We take a look at case of death row case prisoner, Mumia Abu-Jamal. with Julia Wright, daughter of the late, famed writer Richard Wright. We also play a tribute to Julia Wright that Mumia Abu-Jamal recorded from death row. [includes rush transcript]
We take a look at the death row case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. He was sentenced to death in 1982 for the killing of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. Abu-Jamal was gravely wounded in the incident. A journalist, Black Panther and outspoken critic of police brutality, racism and the death penalty, Mumia Abu-Jamal has always maintained his innocence.
Julia Wright is here with us now–she’s the daughter of the late, great writer Richard Wright.
Julia is visiting New York from her home in Paris where she is involved in the International Concerned Family and Friends For Mumia Abu-Jamal.
But first, let’s take a listen to this audio tribute to Julia that Mumia recorded last week.
- Mumia Abu-Jamal, recording from death row. Courtesy of the Prison Radio Project.
- Julia Wright, daughter of the literary giant Richard Wright. She is an activist with the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
AMY GOODMAN: Julia Wright is here with us now. She’s the daughter of the late famed writer, Richard Wright. She’s visiting New York from her home in Paris, where she’s involved in International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal. We wanted first to go to a commentary of Mumia Abu-Jamal, an audio tribute to Julia, that Mumia recorded last week.
MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: Julia, the eldest daughter of the great black literary lion, Richard Wright, has been a strong presence in peoples’ movements on three continents for generations. She helped open up the famed international section of the Black Panther Party in Algiers, Algeria. When the Cleaver family left Algiers some years later, they found refuge with Julia and her family in Paris, France, and Julia founded the French branch of our support movement in 1995. A steady presence, a sister with open arms and heart when her people are in need. Not just a proud daughter of a pioneering writer and activist, but an activist and writer in her own right.
Julia knows something about repression. You could say it’s in her bones. Like millions of Black Americans, her father was the fruit of Africans and Native peoples. Her mother, Ellen Poplar Wright, was a Jewish survivor of the global genocidal Hitler regime. Thus, in that one woman, we see the crystallization of three inhuman genocidal assaults, the centuries-long war against Africans, the winnowing threshings of Native indigenous peoples from almost all of what we call the United States, and the anti-Jewish pogroms in Germany, in Nazi-occupied Europe. There’s a reason she’s so tough. She comes from tough resilient people. From death row, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.
AMY GOODMAN: Mumia Abu-Jamal’s tribute to you, Julia Wright. Welcome to Democracy Now!
JULIA WRIGHT: Thank you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: And tonight in New York City, there’s going to be a major event at Salem United Methodist Church, which is honoring you.
JULIA WRIGHT: Yes, a tribute to me, but I’m going to use my talking time to make tributes to other people who are fighting at my side. It’s a long haul, Amy. It’s almost a generation of fighting.
They want to see us breathless. We will not be. They want to see us tired. We refuse to be. They want to see what our strength is. We will not show it in advance. We will continuously surprise them.
I’ll give you an example. In Philadelphia, we say, "Brick by brick, wall by wall, we’re going to free Mumia Abu-Jamal." Well, they did not understand what we were saying. They’re stupid, because what we meant was, we are going to build streets, and the first street has been built. It’s a new street on the outskirts of Paris in the city of St. Denis, where the kings and queens of France are buried, a couple of them headless. This throws us back to the death penalty, way back during the Revolution. Anyway, there is a street that was named on the 29th of April, 2006, in honor of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
AMY GOODMAN: How did that happen in St. Denis, France?
JULIA WRIGHT: It’s because Mumia is a household name and a school hall name, because he’s in textbooks in France. He’s the symbol of resistance. You know, "résistance" is a very important word in France. It hails back to the Second World War. It hails back to the resistance against Franco. And it’s not a coincidence that this street is in Little Spain, where the resistance against Franco came to settle in exile. It’s a wonderful event. I was there; two mayors were there, the former mayor and the present mayor. The former mayor is an elected representative to the National Assembly of France. Now, when the news broke on the 23rd of May that the F.O.P. had gone hysterical —
AMY GOODMAN: The Fraternal Order of Police.
JULIA WRIGHT: Yes, in Philly, over the naming of this street and had passed a concurrent resolution, 407, at Congress, demanding that the city hall of St. Denis un-name the street, and if they did not do this quickly enough, demanding that the sovereign national government of France un-name the street in their place, the journalist in me woke up. I used to be a journalist.
And I rushed to St. Denis late at night and stationed in front of the mayor’s house and waited for him to come home from work. He came home and —- very surprised to see me, you know, "What are you doing here? How’s Mumia?" "Very serious news to break to you, Mr. Mayor." "Oh, come into my house." He uncorked a bottle of very good French wine, and I’m smiling because they’re asking for a boycott of French products, because of the street now. Well, we drank to Mumia’s liberation, and he said, "Je suis Breton. I hail from Brittany. I will not back down," and then -—
AMY GOODMAN: Let me read to you from the Philadelphia Inquirer this week. "As Philadelphians cope with another police slaying, news comes that a suburb of Paris has named a street for Mumia Abu-Jamal, convicted of the 1981 murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner. Hundreds of supporters of Abu-Jamal attended a ceremony April 29 to dedicate the Rue Mumia Abu-Jamal in the city of St. Denis." It says, "Suzanne Ross, co-chair of the Free Mumia Coalition says, 'In France, they see him as a towering figure.' Ross said the street is in the town’s human rights district which includes Nelson Mandela Stadium.
"Richard Costello, past president of the Philadelphia lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, said, 'the street dedication was deplorable, but consistent with the offensive position the French have taken in this matter. They've made him into some type of hero.’" And it goes on to say that Maureen Faulkner, the wife of the slain police officer, urged Americans to boycott Paris. She said, "The people of Philadelphia should think, if they have any trips to Paris this summer, to cancel those trips." Your response?
JULIA WRIGHT: My response to Maureen Faulkner is, we’ve reached out to her for years, because we have a message for her. We feel for her. She has lost her husband. We are not inhuman, but we would like to say to her: The killer of your husband is still on the loose, and we have information to prove it.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the latest in Mumia Abu-Jamal’s case? Several years ago, he was supposed to be taken off death row until an appeal of his case.
JULIA WRIGHT: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: What is the legal status of Mumia Abu-Jamal’s case, who has been on death row for well over two decades now?
JULIA WRIGHT: Well, yes, almost a generation taken away from his life. Okay, a legal update. Three claims were granted for examination, legal examination. Two focus on racism in his case. Rampant. One in jury selection, and we have a tape training prosecutors-to-be to select members of the jury on racist-bias basis, without seeming to be racist. This tape is signed, "Producer, Ron Castile," and Ron Castile is a member of the Pennsylvania —- Philadelphia Supreme Court. So we have proof that there is racism in jury selection. We also have proof -—
AMY GOODMAN: By the way, I just wanted to say that we did an hour with Harold Wilson, a man who was freed from death row in Pennsylvania, who was with Mumia Abu-Jamal on death row, and we played an excerpt of that videotape of that training on how to select a jury and how to select out particularly African Americans, as well as others, and people can go to our website at democracynow.org to see it.
JULIA WRIGHT: Yes, yes, there’s profiling, like a Black woman, like me, don’t select her. Okay. So there’s also the hanging judge, Judge Sabo, very racist. I think —- I’m not sure about the percentage of sentencing to death, but I -—
AMY GOODMAN: This was the original court judge, who has since retired?
JULIA WRIGHT: Yes. Who has since died. We can no longer bring him to the stand. He is deceased. I’m sorry about that. But it remains that he is — he was racist. He was racist during the original trial, and he was racist during the appeals proceedings. He refused to recuse himself, and Terri Maurer-Carter, a stenographer, in court way back during the original trial, I believe — I may be making a mistake — but anyway, she was rushing through the court’s chambers, and she heard Judge Sabo say, "I will help them fry the nigger," and she’s ready to go to the stand and be witness to that.
There are so many other witnesses who want to speak, who need to speak, who have this on their conscience, that they lied because they were pressured. And they will not be allowed to go to the stand, because of the Effective Death Penalty Act and the fact that innocence is time-barred in this country.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Julia Wright, who is one of the leaders of the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Movement. Tonight, we’ll be at the Salem United Methodist Church in New York City. July 1 is another major event for Mumia Abu-Jamal, a protest and rally in Philadelphia, as happens every year about that time. You’re also here in this country, preparing for the centennial of your father’s birth.
JULIA WRIGHT: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Richard Wright, author of Native Son, Black Boy. How does that legacy relate to the work you do today? You, of course, also a writer, yourself.
JULIA WRIGHT: Yes, my father’s legacy is so rich. He did so much. He went to Bandung. He went to Africa. He wrote Black Boy. He went into exile. He met Sartre. Simone de Beauvoir was a friend of the family. I mean, the richness of what he’s left us. So I had to choose, and I chose his action on behalf of a lifer in the state of New Jersey. And he went to see the governor of New Jersey and said, "I’m Richard Wright. Here’s what I’ve written. Would you let Clinton Brewer out under my wing?"
AMY GOODMAN: Explain who Clinton Brewer was?
JULIA WRIGHT: Clinton Brewer was a lifer who killed the mother of two children. And the governor of New Jersey said, "Oh, Richard Wright! I’ve read all of your books. Of course, I’ll let him out." This sounds like a fairytale. This is back in 1941; I was in my mother’s womb at the time. So my father brought Clinton Brewer back home, gave him a room in our house and found him work with Count Basie. He killed again.
My father was obsessive about these things. He said he would find a psychiatrist to prove that Clinton Brewer, a Black man, a poor man, practically illiterate, could not stand the pressure of racism. And he would have been sentenced to death had it not been for the intervention of the psychiatrist my father found.
So I thought this was magnificent. I don’t know why. It’s mysterious why I chose this, but when I found out that Mumia was a writer, and a powerful one, and a writer who has received prizes here twice in the United States and once in France. He’s received a prize in France for one of his books. His latest book on the Panthers has received a prize here, I hear. But whether he’s received prizes or not, his writing is so powerful. When I think he’s doing it on death row with guards looking over his shoulder, and he’s writing against the imperial wars of America and he’s got guards looking over his shoulder, I think this is a magnificent example of resistance, and France thinks this, too. France abolished the death penalty in 1981.
AMY GOODMAN: Why did your father move to France from the United States?
JULIA WRIGHT: That’s a beautiful question, Amy. Okay, I’ll give you the answer. I was a little girl of three years old, and Connie Pearlstein, a White woman, took me to Berg — Bergman Goodman.
AMY GOODMAN: Bergdorf Goodman?
JULIA WRIGHT: Whatever.
AMY GOODMAN: No relation.
JULIA WRIGHT: You see? I’m blocking on the name. And I needed to go to the toilet inside that department store. And the lady behind the counter said, "The toilet is over there." But as Connie went away, she saw this little Black child trailing after her. And —
AMY GOODMAN: Which was you.
JULIA WRIGHT: Which was me. The little — I don’t remember that, but it’s recounted countless times. And the sales lady said, "Oh, no. Oh, no. You can’t take her in there." And so I had to pee on the sidewalk, and I was given an ice cream cone to repair whatever dignity I had lost as a little girl having to wet the sidewalk like a dog. But my father was in a rage. And that rage took him to Paris with me and my mother.
AMY GOODMAN: Your mother was a Holocaust survivor.
JULIA WRIGHT: Yes, yes, yeah. I have three survivals in my blood: the Indians, the Blacks (the Middle Passage), and the Holocaust. So I feel strong. I feel rich of that legacy. But can I go back to the F.O.P.? Because the F.O.P. has reacted to the street, and —
AMY GOODMAN: The naming in St. Denis?
JULIA WRIGHT: The naming in St. Denis on 29th of April. They’ve passed a concurrent resolution, 407, in Congress. Three demands: One, St. Denis, un-name the street, but quick; two, St. Denis, if you don’t un-name the street quickly, we will ask the sovereign national government of France to do it in your place; and three, — very shocking — we commend police officers throughout the world, not only in America, but throughout the world.
Now that sends a signal to rightwing police throughout the world that supporters of political prisoners in the United States can be targets, can be harassed, can be made breathless, can be made to kneel down, but we will not give up. And I think there is a laughable quality to that resolution. I mean, we burst out laughing in St. Denis. I interviewed the other mayor, myself.
AMY GOODMAN: We have ten seconds.
JULIA WRIGHT: Right? And he is an elected representative to the National Assembly of France, and we are being accused in Philadelphia of inventing this interview.
AMY GOODMAN: Julia Wright, we’re going to have to leave it there. I want to thank you very much for being with us. Julia Wright, daughter of literary giant, Richard Wright, speaking out for Mumia Abu-Jamal. We’ll be in New York tonight at the Salem United Methodist Church.