The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled against Mumia Abu-Jamal’s habeas corpus appeal last month around the same time he was named an honorary citizen of Paris. We speak with Robert Bryan, Mumia’s new lead attorney and Suzanne Ross of the Free Mumia Coalition in New York City. [Includes transcript]
Click here to read to full transcript Citing the "untimeliness" of the evidence presented relating to Mumia’s innocence, the court refused to consider the confession of Arnold Beverly that he, not Mumia, murdered police officer Daniel Faulkner on December 9, 1981.
Today we hear from Pennsylvania’s most famous death row inmate, Mumia Abu Jamal.
Abu Jamal has been on death row for 20 years after being convicted in 1982 of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. A journalist, Black Panther, MOVE member, and outspoken critic of police brutality, racism and the death penalty, Mumia Abu Jamal has repeatedly proclaimed his innocence.
Last month, Mumia was named an honorary citizen of Paris by Socialist Mayor Bertrand Delanoe. Mumia is the first American to receive the honor and only the second to be named in more than 30 years.
Over the last two decades, Abu Jamal has written regular commentaries on local, national and world affairs.
- Mumia Abu Jamal, commentary was recorded by the Prison Radio Project.
- Robert Bryan, lead attorney for Mumia Abu Jamal.
- Suzanne Ross, co-chair of the Free Mumia Coalition in New York City.
MUMIA ABU JAMAL: So everybody knows after the mass protest that were held in cities around the earth over a half year ago is that the forces of the U.S. government could care less about the popular protests that shook the planet. They could care less because they do not serve the interests of the people, but the privileged. They do not serve the many, they serve the few. They serve Wall Street, Petroleum Row, Harken Oil and Halliburton. In their heart of hearts, democracy is just a dirty word. They don’t care about the latest rounds of protests against the war. They have their hands on the levers of power and they don’t want to let go.
Those who dared to lie to the American people to start a needless war could care less that there are millions of people who oppose it. That’s why they chose the vehicle of fear and specter of terrorism to justify the Iraq attack, when every school child knows that the Baghdad government had nothing to do with the events of 9-11. But the Bush regime has used that fear, that anxiety, that sense of being under attack to stoke the fires of war, and now the U.S. is involved in building and protecting a colony in the heart of the Middle East. That’s why it isn’t enough to simply say bring the troops home, as some have said, for to do so only means bring them home today, to unleash them on some other unsuspecting people tomorrow. That is a recipe for postponing war, not ending it. War is indeed big business. But it is nor than that. It is a social a tool by which governments have always mobilized larger social forces for their political ends. The ends of government is what it has always been. Power. Why do you think the Bushites have unleashed the somber Ashcroft upon the American people? A man who lost a senate election to a dead man is now the ultimate arbiter of who may exercise civil rights in this new era. Students are being thrown out of school because politicians don’t like their t-shirts. Thousands are locked in dark gulags in Guantanamo bay, Cuba. They’re denied lawyers, are being held incommunicado and face torture. When some have dared to file suit, they’re told because the site is in Cuba, the U.S. suddenly lacks jurisdiction. What legalized drivel. If the U.S. doesn’t jurisdiction then who does? Cuba, the U.N.? Clearly the solution to the egregious human rights violations will not be found in courts just as a solution to these wars for empire will not be found in anti-war marches.
This is but a beginning, not an end. To be truly anti-imperialist means to oppose the soft imperialism of the Democrats, and the hard imperialism of the Republicans. Both imperialisms are fundamentally wrong for they begin with the false premise that Americans know best how other people should live their lives and organize their societies. One cannot believe in self-determination and imperialism. Those two views are incompatible. To be truly anti-imperialist means organizing not demonstrations, but mass movements that pose an alternative to the deadly status quo. It means believing and fighting for the idea that another world is possible, it means thinking of the peoples of this world as the same as us, not them. It means the renunciation of white supremacy. It means the foreign policy truly based upon simple humility, instead of domination. It means a real transformation of the way things are done here. That means change. Revolution. It means this or it means nothing. For if these steps are not taken generations will be plunged into bloody and needless wars. Wars fought for wealthy elites based on lies and fear and greed. It means the surrender of your children and grandchildren to wars of ignorance. It means in fact, endless war. From death row, this is Mumia Abu Jamal.
AMY GOODMAN: Marvin Gay, here on Democracy Now!, the war and peace report, as we look at the latest developments in the case of Mumia Abu Jamal with his new attorney, Robert Bryan and Suzanne Ross, co-chair of the Free Mumia coalition in New York City. Welcome both to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with Robert Bryan in understanding where Mumia Abu Jamal’s case stands today.
ROBERT BRYAN: Good morning, Amy. On October 8, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, the ninth —
AMY GOODMAN: Can I ask if you are on a speakerphone, if you would —
ROBERT BRYAN: I’m not.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re not on a speakerphone.
ROBERT BRYAN: I’m not.
AMY GOODMAN: go ahead.
ROBERT BRYAN: The Supreme Court denied relief —
AMY GOODMAN: Robert Brown, we’re going to have to call you back. We are — we’ll have to get you on another line, but in the meantime, Suzanne Ross, welcome to Democracy Now! why don’t we start with you about Mumia Abu Jamal being named an honorary citizen of Paris. You were there.
SUZANNE ROSS: It was a phenomenal experience to be standing very close to the mayor of Paris, and to see at a champagne reception with Angela Davis accepting the award on behalf of Mumia, and see the kind of international support for Mumia and the love for him among the French people and many other people from other countries in Europe that showed up for this event and to remember that in this country, they’re still trying to execute him, and that’s what I was feeling up there at this joyous occasion. It was — I mean, you think about it, the contrast between the whole world recognizing him as a person that it they want to see alive, as a person who represents so much of the best aspirations of humanity, and here in this country, in a period of obviously of serious repression, as we just heard about the recent — yesterday’s attack on critical resistance, that in this period, the United States is trying even harder to execute him, and the recent news that Robert Bryan was just about to talk about, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania’s decision, which turned down all appeals to introduce new evidence into the record. Let me just finish that it’s new evidence that points to Mumia’s innocence.
AMY GOODMAN: Robert Bryan is back with us. Can you talk about the evidence?
ROBERT BRYAN: There is a person who made a confession and the courts have refused to allow any type of hearing to determine the validity of it, how strong it is how much credibility it should be given. I might point out that the other evidence of somebody else who also may have committed this homicide, bottom line is that the overwhelming evidence is that Mumia is innocent, and he’s a victim of a campaign by the police to kill him, to shut up his voice, what we have just heard. The government very much is focused on trying to kill him. But I might point out there’s another aspect of the Supreme Court decision, this denial on October 8 by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that is of substantial significance. That is that during the trial of Mumia in 1982, a — an award winning court reporter overheard the judge talking to some other people, the trial judge, say — "and I’m going to help fry the nigger". He was talking about Mumia. This is — this is of enormous significance because the case from the beginning when Mumia was arrested was riddled with racism. Mumia, as most people know was an award winning and is an award winning journalist, and he was targeted from the beginning because they wanted to get him.
AMY GOODMAN: When you say court reporter, you mean the person who is the stenographer in the courtroom?
ROBERT BRYAN: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what happens with information like that?
ROBERT BRYAN: Well, we’re going to be going into federal court, but might I also point out that in the very near future, I’m about to initiate a new petition at the trial level in Philadelphia regarding an additional witness, who was in jail with the key witness against Mumia, and she says without any question —- and there’s also other evidence corroborating this—- that the witness who testified against Mumia and says he shot the officer was not even there at the time of the shooting, and that the police pressured this woman into lying. In other words, this is just more evidence of enormous consequence of this whole case being manufactured against Mumia.
AMY GOODMAN: Where do you go with this evidence? And what does it mean to say that all of the appeals have been denied?
ROBERT BRYAN: That’s not at all true. The issues were denied by the state supreme court which puts us in a posture of going back in at the federal level, the United States district court on a petition of writ of habeas corpus, which I will be doing. First I’m going back in with the new piece of evidence, more evidence of innocence and also there’s another witness that’s been discovered. The witness also bears in the same area of the case. I might point out that what this case really is about, and I don’t think the listeners are interested in hearing a lot of details about various aspects of the case in a short amount of time that we have, but what it’s about is to stifle the voice of somebody who’s very outspoken and has been for decades against police corruption, misconduct by government, and racism, which is really I think, racism and police fraud is what this case is all about.
AMY GOODMAN: Judge Jan had ruled I believe a year or two years ago that Mumia Abu Jamal had either to be re-sentenced within 30 days, or he would be taken off of death row. He is still on death row. Where does that ruling stand?
ROBERT BRYAN: The state appealed that decision to the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. It was stayed. It’s on hold. He languishes on death row as we speak this morning.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Robert Bryan, the lead attorney for Mumia Abu Jamal, and Suzanne Ross, co-chair of the Free Mumia coalition in New York. Suzanne —
SUZANNE ROSS: But even that decision to overturn the death sentence and make it a life imprisonment is now being challenged in the courts. The Banks case is the one, the Texas case, where the death penalty was overturned because of legal questions that I won’t go into now. But now that decision, which was allowed — which judge Jan cited as the basis for giving Mumia life in prison is now being challenged. Even that’s being taken away. That adds to the climate of a dangerous period for Mumia, perhaps the most dangerous in his case to date. As the case comes closer and closer to running through the appeals, we know that the options become more limited.
AMY GOODMAN: What effect does it have that Tom Ridge, the secretary of Homeland Security, former governor of Pennsylvania, signed the death warrant twice for Mumia Abu Jamal, does it have any significance in his case where Ridge is today?
ROBERT BRYAN: I think there’s no question about it that the — that the federal government — of course, Ridge is now at the federal level. John Ashcroft and the federal government just as the state of Pennsylvania very much want to shut down Mumia’s voice. They have locked him up thinking that would stop him. It did not. They have not imprisoned his soul, his voice, his pen — and his voice as we have eloquently heard, and the government wants to stop Mumia, and the only way they can do it is to kill him. And so — I think the — there’s no question but that the federal government, Ridge, is very much active behind the scenes to stop him. I might point this out that I was first contacted about Mumia in 1985. That’s a long time ago, and he and I have been in contact through the years. I was asked in 1991 to represent him. I had to turn it down because I was just overextended at that point with other death penalty cases, but I have been very involved in this case through the years. It’s always been the voice of the voiceless, Mumia Abu Jamal against the machinery of the government which is trying to shut up that voice. You know, we will not stop until he is free. I mean, that’s the bottom line. It’s not just getting the death penalty off of him, getting him out of that death row cell, but to free him. He has committed no crime other than if it’s a crime to criticize the government, I think he would plead guilty to that one, because he is very critical of wrongs committed by the government.
AMY GOODMAN: Suzanne Ross, this case has always been dealt with on several levels. One is in the courts, but the other is in the streets, and in organizing around the country and the world. Can you talk about what’s happening now?
SUZANNE ROSS: Yes. We feel, first of all, that demand for this period is the evidence must be heard. In fact, on December 13, we’re going to be in Philadelphia with that slogan. We’re there every year to commemorate the anniversary of when this incident originally happened on December 9, 1981. So, that is the slogan. That’s a slogan of this period. But also, and — and we cannot accept the court’s decision. We have to put all of the pressure we can at this point to make sure that the courts have to move in response to the people’s pressure. It’s one of these things in this period, we really are very concerned about people who are taking pot-shots or people who are gratuitously attacking Mumia or developing their theories on whatever aspects of the case that could hurt Mumia at a critical case. I’m specifically talking about Michael Moore, who made a gratuitous, at the same time saying, quote, 'Mumia probably killed that guy,' presented no evidence whatsoever. He did not offer an opportunity for debate, and an ignorant statement like that made by someone who is very smart and very funny and very appealing is dangerous to Mumia. We really make a call to Michael Moore to speak up and say, we are all human. We all make mistakes. To say this was a serious mistake and to offer some compensatory action of support for Mumia in response to that. Also, in addition to that kind of street action, Mumia, of course, everybody knows is a prolific writer. He has written a wonderful new book, it’s called "The Faith of Our Fathers", it’s an examination of the spiritual life of African-American and people. It’s the role of alternative religions, traditional religions in the African and African-American community challenging white imperialist Christianity. Challenging the form of white Christianity that’s been used in an imperialist way to dominate black people historically. There’s going to be an event at Riverside church on December 5 with Ruby Dee, Reverend Forbes, Reverend Luis Barris.
AMY GOODMAN: This is the at the historic church in New York City.
SUZANNE ROSS: The peace church in Harlem. Everybody is welcome to come. The way to find out about tickets or other information about Mumia is to call the hotline in new York, which is 212-330-8029 or check our website at freemumia.com. Also for people closer to Philadelphia, which is the heart and soul of the struggle, international concerned family and friends of Mumia Abu Jamal is 215-476-8812. So, this is a period to talk about Mumia’s contributions, his literary contributions, his ideas, his voice that’s known to so many people. and to be out in the streets educating people, and protesting this outrageous injustice where evidence that points to a man’s innocence is being ignored, not only ignored, but being totally excluded from the record. Once it’s excluded from the record, when the case goes up to a higher level, that information is lacking. The whole record of Mumia’s case is extremely biased by the fact that the judge Albert Sabo, who is the one who made that comment that racist — not only a racist comment but a comment that showed his total lack of judicial neutrality. He was committed to convict Mumia and sentence him to death. Well, he is the one who controlled what was in the record and what continues to be in the record. If all appeals have failed to include additional material, judge Albert Sabo still rules on that case. As you pointed out earlier, Ridge and now governor Rendell, who campaigned for governor of Pennsylvania on wanting the death penalty to continue for Mumia.
AMY GOODMAN: And Rendell’s role in the original case?
SUZANNE ROSS: Rendell was totally involved from the beginning in the case as D.A., later as mayor of Philadelphia, totally biased against Mumia, and recently, there was a review of the death penalty cases in Philadelphia, and Pennsylvania, and the decision that was made by community group was that the cases smack of racism. That racist bias was a very, very strong factor in the death penalty decisions of Pennsylvania. And yet Rendell is not moving. We were hoping that he would move. Obviously we want him to move in the same direction as the Illinois governor.
AMY GOODMAN: Right. I actually just returned from Illinois. I was speaking at Northeastern Illinois University this weekend on the 50th anniversary of the coups in Guatemala and Iran, both backed by the United States in 1953 and 1954. But being in the state where the former governor, George Ryan, had cleared the death row of state, and here he was the co-chair of the bush for president campaign in 2000, did that have any effect on Mumia’s case?
SUZANNE ROSS: I think it does. The general atmosphere in the country on the death penalty has moved significantly. I think a lot more people understand that the death penalty is extreme — even if they believe it in some abstract way, that the chances of making mistakes are so high, that more and more people are against it. The ethos in this country right now, I think is more anti-death penalty than it was before.
AMY GOODMAN: Suzanne Ross, co-chair of the Free Mumia coalition, and Robert Bryan, new lead attorney for Mumia Abu Jamal, thank you for being with us.