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As Competing Films Offer Differing Views on Faulkner Killing, New Evidence Suggests Key Witnesses Lied at Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Trial

StorySeptember 22, 2010
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In the early morning hours of December 9, 1981, Daniel Faulkner, a white police officer, was fatally shot in the streets of Philadelphia. Journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal was arrested and charged with his murder. The following summer a predominantly white jury sentenced him to death. Twenty-eight years later, the debate is still raging over whether justice was served. The debate spilled onto the silver screen in Philadelphia Tuesday night, with two new films premiering at the same time, each with competing explanations of what happened the night Faulkner was killed and during Mumia Abu-Jamal’s trial for his murder. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In the early morning hours of December 9, 1981, Daniel Faulkner, a white police officer, was fatally shot on the streets of Philadelphia. Journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal was arrested and charged with his murder. The following summer, a predominantly white jury sentenced him to death. Twenty-eight years later, the debate still rages over whether justice was served.

The debate spilled onto the silver screen in Philadelphia Tuesday night with two new films premiering, each with competing explanations of what happened the night Faulkner was killed and during Mumia Abu-Jamal’s trial for his murder. One film, by Philadelphia filmmaker Tigre Hill, is called The Barrel of a Gun. It’s supported by Daniel Faulkner’s widow, Maureen Faulkner, and the Paternal Order of Police in Philadelphia. This is an excerpt from the trailer.

    STAN BOHRMAN: Philadelphia police tonight are mourning the death of a young police officer shot and killed on a Center City street corner early this morning.

    NARRATOR: Officer Daniel Faulkner was killed performing a police officer’s most routine, and yet most hazardous task, a car stop. Police say that Faulkner stopped this car carrying William Cook, a street vendor, as it traveled the wrong direction on a one-way street in the heart of Center City’s combat zone near 12th and Locust Streets. A scuffle began. And from across the street, police say, the murder suspect, Mumia Abu-Jamal, came running and opened fire on the officer.

    MICHAEL SMERCONISH: One brother is driving in a moving vehicle, and the other is parked in his taxi in a parking lot. Is that a coincidence? A part of my speculation is that the thing was a setup.

    GOV. ED RENDELL: His brother didn’t want to take the stand, because his brother knows exactly what happened — and that Mumia did it.

    DAVID HOROWITZ: If you think the system is racist, sexist, oppressive, therefore unjust, then crime becomes a form of justice.

    BLACK PANTHER: We’ll show you how to off a pig in a very tactical manner in defending your black people in the black community.

    DAVID HOROWITZ: Killing police is striking a blow for the people.

    MAUREEN FAULKNER: Based on his history, I always wondered if Mumia Abu-Jamal just wanted to murder a police officer, wanted to kill a cop. And it was my husband.

AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt from Tigre Ray Hill’s film, ending on Maureen Faulkner, the widow of Officer Daniel Faulkner.

Well, a few blocks away yesterday, another film opened with a very different take on Mumia Abu-Jamal. It’s called Justice on Trial, directed by Kouross Esmaeli of Big Noise Films, produced by Johanna Fernández, a professor of American history at Baruch College. This excerpt features voices from both pro- and anti-Mumia Abu-Jamal rallies but begins with another clip of Maureen Faulkner. She is being interviewed on The Today Show.

    MATT LAUER: December 9th, 1981, a Philadelphia police officer was shot and killed while serving in the line of duty. A man named Mumia Abu-Jamal was convicted of the murder and sentenced to death.

    MAUREEN FAULKNER: After Danny was murdered in 1981 and he was buried and the case was over, I thought I could go on with my life. But for the past twenty-six years, I’ve just been haunted by the Free Mumia movement.

    UNIDENTIFIED: To some, he’s a political prisoner. To others, he is a cold-blooded killer.

    MUMIA OPPONENT: He was tried, convicted, and he should be executed.

    MUMIA SUPPORTER 1: Mumia was speaking out against corruption in the police department. The Philadelphia police framed him for murder, and I think that he’s innocent.

    MUMIA SUPPORTERS: Free Mumia! Free Mumia!

    MAUREEN FAULKNER: I would say that they are ignorant, because they refuse to know the facts of what happened.

    MUMIA SUPPORTER 2: He represents a whole community of people, people like me who are men of color, who are subject to racial profiling by the police.

    DANNY GLOVER: We know that it is not about just Mumia. We know this is about our children. We know this is about all those who stand up and speak truth to power.

    PHILADELPHIA CENTURION: We’re a police-organized motorcycle group, the Philadelphia Centurions. We don’t believe in this so-called person, think he should be put to death.

AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of Big Noise Film’s Justice on Trial. We invited the filmmakers of both films to come on the show. Tigre Hill declined our invitation. But Democracy Now! caught up with Maureen Faulkner and Tigre Hill at the premiere of the film last night.

    TIGRE HILL: I think he’s guilty, and he got a fair trial. That’s all I’ll say. Thank you.

    MAUREEN FAULKNER: I think he did an absolute fantastic job on this movie, a very in-depth realization of what type of person Mumia Abu-Jamal was. He was a very radical person, and he had — his political views were skewed to actually murder police officers. And after, I think, everyone views the movie, they’ll believe — they will come to the conclusion that, that night, Mumia Abu-Jamal wanted to murder a police officer, and it was my husband.

AMY GOODMAN: Daniel Faulkner’s widow Maureen Faulkner and filmmaker Tigre Hill, speaking to Democracy Now!’s Jaisal Noor at the screening of The Barrell of a Gun last night.

Well, we’re joined now by two guests from Philadelphia. Investigative reporter Dave Lindorff, author of Killing Time: An Investigation into the Death Penalty Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal — he and journalist Linn Washington have new evidence that suggests key witnesses lied at Mumia Abu-Jamal’s trial. It’s posted at Lindorff’s website, thiscantbehappening.net. And we’re joined here in New York by Professor Johanna Fernández, one of the filmmakers of Justice on Trial.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Dave Lindorff, what is this evidence you have?

DAVE LINDORFF: Well, an essential part of this whole notion that Mumia executed Daniel Faulkner is the testimony of two witnesses, that claim to be eyewitnesses, and the story the prosecutor told from their testimony that — and it’s in Johanna’s film, where he says he shot down — standing over the officer, he shot downward into the officer four times, hitting him once between the eyes. And the problem is, he missed three times. But what we did is we looked at the sidewalk. We had it analyzed by a photo analyst from NASA’s JPL lab, who does the Cassini space probe, and there are no marks in the sidewalk around Daniel Faulkner, where they would have to be from these three shots fired downward. And then we did a test on a concrete slab. Linn fired a gun exactly like the one that was licensed to Mumia and fired eighteen inches above the concrete into the concrete, with the same bullets that the police said were used in that gun. And it made very dramatic, bright, chipped-out marks in the concrete. You couldn’t miss them even in the dark. So, where are those marks? If they’re not there, it’s clear that those two witnesses were lying. And that means there was no execution.

AMY GOODMAN: Johanna Fernández, you have been working on this film Justice on Trial for four years. Why?

JOHANNA FERNÁNDEZ: I’d like to begin by saying that just yesterday, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals announced that they would hear arguments in the Abu-Jamal trial over the Mills issue, which is how the jurors were instructed — or misinstructed — by the judge. And that’s happening November 9th at 2:00 p.m. in Philadelphia. Very important. That news came out yesterday, just as these two films were released.

To answer your question, we believed that we needed to put out a counter-narrative to Tigre Hill’s propaganda. His argument is that Mumia was politically motivated in the killing of Officer Faulkner because he was a Black Panther Party, a line that essentially echoes that of the prosecution and the police. Our film exposes quite clearly all of the civil rights and constitutional violations in this case, how the police and prosecutors, in collaboration with the judge, concealed exculpatory evidence from the trial. We feature in our film the Polakoff photographs, which were photographs taken by a professional photographer who was one of the first persons on the scene of the crime. And those photographs demonstrate quite plainly that the police mishandled evidence, handled the guns, and then there’s the issue of the moving hats, essentially suggesting that the police was cooking up a story different from that that happened.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, the moving hats?

JOHANNA FERNÁNDEZ: Oh, there’s a hat on top of William Cook’s car, suggesting — on the passenger side — that there might have been a fourth person on the scene of the crime.

AMY GOODMAN: William Cook being the brother of Mumia Abu-Jamal.

JOHANNA FERNÁNDEZ: William Cook being the brother of Mumia Abu-Jamal. So that hat gets placed on the grate, on the floor, a dramatic photograph that was captured by the Philadelphia Inquirer, and suggested that a cop had been slain, and his photograph was a dramatic expression of that. What’s important about that fact is that a fourth person was at the scene of the crime by the name of Kennth Freeman. And Patrick O’Connor wrote a book not long ago, which was well reviewed, favorably reviewed by the New York Times

. The title of that book is The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal. And he argues that Kenneth Freeman killed Officer Faulkner. But the jury was not able to hear that, because the prosecutors and — the prosecutor and the judge collaborated to conceal that very important fact from the trial. Also, witnesses were coerced to testify against Mumia, and they later actually said that they had seen two men running away from the scene of the crime, one of whom was very likely or looked a lot like — might have looked a lot like Kenneth Freeman.

AMY GOODMAN: We just have a few seconds to go. David Lindorff, you actually, in a dramatic moment yesterday at the showing of Justice on Trial, talked to Mumia Abu-Jamal from prison in a public interview. What did you ask him?

DAVE LINDORFF: I asked him what he thought about the Tigre Hill film, from what he had heard about it, and he came back with the fact that there are — Hill has been very cagey about who funded this thing, but there are reports that it was funded by a right-wing funder. It’s clearly endorsed by the FOP. And Mumia said, you know, “Someone bought it. You get what you pay for.” Tigre Hill was writing a film for his funder.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there. The FOP, the Fraternal Order of Police, what you referred to before. Dave Lindorff, investigative journalist, author of Killing Time. The film called Justice on Trial, it was produced by Johanna Fernández, American history professor at Baruch College.

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