Mumia supporters outside Philadelphia courthouse Nov. 9

Eyes of the world on Philly appeals court hearing Nov. 9   

By Diane Bukowski 

To hear Mumia Abu-Jamal himself speak on his case, and the plight of all prisoners, go to: 

This article has also been published in the San Francisco Bay View National Black newspaper at

PHILADELPHIA – Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets outside the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals here and around the world Nov. 9, demanding that Mumia Abu-Jamal must live and be free, and that the U.S. must abolish the death penalty and end racist killings and brutality by police.

The U.S. Supreme Court ordered the three-judge appeals panel hearing Abu-Jamal’s case Nov. 9 to determine whether it should re-instate his death penalty. In 2008, the panel upheld a lower court judge’s 2001 decision overturning the sentence due to flawed jury instructions. 

NYC councilman Charles Barron, of Freedom Party and Black is Back, discusses Mumia's case outside Philly courthouse Nov. 9

“We shouldn’t even be talking about whether Mumia gets the death penalty or a life sentence,” New York City Councilman Charles Barron, a member of the Freedom Party, said before the hearing. 

“People all over the world are calling for his freedom. What happened to him can happen to all of us. As Angela Davis said, ‘If they come for me in the morning, they will come for you at night.’ We all have the right to freedom, to self-determination, to be able to rebel against a racist system without being framed.” 

Abu-Jamal is an esteemed journalist, author and revolutionary activist popularly known as the “Voice of the Voiceless.” He was president of the National Association of Black Journalists when he was arrested in 1981 for allegedly killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. 

Supporters chant "Brick by brick, wall by wall, we will free Mumia Abu-Jamal"

He has been on death row for 29 years, where he has pursued his vocation relentlessly, reporting on prisons in the U.S., writing on national and international affairs, and authoring six books. Mr. Abu-Jamal began his career at the age of 14 as a reporter for the national Black Panther newspaper. 

On Nov. 9, he remained in the state prison at Waynesburg, Pennsylvania where he is housed on death row. But his words were conveyed earlier by phone from death row Oct. 23 and heard by thousands at an Oakland, California rally for justice for Oscar Grant. Grant, a young father, was shot in the back and killed by transit police officer Johannes Mehserle in 2009, as he lay prone on a train platform. 

Demonstrator protests police killings of 7-year-old Aiyana Jones in Detroit. Sean Bell in NYC, Oscar Grant in Oakland CA

“Oscar Grant could have happened in Richmond, LA, Roxbury or North Philly and the state’s response would have been the same—just doing their job,” Mr. Abu-Jamal said. “Only phone cameras made any difference at all, and of course, people who would not let it go, people like you. So fight on—to quote the late great Kwame Toure, organize, organize, organize.” 

French government, union and anti-death penalty officials joined members of the German Network to Free Mumia and noted leaders from across the U.S. to attend Abu-Jamal’s hearing in Philadelphia. 

Countries who are members of the European Union are required to repudiate the death penalty. 

The eyes of the world were on Philly

“No human being should be able to decide who has to die, especially if there was no fair trial beforehand,” Clothilde Le Coz, a French citizen from Reporters without Borders said. “In France and throughout Europe, it is the general feeling that the U.S. still has a lot of hard work on justice to do.” 

LeCoz met with Abu-Jamal for six hours Aug. 29 in prison. (See accompanying interview.) 

Busloads of supporters from New York to Virginia, along with Philadelphians, some from the MOVE organization and the New Black Panther Party, rallied outside. They chanted, “Brick by brick, wall by wall, we’re going to free Mumia Abu-Jamal,” and “Hell no, the death penalty got to go.” 

Fred Tookes

Meanwhile, local and federal police, with helicopters, dogs and jail buses at the ready, menaced the demonstrators. 

Fred Tookes, a community businessman from Philadelphia, said, “Give him a fair trial. Let the facts speak for themselves. Why is he still in the box and not in the general population if his death sentence has been vacated? Why should he have to go through appeal after appeal after appeal? Why isn’t he going to be in the courtroom today? All defendants have a right to be there when their cases are heard.” 

Abu-Jamal was indeed not in the courtroom for Chief Judge Anthony

Scirica, and Judges Thomas Ambro and Robert Cowan to look him in the face as they considering whether to put him to death. Scirica and Ambro are Reagan appointees, while Cowan was appointed by President William Clinton. 

Court rejected claim that Judge Sabo was biased for declaring "Fry the n-----"

Although the panel upheld the decision vacating his death penalty in 2008, it also denied Abu-Jamal’s motions for a new trial. In May, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by Abu-Jamal’s attorneys on that part of the panel’s ruling. 

The panel rejected three key claims: that trial Judge Albert Sabo, who was overheard afterwards remarking “Fry the N—–.” was prejudiced; that the prosecutor was guilty of misconduct for withholding key information from the defense, and telling the jury that their decision was not final and would be appealed; and that Abu-Jamal’s constitutional rights were violated when the prosecution barred ten qualified Black jurors from serving through the use of peremptory challenges. 

Dave Lindorrf, author of “Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Penalty Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal,” said then that the panel created “The Mumia Exception.” 

Pam Africa, co-chair International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal

“This flip-flopping on . . . acceptable language for prosecutors, on the importance of judges being impartial, and on other legal precedents, all led Amnesty International to conclude in its 2001 report on Abu-Jamal’s case that the state’s highest court improperly invents new standards of procedure ‘to apply it to one case only: that of Mumia Abu-Jamal,’” Lindorff wrote.  “Justice, that is to say, has not always been blind in this case. A ‘Mumia Exception’ had been established.” 

During the Nov. 9 hearing, the back of the courtroom was packed with Mumia’s supporters, but court officers allowed Daniel Faulkner’s widow and the relatives of other police officers killed on duty, all but one of them white, to pack the front row seats before even allowing others to enter. 

Attorney Judith Ritter presented oral arguments for Abu-Jamal. Her co-counsel,  Robert B. Bryan, withdrew several days earlier after an apparent conflict over strategy. Assistant Prosecutor Hugh Burns represented the Commonwealth of Philadelphia. 

Mumia attorney Judith Ritter, Charles Barron, Pam Africa after hearing

Ritter argued that the court was proper in basing its ruling regarding jury instructions in the penalty phase on an historic 1988 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Mills v. Maryland.  Abu-Jamal’s lawyers contended that his jurors were improperly instructed when told they were precluded from considering any mitigating evidence unless all 12 agreed on the particular circumstance. 

Burns argued that a Jan. 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in an Ohio case, Smith v. Spisak, was germane and that the instructions were proper. Ritter contended Spisak did not apply in Abu-Jamal’s case. The justices peppered both sides with challenges to their positions.

 Attorney Ritter said afterwards that she felt positive about the panel’s response, that it was simply reviewing its earlier decision from an essentially neutral standpoint. 

But Dr. Suzanne Ross, co-chair with Pam Africa of the International Committee to Free Abu-Jamal, was much more skeptical. She said that the international movement to support Mr. Abu-Jamal must be ramped up. 

Mumia supporter demands federal civil rights investigation

She called on his supporters to continue their campaign for a civil rights investigation by the U.S. Justice Department (USDOJ), begun in 2009 and endorsed by the NAACP, Amnesty International, and numerous other organizations. The campaign cites not only Mumia’s trial, but the FBI and Philadelphia police surveillance of him from his days in the Black Panther Party at the age of 14 through the present. So far, 40,000 petition signatures have been hand-delivered to the USDOJ. 

“We see this as an attempt to silence and murder Mumia once and for all,” Ross said. “It’s the same three judges who denied him a new trial. We don’t trust them. We never can say we won when the system is bound and determined to execute one of us. We are demanding that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder review all of the civil rights violations in Mumia’s trial: prosecutorial misconduct, the concealing of potential exculpatory evidence, the judge’s statement to ‘fry the n—–,” the discrimination in jury selection, and finally the rampant and mass incarceration of Black people in the United States.” 

Mumia supporters call on President Obama to free Mumia, revoke death penalty

Ross said, however, that Holder has so far refused three times to consider such an investigation. She said that Mr. Abu-Jamal’s supporters are now taking their campaign to meetings around the world. Ross will address the World Conference against War an Exploitation in Algeria this month, then travel to London to meet with Pan African and other activist groups there.   

Zadiah Bullard, of Newark, New Jersey, added, “Mumia has been in prison all my life. I’m here because the justice system is flawed. President Barack Obama can free Mumia with a stroke of his pen. We have to make him. If he freed Mumia, he could be re-elected. He needs to step out and do something radical for us to make that happen.” 

Ross, Johanna Fernandez, maker of the new documentary on Mr. Abu-Jamal, “Justice on Trial,” and Professor Michael Schiffman of Germany all raised numerous factual defenses in favor of Mr. Abu-Jamal’s innocence during the rally. 

Johanna Fernandez

Schiffman exposed the now-famous Polakoff photographs, withheld by the police and prosecutors from the defense for years, that challenge the prosecution’s version of the killing of Officer Faulkner and near-killing of Mumia Abu-Jamal.  Schiffman and others say the photographs show that police moved key evidence at the scene.

They say the photographs also do not show prosecution witness Robert Chobert’s taxi parked behind Officer Faulkner’s car, although Chobert testified he observed Faulkner’s killing from that vantage point. 

For more information, contact: 

  • International Family & Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal at 215.476.8812
  • Philadelphia International Action Center 215.724.1618
  • Free Mumia Coalition (NYC) 212.330.8029 HOTLINE 212-330-8029  PO BOX 16, COLLEGE STATION, NEW YORK, NY 10030.  

Children support Mumia Abu-Jamal in Philly

Websites supporting Mumia Abu-Jamal include: 

Petition for civil rights investigation available from websites.

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  1. Diane Bukowski says:

    Thank you very much. You can also read this article on the front page of the current issue of the San Francisco Bay View national Black newspaper at the link which is now published before my byline.

  2. Wouldn’t they love to silence Mumia once and for all. It’s good to see that the people are staying active on his behalf, indeed on all of our behalfs. Keep up the good reportage.

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