Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Framing of Mumia Abu Jamal – A review

© 2008 J. Patrick O’Connor
Published by Lawrence Hill Books

Today the name Mumia Abu Jamal is known throughout the world.  He is known for being an outstanding journalist who was unjustly incarcerated for the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. 

J. Patrick O’Connor book The Framing of Mumia Abu Jamal gives the world a blow-by-blow analysis of the facts that underscore the argument that the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office worked diligently to manufacture evidence against Mumia Abu Jamal.  O’Connor also shows how Mumia’s so-called trial was nothing more than an inquisition.  However, before we look at the framing of Mumia Abu Jamal, I believe it is useful to look at his life story.

Mumia Abu Jamal

Mumia Abu Jamal understood the shortcomings of the so-called justice system at an early age.  At the age of fifteen Mumia made a less than prudent decision to attend a rally in support of George Wallace for President.  Mumia and his friends answered the chants of “Segregation forever,” with their chant of “Black power.”  Mumia and his friends were beaten, and when the police intervened they continued the assault on Mumia and his friends. 

Mumia was arrested for assaulting a police officer.  At his trial the judge said that Mumia’s face assaulted the fist of the police officer and dismissed the case.

With this background Mumia became a news reporter and journalist.  Unlike other journalists, Mumia made it a practice of exposing police brutality.  This stance of Mumia put him in conflict with his employers in the media, as well as the government.  The F.B.I. had a seven-hundred page file on Mumia.  However, even the F.B.I. acknowledged in 1974 that Mumia “has not displayed a propensity for violence.”

In fact, those people who knew Mumia said that he was the type of person who would try to calm down tense situations.  Even in prison, the journalist Chuck Stone reported that Mumia was friendly with the prison guards.

Mumia was such a well-respected journalist, he became the president of the Black journalists of Philadelphia.  Unlike the so-called journalists on news programs like 60 Minutes, Mumia was not paid a salary of millions of dollars per year.  To the contrary, he was fired from his job because of his style of reporting and needed to supplement his income by driving a taxi cab.      

The so-called case against Mumia

The murder of Daniel Faulkner happened on December 9, 1981 on the corner of 13th and Locust Street in Philadelphia.  Anyone who even passed by that area at during those years could see that this was a center for prostitution and drug dealing.  Clearly, this state of affairs could only take place with the support of the Philadelphia Police Department.

In fact, the F.B.I. had been investigating the sixth district of the police for six months prior to the murder of Officer Faulkner.  The F.B.I. found that police officials and officers had been receiving kickbacks from pimps, prostitutes, and bar owners.  Many of the officers who were involved in the prosecution of Mumia were convicted of receiving kickbacks.

The incident that led to the murder of Officer Faulkner started when Faulkner pulled over Wesley Cook, Mumia’s brother, while he was driving his Volkswagen.  We need to understand that Faulkner made a decision that it was more important to stop Wesley Cook than to deal with the prostitution and drug dealing that he knew was going on every night.

Faulkner then beat Wesley Cook so badly that blood was pouring out of Cook’s head.  Several witnesses testified to the fact that Mumia, who happened to be there at the time, ran across the street, but had no gun in his hands.  O’Connor argues that when officer Faulkner saw a black man with dreadlocks running towards him he pulled out his gun and shot Mumia.  The bullet that entered Mumia’s body was a near perfect shot at his chest and had a downward trajectory.            

At this point Robert Harkins, who first reported the murder to the police, testified that Officer Faulkner grabbed a man who spun Faulkner around and threw him on the ground.  Faulkner’s pants were ripped at the knee and this supported Harkins testimony.  Then Harkins heard three shots.  The first hit Faulkner from less than 12 inches away, while he was on his knees.  The next shots hit Faulkner after he turned over and struck him in the head.

Kenneth Freeman was the man who O’Connor believes was the shooter.  Freeman was Wesley Cook’s best friend and he was in Cook’s car at the time of the shooting.  Freeman had an Afro hairstyle, unlike the dreadlocks worn by Mumia.  Witnesses testified that the man who shot Faulkner had an Afro hairstyle.  O’Connor argues that the motive for the murder might have been the fact that Faulkner had beaten Wesley Cook and then attempted to murder Mumia Abu Jamal.

Kenneth Freeman died in 1985 and his naked body was found bound and gagged in a vacant lot in Philadelphia hours after the bombing of the MOVE home at Osage Avenue.  This police had the audacity to rule Freeman’s death to be a heart attack.  He was thirty-one years old

From this story, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s advanced the following scenario.  They argued that Mumia ran across the street with a gun.  They argued that Mumia then fired the gun hitting Faulkner in the back.  Then, somehow Faulkner took his pistol out of his holster.  Since Faulkner’s gun was defective, he needed to take an extra step to fire the gun.  Then, the D.A. argued that Faulkner fired a near perfect shot hitting Mumia in the chest as he was falling down backwards from the bullet wound to his back.

One obvious problem with this story is that the bullet wound to Mumia’s chest had a downward trajectory.  This would mean that Faulkner would have had to jump up after he was shot in the back.  This argument is patently absurd, but this was the story the D.A. presented to the jury that convicted Mumia of murder.

Cynthia White was a prostitute and the only witness that testified to the version of the D.A.’s story.  Anthony Jackson, who a judge assigned to defending Mumia, established that White had given three stories to the D.A.  Each story came closer to the story the D.A. presented at trial.

Twenty years after Mumia’s conviction Yvette Williams, who shared a jail cell with Cynthia White, signed an affidavit stating that: “Cynthia White told me the police were making her lie and say Mr. Jamal shoot Officer Faulkner when she really did not see who did it.”

Two other witnesses came forward and testified that they were coerced by the police to testify against Mumia. 

Several police officers testified at the trial that they heard Mumia confess to the murder of Faulkner and this became compelling evidence in the case.  However, these officers only made statements about the alleged confession months after Officer Faulkner’s murder.  These statements were made after Anthony Jackson sued the Philadelphia Police Department for brutalizing Mumia while he was in police custody.

However, two of the officers who were with Mumia the entire time of his arrest wrote down that they never heard him say anything.  The presiding Judge Albert Sabo would not allow one of these police officers to testify because he was presumably out of town.  In fact, this officer was only minutes away from the courtroom.

What does this frame-up say about the so-called justice system?

J. Patrick O’Connor argued that Mumia as well as the lawyer Anthony Jackson might have conducted themselves differently at trial and this might have made a difference in the verdict.  While this argument might have some merit, I believe O’Connor is missing an important point. 

The conviction of Mumia Abu Jamal has been appealed and the appellate court did not overturn the verdict.  Therefore something is happening that goes beyond the lack of an effective defense at the trial.     
In the United States, defendants are supposed to be presumed to be innocent until they are proven to be guilty.  If the so-called justice system conspires to coerce witnesses to testify against someone, there is no way that guilt can be proven. 

Anyone who lives in the United States has a better chance of going to prison than citizens of any other nation in the world.  In Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow, she argues that Black men have an incarceration rate that is way out of proportion to the crimes committed by Blacks.  This has been documented, but the courts see no problem with this state of affairs.

When we look at the facts surrounding the frame-up of Mumia Abu Jamal, it becomes clear that the entire criminal justice system in the United States needs to be replaced.  As Malcolm X once said, “Either we will all be free or no one will be free.”  While we can all support the demand for a new trial for Mumia, I believe a better demand would be, Free Mumia Abu Jamal Now!  

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