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Mumia Abu-Jamal Calls from Prison to Comment on DNC, Black Lives Matter and Mass Incarceration

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As the Democratic National Convention enters its third day here in Philadelphia, one of the city’s most famous native sons is observing and covering the proceedings from inside a state prison facility. Former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal is a well-known prisoner and also an award-winning journalist whose writing from his prison cell has reached a worldwide audience through his Prison Radio commentaries and many books. Abu-Jamal was convicted of the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, but has always maintained his innocence. Amnesty International has found he was deprived of a fair trial. Mumia Abu-Jamal joins us on the phone from the SCI Mahanoy state prison in Frackville, Pennsylvania, along with two of his supporters, actor Danny Glover and Larry Hamm, chair of the People’s Organization for Progress.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, We are “Breaking with Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency.” I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. We’re broadcasting from the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, broadcasting outside that convention, so people who aren’t credentialed can also join us on the set. We are broadcasting from PhillyCAM, from Philadelphia’s public access TV station. Still with us, Larry Hamm, chair of the People’s Organization for Progress, and actor, activist, director Danny Glover, as we turn now to a surprise guest who has just called in to Democracy Now! Juan?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, we are joined by radio from inside a state prison in Pennsylvania by Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former colleague of mine here in Philadelphia. We were both journalists together here in the 1970s, perhaps the most well-known political prisoner in the United States, an award-winning journalist, whose writing from his prison cell has reached a worldwide audience through his prison radio commentaries and many books. Abu-Jamal was convicted of the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, but has always maintained his innocence. Amnesty International has found he was deprived of a fair trial. Mumia Abu-Jamal joins us now on the phone from SCI Mahanoy state prison in Frackville, Pennsylvania.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Mumia.

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: Hola, hola, Juan, everyone, Larry, everyone. On a move.

LARRY HAMM: Hey, Mumia. On a move.

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: How you all doing?

DANNY GLOVER: All right, brother.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Mumia, we’re interested in your thoughts on the convention occurring right here in your hometown.

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: It’s a hell of a show. But it is a show. And, you know, I mean, it has writers and directors and stage managers. And it’s a hell of a show. But never forget: It’s just a show.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think of not only what’s happening on the inside—I mean, we just broadcast today—

OPERATOR: This is a call from Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution Mahanoy. This call is subject to recording and monitoring.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the recording that comes on over the call. So, very quickly, Mumia, there’s not only action on the floor of the Democratic convention, but thousands of people have been marching in the streets.

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: I think that’s extraordinary. And I think that’s where the real action is. While I said the convention is a show—and who can doubt that?—what’s happening in the streets of Philadelphia, that’s where the real story is, because those are the voices you won’t hear throughout these four days of gala, extravaganza, lies and illusion, because you’re hearing the pain of the people, the real concerns of the people, and, really, the desperation of the people to be heard by the rich and the powerful. You look inside, you’ll see the powerful. You’ll see millionaires, right? We have an incredible system right now—millionaires running against billionaires. Well, who’s not in that picture? And that’s the 99 percent, the rest of us, you know.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Mumia, I’m sure you also monitored the Republican convention that occurred last week and Donald Trump emphasizing that he is the law and order candidate. And I’m—

OPERATOR: This is a call from Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution Mahanoy. This call is subject to recording and monitoring.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I’m sure that it reminded you of a person that we were familiar with right here in Philadelphia, the mayor of Philadelphia, Frank Rizzo, who was the ultimate law and order candidate. For those of the younger generation who are not familiar with Rizzo, any similarities between some of the stuff that you remember from him and Donald Trump?

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: I mean, Frank Rizzo was authentically working-class. You know, he rose from the bottom of the police department to become its commissioner and then was elected mayor. And, you know, I thought about Frank Rizzo when I first heard that Donald Trump was running, and I had the same reaction when I heard that Frank Rizzo was running for mayor: I laughed. I’m like, here was a guy, high school dropout—nothing personal, but it’s true—and here’s a guy who is like dumb as rocks about everything other than making money—or taking money, I should say. But, you know, I stopped laughing. You know, I thought about when Ronald Reagan ran for president, this grade-B actor. I laughed. I stopped laughing. And when you look at this guy, he’s like Frank Rizzo with billions and billions of dollars in his pocket. But if you kind of turned off the screen and listened to the words, it’s the same message: fear, fear, fear, fear of the other, fear of blacks. “And only I can save you.” It’s kind of a mixture of Frank Rizzo, Goldwater, Spiro Agnew, Dick Cheney, you know, and Hitler.

AMY GOODMAN: Mumia, you recently did a commentary on the killings of police officers in Baton Rouge and Dallas. Share your thoughts on this.

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: Well, I think one of the lines I used in that commentary is: Why should any of us be surprised? Whenever that happens, what you’ll hear, especially among elite opinion on TV, is that this was a madman, this was a crazy person. If he was mad, how did he get accepted into the Army? How did he serve tours in Afghanistan or Iraq? Both of these men displayed military training that they acquired from the U.S. government and as they became killers in the Third World. When they came back to the United States and they saw their reality, do you think that drove them crazy? And, you know, something like 22 veterans commit suicide every day in America. And that’s because of the horrible things they’ve been asked to do by empire abroad. And, you know, when you look at the condition of black people in America—mass incarceration gone crazy, ghettos being policed as if it is Fallujah or a foreign nation—why would you be surprised? They were trained by the state to do exactly what they did. And they did it.

AMY GOODMAN: Mumia, we are speaking to you from Mahanoy state prison. You used to be on death row for two decades. I think, ultimately, perhaps, though it was the judicial system, it was enormous international pressure that led to you being taken off of death rope. How is your health now? For a period of time, we didn’t know what was happening—diabetes, eczema. How are you being dealt with? How is healthcare there? What are you asking for?

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: Well, for a while there, I didn’t know what was happening. I had diabetes. I had extreme high blood pressure. My skin was falling to my feet. I was itching in an insane degree. What we learned through this litigation is that I had hepatitis C, that to this date has not been treated. I’ve probably been given more treatment for my symptoms—right?—than perhaps any other prisoner in Pennsylvania. That’s true. But I’ve yet to be treated for that disease.

And the state, in their latest brief to the court, said if the plaintiff prevails, it will cost the DOC over $600 million. I can’t make this up. It’s probably online. That’s only because they claim there are some 6,000 men, and probably women, in the Pennsylvania system who have hepatitis C, and very few of them are treated, though, understand, we asked them—the head of the DOC’s medical division, Dr. Peter Noel, “How many people are being treated with these new antiviral medications?” And he said, “I don’t know.” We said, “Well, can you give us your best guess?” He said, “Hmm, five or six.” Five or six out of 6,000.

What we also learned is they have a protocol. It was a secret protocol that we learned about at that hearing, that men and women who have hepatitis C must wait until something called esophageal varices are detected. That’s when you’re bleeding from your esophagus out of your mouth, which means, of course, that your liver is, for all intents and purposes, dead. That’s why you’re bleeding out of your mouth, because you can’t process—your liver can’t process your blood. It’s rejecting it. That’s when you’ll be considered to be put on a list for treatment. That’s stage 4 liver disease.

AMY GOODMAN: Danny, any comments you want to share with Mumia Abu-Jamal?

DANNY GLOVER: Well, first of all, I was just thinking about his health. And essentially—and I think, for us to be practical, they’re trying to kill him, right there, before our eyes. Certainly, his analysis on what has happened and what is happening here is right on point.

I was at an event at a church on Broad Street, where men and women were there. Particularly women were there. And certainly, it was for them and the voices of women. One of the women who was there, her father had been a political prisoner for 42 years. So, that’s the place where everything is happening. CodePink had a sign saying “feminism, not militarism.” They were promoting that. That’s where the real convention is. They were the people who are still fighting, who want their voices to be heard. And our responsibility, the work that Larry does and the work that we have to do as progressives, is about that.

I was just thinking also about what W. E. B. Du Bois wrote in his 1953 reissue of The Souls of Black Folk, after 50 years, when he talked about how his thinking at that time was that the question of the century was race. The question of the century, he said, is still race. But what he didn’t know then is that how people would be able to manage to live and to go on with their lives, go on with their lives in the midst of all of the pain, in the midst of all—in the midst of all the wars. That’s the thing that we have to consume ourselves with, in terms of whether it’s the war in our cities or the war abroad or the destabilization of governments, etc., etc.

AMY GOODMAN: Mumia Abu-Jamal, I know we just have 15 seconds. Do you believe the issue of the 21st century, the problem of the 21st century, is still the color line?

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: I think it’s the color line, but it’s also the class line. We’ve just experienced a black president. But black Americans, in the words of Young Jeezy, for the most part, are still living in hell.

OPERATOR: You have one minute left.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you for joining us, Mumia Abu-Jamal. Your last 20 seconds that we have for this broadcast?

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: I would urge anyone who has a computer or a way to acquire The Nation of February 10th, 2016, the article by Michelle Alexander entitled “Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote.” It is incredible. I thank you all. I love you all. Larry, a pleasure hearing you again, brother.

LARRY HAMM: It’s good to hear you, Mumia.

MUMIA ABU-JAMAL: Everybody, I love you. Thank you for this time with you. On a move.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you very much. Imprisoned former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal, speaking to us from prison in Frackville, Pennsylvania. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Special thanks to Danny Glover and Larry Hamm and all the team that made this broadcast possible.

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