
cancels out whatever happened the night Daniel Faulkner was shot.
In the middle of researching the Jamal case and reading his book, Live
from Death Row, I happened to come upon a book by another black
journalist/convict. The title is Makes Me Wanna Holler, and the author
is Nathan McCall, who now writes for the Washington Post. McCall
describes a life growing up in a solid, lower-middle class family. In
his early teens, he joined a gang. Soon he participated in the
gang-rape of a scared young virgin. Then he graduated to burglaries,
holdups, and gang fights; on several occasions, he shot a pistol at
other teenagers who were unarmed. Eventually, his political
consciousness was awakened by the Black Panthers. He drove to a suburb
and walked up to the picture window of a home where a white family was
watching TV. He aimed his sawed-off shotgun at the window, fired, and
ran away. He never learned whether he hit anyone.
He tells these stories in a bragging tone, full of the hip slang of
the black underculture. He gives the standard dissection of that
underculture and shows why it was racism that caused him to commit his
crimes. By the end of the book, when McCall is safely at the
Washington Post, he clearly wants the reader to be impressed by his
generosity in coming to forgive white people. He's still upset,
though, by the way some white folks act. When he enters elevators
alone with middle-aged white women, they shrink defensively into a
This he ascribes to racism. Perhaps. But perhaps these women are just
good judges of character. Perhaps they sense intuitively that they are
in an extremely confined space with someone who has proven himself
capable of gang-raping a child, shooting at a family, and robbing
people at gunpoint. The progressive theory of criminal justice holds
that the past can be eradicated. No act is irrevocable. Given enough
time, evil acts stop being evil acts and become something elsematerial
for a best-seller. Rape a child? Shoot a cop? Write a book.
The problem of Nathan McCall, and of Mumia Abu-Jamal, is the same
problem Herman Melville delineated in Billy Buddwho was, however, a
far more sympathetic character. Budd was by all accounts a wonderful
fellow. Even the naval officers who sentenced him to death realized
that he struck and killed a superior in a moment of inarticulate rage
caused by that man's unfair harassment of him. Billy Budd apologized
from the heart for his crime. But that didn't make the crime go away.
His execution was necessary to maintain the ritual of order on a ship
in wartime. "With mankind, forms, measured forms, are everything,"
says Captain Vere, who reluctantly orders the execution.
Melville was one of the first to be skeptical of the modem notion that
human nature could be changed by the great burst of rationality that
shaped the nineteenth century. You wonder what he would make of the
example of novelist E. L. Doctorow. Doctorow has come to Jamal's
defense not out of any understanding of the case, but out of an
amorphous, damp feeling that the matter should be discussed into
eternity. Doctorow wrote a piece in the New York Times based solely on
the many distortions in Weinglass's petition for a new trial. In the
piece, he refers to "Jamal's own account"which does not exist"that he
was shot first by the officer as he approached." He concludes that a
retrial should be granted.
There are several amazing things about Doctorow's piece. A man who has
written extensively about crime, Doctorow didn't bother to call the
Philadelphia district attorney's office and get the other side of the
story. But even more amazing is that he seems to be building a theory
that Jamal, having just been shot by a cop, somehow managed to get off
five shots without hitting anyone while someone else came along in
that same brief moment and shot the officer. Doctorow concludes,
unctuously, "Will the pain of Faulkner's widow, who supports Jamal's
execution, be resolved if it turns out that the wrong man has been
executed and her husband's killer still walks the streets?"
If Doctorow were really concerned about "the pain of Faulkner's
widow," he could simply call Maureen Faulkner and discuss it. Then
he'd learn that this pain is greatly exacerbated by foolish people
like him who take the side of her husband's killer without learning
the facts. But few of the people who follow Mumia Abu-Jamal seem to
want to think too much about the facts. They're happy with hints of a
mystery gunman, and they'd like to leave it at that, floating in the
What they hate more than the police, more than racism, is the idea
that some acts are irreversible, that a cute, reasonable-sounding guy
like Mumia Abu-Jamal could have held a gun eighteen inches from the
head of a man who was lying helpless on the sidewalk, pulled the
trigger, and sent a hollow-point bullet into his brain, where it
proceeded to expand to many times its original size. (The gun-shop
owner who sold Jamal the hollow-point bullets testified at the trial
Well, tough luck, boys and girls. Jamal did it. Worse, he did it and
he never once expressed any remorse, any sadness for anyone but
himself Sorry, Karla, we can't compromise. Some things are
irreversibletrivial things like quotes given to a reporter and big
things like a bullet in the brain. Sorry E. L., this isn't one of
those Random House novels where the identity of the mystery gunman is
revealed at the end. This is real life in a bad part of town. If
there's a better candidate for the death penalty than a man who kills
in cold blood and shows not the slightest regret, we Philadelphians
haven't heard of him.
The great irony here is that if Jamal had simply told the truth at his
trial and let his lawyer do his job, he probably would have been
convicted of manslaughter or third-degree murder. He would have served
his time by now and been released. He appears to have learned his
lesson. These days, he sits quietly in court while his defense team
does the talking. He is evolving. "You wait," says Maureen Faulkner.
"if he ever gets a retrial, you're gonna see Jamal in a buzz haircut
and a suit."
A safe bet. But its also a safe bet Jamal will never get another
trial. The rules for appeals call for the defendant to show not only
that an issue was wrongly decided at trial, but also that if the
decision had gone the other way, the verdict might have been reversed.
In Jamal's case, that's a stiff burden. Throw out any one piece of
evidence and there are still a dozen more. And the smoking gun simply
won't go away.
As a radio journalist, Jamal was a failure. As a writer, he's a
mediocrity. It is often said of bad writers, "He couldn't write a
ransom note." That can't be said of Jamal. His entire book is a ransom
note, a cleverly disguised plea to raise the ransom to get him off
death row. So far it's brought in at least $800,000. But as
literature, it's laughable.
In life, Mumia Abu-Jamal was little more than a sixties social
experiment that failed. It's only in death that he will finally be
able to do something for his fellow man. His departure, if it ever
comes, will signal to all Americans-from the most august professor at
the University of California to the lowliest TV star-that we human
beings are irrevocably tied to our actions. It will mean that we are
not condemned to frolic forever clueless among the redwoods, but that
we do indeed have a civilization, and that civilization has certain
rules that protect us from the whimsies of our barbaric nature.
MORE ON MUMIA ABU JAMAL:
* International Concerned Family & Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal
* ABC News 20/20, "Hollywoods Unlikely Hero"
* Justice for Daniel Faulkner
* FrontPage Black Panther archive
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