A life in the balance


Joan Parkin reviews a new biography of Pennsylvania death row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Terry Bisson's new biography On a Move: The Story of Mumia Abu-Jamal tells the incredible story of how the state launched an all-out campaign to frame this opponent of racism and police brutality.

Through the course of this book we come to understand why the life of Mumia and a victory in his case is so important not just to him personally but to the struggle of abolitionists and fighters against racism everywhere.

At this point, Mumia could be called into court at any time to find out from Judge Yohn if he is to get a hearing over charges he has raised of constitutional violations in his original trial. The trial was presided over by Judge Albert Sabo, who is known as the "hanging judge" because he's sent more defendants to death row than any judge in the U.S. -- most of them African Americans.

As a former sheriff and member of the Fraternal Order of Police, Sabo should never have been allowed to preside over a case where someone was accused of killing a police officer. Sabo allowed every imaginable form of police and prosecutorial misconduct to go unchallenged, while he rejected every motion of the defense. The habeas corpus petition now before Judge Yohn shows 30 constitutional violations, including the exclusion of Blacks from the jury, the denial of Mumia's request to represent himself and the manufacturing of evidence. Yohn recently rejected the filing of two amicus briefs that asked him to review the exclusion of Mumia's legal adviser, John Africa, from the court.

Bisson's book sorts through all the twists and turns of the case -- and much more. "To read this book," wrote Howard Zinn, the author of A People's History of the United States, in a review of Bisson's book, "is to gain deep insights into issues of race and poverty and the pretenses of our nation with regard to equal justice before the law."

If Yohn says no to a new hearing, Mumia could be on a fast track to the death chamber -- since Mumia's final appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court would likely be rejected.

Today, with a national call for a moratorium on executions and new mood to fight back, we stand a chance of winning a new trial for Mumia. Everyone needs to be ready to get to Philadelphia and demonstrate once Yohn sets the date for Mumia to appear in court. Join the fight to save Mumia!

Copies of Terry Bisson's book are available from the Campaign for $12 (includes shipping costs). Send your order and a check to: Campaign to End the Death Penalty, P.O. Box 25730, Chicago, IL 60625.