by Ted Kelly, Published on Workers World, September 20, 2019
For decades, the movement to release African-American political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal has been on the front lines in the fight against white supremacy and capitalist mass incarceration. Generations of new revolutionaries have grown up in this struggle, and Mumia’s longtime supporters have in turn become their mentors as the most creative and seasoned organizers of the progressive movement. Now in 2019, thanks to these activists, a historic new phase of the struggle has begun.
Abu-Jamal’s legal team filed new briefs this month as part of recently won appellate rights, granted by the courts late last year. The new filings reveal concrete evidence of gross prosecutorial misconduct on the part of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office and its clear collaboration with the city’s notorious police department to frame Mumia for the 1981 shooting death of a white Philadelphia cop.
A statement from attorneys Judith Ritter and Sam Spital in a Sept. 9 press release read,
“This week, Mumia Abu-Jamal filed a brief in PA Superior Court to support his claim that his 1982 trial was fundamentally unfair in violation of the Constitution. For example, he argues that the prosecution failed to disclose evidence as required and discriminated against African Americans when selecting the jury. And, his lawyer did not adequately challenge the State’s witnesses.
“Mr. Abu-Jamal also filed a motion containing new evidence of constitutional violations such as promises by the prosecutor to pay or give leniency to two witnesses. There is also new evidence of racial discrimination in jury selection.”
The brief describes how prosecutor Joseph McGill kept meticulous notes on the race and gender of possible jurors, raising serious questions about racial discrimination in jury selection. This remains a common tactic and was described in a now infamous talk given by one of McGill’s colleagues in the Philly DA’s office. “Blacks from low-income areas are less likely to convict,” senior prosecutor Jack McMahon explains in the 1986 training video. “You don’t want those people on your jury.”
The district attorney who argued for Mumia’s guilt also withheld evidence from the defense team, a violation of the Brady doctrine which requires prosecutors to turn over all possible exculpatory evidence to a defendant’s lawyers. In this case, Mumia and his lawyers were not made aware of apparent agreements made between the DA and the state’s key witness, Robert Chobert, that in return for his testimony the city would look into reinstating Chobert’s driver’s license.
A blatant frame-up
This is only one example of improper contact between the District Attorney and two key witnesses who Mumia’s supporters claim were induced to give false testimony. The brief states, “Abu-Jamal’s capital trial was fundamentally unfair and tainted by serious constitutional violations. Mr. Abu-Jamal respectfully requests that this Court remand the case to the Court of Common Pleas so that Mr. Abu-Jamal may litigate the claims arising from this new evidence.”
The new evidence surfaced early this year after Judge Leon Tucker ruled in favor of Mumia and granted him a new appeal. Days later, current DA Larry Krasner claims to have stumbled across boxes of evidence related to Mumia’s case, including correspondence between Chobert and McGill.
“Here’s another example of why Mumia shoulda been home,” MOVE Organization’s Minister of Confrontation Pam Africa stated in the press release. “An example of police and prosecutorial misconduct. That evidence has been there for years. It shoulda been in trial records but it was hidden. What else is hidden besides the few things that we have right here.”
Larry Krasner, who assumed office in 2017 after campaigning as a progressive reformer, has consistently fought to keep the evidence hidden and to keep an innocent man like Abu-Jamal behind bars. Only after a massive outcry from his supporters and former campaign workers did Krasner drop his challenge to Tucker’s ruling. This demonstrates the serious limits of what establishment progressives and law-and-order Democrats are interested in working toward. But it also proves that there is no limit to what can be accomplished through coordinated mass action and that our struggle will not be won in the courts or in the chambers of city hall, but in the streets.
The movement also won a huge victory this month when Mumia, who suffers severe health problems due to the toxic and deadly conditions of U.S. prisons, was finally allowed to have cataract surgery. His eyesight has become so bad in recent years that Mumia said he was functionally blind before surgery.
MOVE 9 members released
This new phase of the battle to release Mumia comes on the heels of the release in recent years of five members of the MOVE 9, a group of Black radicals who like Mumia were framed for the murder of a police officer. Michael, Debbie, Janet, Janine, and Eddie Africa have all walked free after over 40 years of false imprisonment.
“If they deal with this issue honestly, they’ll have to release [Mumia] because they know what they did was wrong,” said Eddie, as quoted in the press release.
Janine Africa also commented, saying,
“I just got released from prison after 41 years in May. I want to say everyone work hard to bring Mumia home so he can be taken care of and get proper medical care, and he don’t deserve to be in jail from the beginning.”
Basym Hassan, Philadelphia political activist, said in the press release,
“The district attorney clearly violated Mumia’s constitutional rights by withholding clear evidence that should have been exposed from the beginning. Throughout the entire process of Mumia’s approaching the scene up until today’s current developments, the law has not been applied as it was created — to get to the truth of the matter. Hopefully, Mumia will get a retrial and the truth will finally get told. We await his release from hell.”
This historic new phase in Mumia’s legal defense must be joined by a mobilization in the streets that is equally unparalleled. At a time when Mumia’s health is under such threat, when legal proof of his innocence is so clearly outlined, the missing piece is renewed international pressure.
The release of Mumia Abu-Jamal would be a victory heralded internationally, a symbol of what the workers of the United States are capable of achieving. Reverberations would not only impact Philadelphia but every city in the United States. It would be a well-deserved rebuke to every racist cop in this country, to the neo-fascist warmongers in the White House and indeed to the entire system of capitalism dominated by white supremacy.
Free Mumia, Free Delbert and Chuck Africa!
Close the Camps, Close the Prisons!