The Race for Justice Is On

We Will Fight for Mumia's Life

By: Tristin Adie

Thousands of people will travel from around the country on April 24 to demonstrations in San Francisco and Philadelphia to demand a new trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal.

In what has already been an encouraging display of solidarity for the famed death-row inmate, activists have been organizing contingents to attend from trade unions, high schools, colleges, churches and community centers in cities throughout the country. Activists in other countries - like South Africa, France, Germany and Italy - have also pledged to demonstrate on April 24.

As activists have raised the stakes around Mumia's case, the Fraternal Order of Police has stepped up its anti-Mumia campaign. True to form, they launched an all-out assault against Mumia's supporters, trying to shut down a January Mumia concert in New Jersey and to stamp out a high school teach-in on Mumia in Oakland, Calif.

This should come as no surprise. After all, as a journalist, Mumia exposed and spoke out against police brutality, racism, poverty and inequality in Philadelphia. This made him a target of the police department throughout much of the 1970s. When he was charged with the murder of Officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981, police coerced witnesses to testify against him, and prosecutors maneuvered to keep Blacks off the jury and committed other gross acts of misconduct to send him to death row.

That's why Mumia is widely recognized as a political prisoner - in a country that claims to represent the highest standards of democracy and free speech.

Mumia, who earned the title of "voice of the voiceless," has continued his journalistic assault against the criminal justice system from his jail cell for the past 17 years. His writings expose the horrors and unfairness of the judicial system. As he wrote recently, "There can be no intelligent discussion of the American criminal justice system without an acknowledgement of the fractured, dual nature of the enterprise. Who can dare look at the system and not notice that there are, in fact, two systems: one for the well to do, another for the poor? One for whites, another for the Blacks."

Mumia's case has taken on national and international significance. He has won this support not only because of the injustices surrounding his imprisonment, but because of his outspokenness and dedication to activism. The European Parliament has called for a new trial for Mumia and also passed a unanimous resolution calling for an end to the death penalty in the U.S.

The demands of the April 24 demonstrations are simple: Stop Mumia's execution and grant him a new, fair trial. The mobilizations were called for this date not only because it is Mumia's birthday, but because it marks the third anniversary of President Clinton's signing of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. This act makes Mumia's chance of ever receiving a fair hearing even more difficult, because it requires federal courts to accept the findings of state courts as fact. So the federal court that hears Mumia's appeal of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's October 1998 decision to deny him a new trial will not be allowed to look at any actual evidence.

The support Mumia has already received from many quarters leading up to April 24 is encouraging. Trade unions and federations - from hospital and transit workers in New York to the South Central Labor Federation in Wisconsin to teachers and nurses in California - have issued resolutions in solidarity with Mumia. Students have held teach-ins and speakouts on campuses across the country. And undocumented immigrants in France (calling themselves the sans-papiers), as well as Kurds in Germany, included pro-Mumia banners on demonstrations where they were demanding their own rights.

West Coast longshore workers from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) voted by an overwhelming majority at a recent meeting to stop work in all ports on April 24 - normally a heavy workday on the docks - to demand justice for Mumia. Some 28 union locals, from San Diego to Bellingham, Wash., plan to heed the call. In San Francisco, longshore workers will join the demonstration, and their banners will lead the march. The ILWU resolution also called on longshore workers in Mumia's home town of Philadelphia and internationally to join the demonstration.

The two demonstrations on April 24 will attract thousands of people, an excellent step in our efforts to build a movement to stop Mumia's murder. We should use that day as a crucial step in building the movement even more broadly.