Justice for Mumia!

Mumia's attorney Leonard Weinglass speaks out

Mumia Abu-Jamal is an award-winning journalist and political activist who has been on Pennsylvania's death row since 1982. He was originally targeted by the Philadelphia police department for his outspokenness on police brutality and racism and was subsequently framed for the killing of Officer Daniel Faulkner.

The trial he endured was a complete sham. But Mumia has nonetheless remained a tireless voice of resistance against the death penalty and injustice.

In October 1998, his request for a new trial was rejected by the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court, clearing the way for Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge to sign a warrant for his execution. Mumia faced execution for the first time in 1995, but won a stay after international protests exploded in his defense.

Tristin Adie spoke recently with Mumia's lead attorney, Leonard Weinglass, about the prospects for building the movement to save Mumia.

Can you tell us where Mumia's case is now, after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision?

After that decision, we started by filing a request with the same court for a reconsideration of their denial of a new trial. They rejected this appeal on November 25, so on February 25, we will file a petition for certiorari with the United States Supreme Court.

We anticipate that they will reject that request, given that they reject about 90 percent of all requests they receive. And we're expecting that Governor Ridge will go ahead and sign a warrant for Mumia's execution after the Supreme Court makes a decision, so we plan to appeal to the Federal District Court of Pennsylvania to stay that warrant at that time.

Do you have much hope that Mumia will receive a fair hearing through the courts?

We feel that if the federal courts actually follow the law, then Mumia will finally get a fair trial. Whether a judge actually decides to carry out the law has always, in Mumia's case, been impacted by the amount of public support people have demonstrated for him.

I feel that the worse thing that can happen to someone is to be nameless and faceless when they are up against the criminal justice system. There is a direct correlation between the level of justice someone receives and the level of public support people can demonstrate for that person.

What kind of reception did you receive when you addressed the European Parliament about Mumia's case this past December?

The response we got was very encouraging.

First of all, we spoke to the entire assembly of delegates, who filled a very large room. They heard not only from us but from a number of other speakers against the death penalty. The very next day, they issued a resolution condemning the death penalty and focused much of their condemnation on the U.S. And they issued a resolution specifically calling for a review of Mumia's case.

It passed unanimously, and again, this kind of response from such a large assembly was very encouraging.

Do you see any relationship between Pennsylvania's drive to kill Mumia and the growing repressiveness of the criminal justice system throughout the U.S.?

I see a definite relationship. The aggressiveness by which people are being incarcerated is part of quiet repression that is taking place in minority and poor communities. So the two are related and tied, definitely.

And Mumia has become a sort of spokesperson against this repression, speaking out from the bowels of this system. For that reason particularly, they have targeted him. His execution is an important link in this growing repression.

When Mumia supporters announced plans for a benefit concert at the Meadowlands stadium, the police went bezerk. What do think of New Jersey Gov. Christine Whitman's threats to revoke the permit for the concert?

We haven't necessarily reached a police state in this country, although some communities certainly feel that way.

What the police have been able to achieve is a kind of police sovereignty, and that's what they've been exercising in their attempts to get this concert shut down.

Governor Whitman's threats to revoke their permit to play at the Meadowlands are a reflection of the all-powerful police machinery that wields considerable political influence in this country.

What should people do about these threats?

They should joyfully attend the concert. They should flood the arena and the area around it and send a strong message to the police and governor that they won't be intimidated.

What advice would you give to activists who want to see Mumia freed?

Well, I would first encourage them to follow the support network for Mumia that's developing and to demonstrate their support through events that are shaping up like the [Millions for Mumia] demonstration happening in Philadelphia on April 24.

If people get involved in this type of activity - if they demonstrate their support in this way - it will have an impact on whether or not Mumia wins his freedom.

And what we're seeing is that things are starting to move very quickly.

In early 1999, we've already seen a much larger mobilization of people becoming active on Mumia's behalf. There's been more in this concentrated period of time than I've seen in any similar period of time since I first became involved in this case.

The announcement from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had a shock effect and acted as a wake-up call, I think. It showed people that the state is that serious - that they're quite intent on moving ahead on Mumia's execution.

So people have begun to respond very quickly and seriously. And that is, of course, very encouraging.