Mumia Is Due To Appear In Federal Court

We Want Justice Now!

By: Lee Wengraf

Organizing to save Mumia

ON FEBRUARY 19, 750 activists came from around the world to attend a National Emergency Conference for Mumia Abu-Jamal in New York City to strategize about the critical fight for a new trial.

The day was packed with sessions from the legal aspects of Mumia's case to meetings on how to build the movement to win justice. The Campaign sponsored a "Live from Death Row" event that drew 200 people to listen to members of Illinois' Death Row Ten talked about how similar their own cases are to Mumia's -- because of the issues of police brutality, corruption and lies.

On May 7, thousands of people were expected to turn out at New York City's Madison Square Garden to rally for Mumia. Among the planned speakers were Gloria Steinem, Rev. Al Sharpton and musician Mos Def.

The fight for justice for Pennsylvania death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal continues to heat up.

On March 24, Mumia's legal team presented his request for a new trial in federal district court with an appeal outlining 29 constitutional violations that Mumia faced at the hands of the police and the courts.

Wrongfully convicted in 1982 of killing police officer Daniel Faulkner, Mumia is now fighting to bring to light evidence never before heard in court -- how he was denied adequate legal representation in his original trial; how the police lied, withheld evidence and threatened witnesses; how Philadelphia's "hanging judge" Albert Sabo railroaded Mumia by excluding Black jurors and even removing Mumia for part of his own trial.

Finally, Mumia has a real chance to prove his innocence in court.

As the New Abolitionist went to press, Mumia was expected to receive at any time a date to appear in court for a hearing on his request for a new trial.

All defendants have the legal right to a review of their cases in federal courts. But the crucial question for Mumia, like thousands of others on death row, is whether a federal judge will grant a new trial.

After attorneys Leonard Weinglass and Dan Williams submitted a summary of the evidence supporting Mumia's case, Judge William Yohn decided to hear the complete case. This is one of Mumia's biggest legal victories in his nearly 20 years on death row, and it means that Mumia will appear in court for the oral arguments.

From that point on, several outcomes are possible. Weinglass described the stakes at a recent meeting:

"We will have a major argument at that court date [set by Yohn] which will set out the rules which will govern this judge's review of this case. Will he take on Judge Sabo's findings? Will he agree to have an additional hearing where witnesses could testify? Or will he refuse an additional hearing? Will he stand by Judge Sabo's findings?

"This is a very critical juncture. In 1996, Congress...added an amendment to anti-terrorism legislation. The amendment was called the Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, and President Clinton signed the legislation. What did it do? It effectively removed these federal judges from conducting an independent review."

In April, the U.S. Supreme Court issued two decisions on the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. The outcome of the Supreme Court ruling was that the law still stands, but federal judges have more room to question state decisions if the decisions are "unreasonable." Obviously, this is crucial for Mumia since his trial and later state appeals were riddled with decisions that were not only "unreasonable" but an outright sham.

With such a hazy ruling, one thing is clear -- the urgency for building support for Mumia is more critical now than ever.

Following the February 19 National Emergency Conference in New York, activists and supporters have been mobilizing nationally for Mumia's court appearance. They have formed emergency response networks, held campus teach-ins on the facts of the case and collected thousands of signatures on petitions and postcards to deliver to Judge Yohn.

Meanwhile, new supporters are coming forward: both the NAACP and the ACLU have submitted "friend of the court" amicus briefs supporting Mumia's claims. In February, Amnesty International issued a report entitled "A Life in the Balance: The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal," which calls for "a new trial on the basis that his original trial was deeply flawed." In March, the NAACP held a press conference with Rubin "Hurricane" Carter -- the subject of the movie The Hurricane about a wrongfully convicted man -- to demand justice for Mumia.

For the upcoming court date before Yohn, supporters plan to bring dignitaries to serve as "official witnesses" in the courtroom -- while activists rally on the streets outside the court building.

The urgency to build a movement for Mumia is becoming all the more critical as his enemies continue their own "struggle" to push Mumia closer to execution.

Aided by Maureen Faulkner, the widow of Daniel Faulkner, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) is continuing its decades-long plan to silence Mumia. When Antioch College in Ohio announced its decision to invite Mumia to give a taped graduation address, Faulkner said she would mobilize hundreds of police to come to a counterprotest. The FOP also plan to protest a May 7 rally in New York. And on April 21, Mumia's literary agent Frances Goldin and five other activists were handed harsh sentences, including a year of probation, for a misdemeanor civil disobedience protest in Philadelphia last July.

The police and the courts have tried for nearly 20 years to silence this fighter. Mumia's case is known all over the world. He is both a symbol of racist criminal injustice system and an outspoken political prisoner. Mumia needs support from every corner now to bring the broadest possible pressure to bear for a new trial. Weinglass has warned that, without success in federal court, there is "the very real danger" of an execution at the end of 2000.

As actor Ossie Davis put it: "We must involve people in the process of justice... Once people understand what is happening, they will say, 'This is the case, this is the cause.'"