Think Twice Before You Wear Your "Free Mumia" T-shirt

I was sitting in the student union at the University of Chicago last week when a student came by putting “Free Mumia” leaflets on the tables.

I have never paid much attention to the Mumia Abu-Jamal case. On the one hand, I know enough about police, the criminal justice system, and racism to believe that an innocent black man could be framed. On the other hand, it makes me nervous when people like Mike Farrell, Oliver Stone, Sting, and Jacques Derrida suddenly become legal experts and publicly proclaim the innocence of someone on death row.

Whatever else you might think of Abu-Jamal, one has to congratulate him on an incredibly effective media campaign over the last 15 years.

It started in 1991 when Yale Law Journal published an article by Abu-Jamal entitled “Teetering on the Brink Between Life and Death” and was fueled by his book Live From Death Row. (I’m pretty sure I own that book; I’m more sure that I never read very far into it.) Somehow, Abu-Jamal and his supporters have managed to keep Hollywood celebrities and cohort after cohort of college students convinced of his innocence and willing to work on his behalf.

He has been somewhat less successful in the court room.

His death sentence has been turned over on a technicality, but I believe he still faces life in prison without parole. Even while on death row he was pretty safe: there are more than 200 people currently sentenced to death in Pennsylvania, and there have been three executions in that state in the last forty years. As in most states, death row in Pennsylvania is a lot safer than the streets if you are a criminal.

To anyone interested in the Mumia Abu-Jamal case, I highly recommend a book entitled, Murdered by Mumia written by Maureen Faulkner and Michael Smerconish. Maureen Faulkner is the widow of Danny Faulkner, the police officer who Abu-Jamal was convicted of killing. Michael Smerconish is an outspoken (but extremely intelligent) writer and radio host in Philadelphia.

Having just finished the book in a single sitting, I can’t say I feel too sympathetic to Abu-Jamal. It’s easy to be swayed when you only hear one side of the story, but I have to say that the facts (at least as presented here) don’t look so good for him.

If you are a college student, or a Hollywood celebrity, thinking about publicly proclaiming Abu-Jamal’s innocence, I strongly recommend that you read this book first. One of my favorite passages from the book will give you a little extra incentive. In this (slightly condensed) excerpt, Maureen Faulkner describes a chance encounter with a college student 15 years and 3,000 miles away from where her husband died:

As I pumped gas, a young man, a white kid who looked college age, pulled up behind me. He was wearing a T-shirt that read “Free Mumia Abu-Jamal,” and it immediately caught my eye.

I walked up and asked him where he got the T-shirt. He said he was a student at U.C.L.A. and they had recently held a rally for Abu-Jamal. I asked him if he knew anything about the case in which Abu-Jamal was involved.

He said, “Well, I know that this guy was a Black Panther who was railroaded. Someone else shot a police officer and he was framed for it.” I cringed when he went on with the usual recitation of misinformation being spun by the Abu-Jamal defenders: a peaceful black activist, a social dissident, hostile white police force, F.B.I. surveillance, conned eyewitness accounts, phony ballistics, etc.

I heard him out and offered to provide him with the actual facts of the case. He politely declined my offer. Before I left, I suggested that when he wore a political statement on his chest he would be well served if he knew his facts, because you never know when you might run into the widow of the officer. I left him in stunned silence.

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  1. Jim Lennon says:

    There are about 35 people around Philadelphia who think that Mumia is innocent leaving the remaining several million who think he’s guilty and should rot in jail. It’s been my observation, over the years, that his charm increases with the square of the distance from Philadelphia. Thus we think he’s a lousy murderer and the people of Paris have named a street after him. It doesn’t surprise me that kids in California support Mumia.
    Maureen Faulkner is an ace and Michael Smerconish gives talk radio a good name. We are lucky to have them around.

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  2. Lyn LeJeune says:

    How many “political” causes are forged before the facts of the case are brought into the open. I do not know about this case and this is the first time I’ve learned anything about it. But, over the years we must be astounded at the number of “free whoever” campaigns we’ve read about and then they slip away into news oblivion. How do we as a society take the measure of what is the measure of a person’s innocence, espcially one sitting on death row? Remember, in the last few years how many people have been released and found innocence only because a bunch of law students needed a thesis project. What lies beyond DNA evidence?

    Lyn LeJeune
    http://www.beatitudesinneworleans.blogspot.com – rebuilding public libraries, the cornerstone of a free society.

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  3. prklypr says:

    Wow. What courage it took for this woman to stand there and listen to an obviously uninformed college student blather on about her own husband’s senseless murderer, then to leave him speechless. I was never much interested in this case, but I’m heading out to buy her book now.

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  4. AaronS says:

    If I am angry over anything in the world, it is the utter mockery of our death penalty.

    When men can sit on death row for 10 – 15 years–sometimes outliving the grandparents of the little girl they raped and killed–we have a problem with justice.

    Very simply, I propose that if DNA, confession, video evidience, or other such overwhelming evidence proves a person is guilty, then they have ONE YEAR (for the sake of their family and final affairs), and they are then executed.

    Further, for certain heinous crimes (not all crimes, just those of a particularly heinous nature), one should not be able to get off on a technicality. You are either guilty or not guilty. Insane? Well, if in your insanity you killed a child or stabbed someone 200 times, you are still put to death–not so much as punishment…but as protection FOREVER from you.

    After all, you can be sure that eventually some foolish judge will declare that the death penalty is excessive, and that a person shouldn’t have to spend more than 20 years in prison (or some such)…and that insane person will walk out, perhaps wanting to experience a certain thrill he experienced 20 years before.

    For these heinous crimes, there should be no appeal but innocence. So the jury wasn’t the proper blend of male and female, black and white? Too bad. The question is not whether you could have swayed another jury configuration, but whether you are guilty.

    Lastly, EVERY applicabl eperson on death row should have IMMEDIATE DNA testing. If the test proves them guilty, they get executed in two weeks. If they are innocent, they are freed, given a monthly stipend for the next 30 years, apologized to, and that’s about the best we can do.

    Appeals from these death row inmates should be fast-tracked to the Supreme Court. Get it over with and now. Either you’re innocent or your guilty.

    It angers me that anyone can stay on death row so long. If we are sure they are guilty, we should be sure about executing them.

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  5. Sam says:

    I hope Aarons is never unfairly accused of murder. If he is, I hope that the police aren’ sure of it. It would be too bad if they were sure for a year and then became unsure as new evidence came to light. I’m sure that has never happened though…

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  6. Caleb says:

    I’m not familiar with the case one way or the other but you say how easy it is to be swayed by only knowing one side of an issue but admit to only having read one side of the same issue. Seems like this article is more about contrarianism than balance.

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  7. Ben says:

    I don’t necessarily think he’s innocent, but I do think that you should take the widow of the officer’s opinion with a grain of salt. Families of murder victims always want someone to be responsible. Again, I’m not saying that Mumia is innocent but I’d say this woman is much too emotionally involved in this to really offer a fair and balanced look at what happened.

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    • paul says:

      since she lived through the entire trial, and has been deeply involved in the case for decades, I would think the opposite. She has every reason to watch every detail closely. It doesn’t serve her at all for the wrong man to be convicted. Several witnessess saw mumia shoot the policeman, and testified to that immediately after the murder and at trial. What people say years later isn’t relevant. this punk is guilty as sin. read the facts.

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      • TRUTH says:

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  8. JB says:

    Ditto Jim.

    If you walk around Philadelphia you will find the vast majority of people are waiting with baited breath for the execution of that cop killer, Mumia Abu Jamal.

    Unfortunately, others outside of this area are so craving for a political cause that they jump onto some innuendo and heresay and take up a cause that they know nothing about.

    I would love for Ed Asner, Mike Farrell, et al. to sit down in a room and tell Maureen Faulkner to her face that they think that the animal who killed her husband deserves anything better than a lethal injection.

    Get the facts:
    http://www.danielfaulkner.com/

    On December 9, 1981, at approximately 3:55 a.m., Officer Danny Faulkner, a five year veteran of the Philadelphia Police Department, made a traffic stop at Locust Street near Twelfth Street. The car stopped by Officer Faulkner was being driven by William Cook. After making the stop, Danny called for assistance on his police radio and requested a police wagon to transport a prisoner. Unbeknownst to him, William Cook’s brother, Wesley (aka Mumia Abu-Jamal) was across the street. As Danny attempted to handcuff William Cook, Mumia Abu-Jamal ran from across the street and shot the officer in the back. Danny turned and was able to fire one shot that struck Abu-Jamal in the chest; the wounded officer then fell to the pavement. Mumia Abu-Jamal stood over the downed officer and shot him four more times at close range, once directly in the face. Mumia Abu-Jamal was found still at the scene of the shooting by officers who arrived there within seconds.

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    • bob says:

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      • Vastly Amused says:

        Bob- thanks for your opinion. It would carry more weight if you didn’t just mindlessly repeat the false and specious claims of the Mumia lobby. Thus far, he has had numerous appeals, 3 PCRA hearings, and so far- none of his claims have withstood scrutiny, and all have been shown to be lies.
        For example- Mumia’s supporters claim the murder gun was a .44. Jamal’s own ballistics expert, George Fassnacht, conceded in his 1995 PCRA testimony that the fatal bullet was not .44 caliber, and that it was most “likely” a .38. Although the D.A.’s officer offered in open court to let Jamal’s attorneys test the fatal bullet, they refused this offer, and have never offered any alternative test results to counter the Commonwealth’s evidence.
        Furthermore, the death bullet was too deformed to match with a particular gun, but the markings on the bullet showed it had been fired from a Charter Arms .38. Mumia was carrying a Charter Arms .38.
        As for those “witnesses”- you mean like the woman who claimed she spoke to a woman who had been dead for five years when those conversations allegedly took place?
        I think you have unwittingly revealed why Mumia enjoys such support among certain groups- a combination of liberal white guilt and soft racism. He’s well-spoken, educated- one of the “safe black men” who make White Liberals feel good(“just like us”), so he can’t be a murderer!

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    • Blair says:

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      • Vastly Amused says:

        At this point- there is NO gray area. We know the sequence of events- we have eyewitness testimony, physical evidence.
        Abu-Jamal has had his case reviewed numerous times- he received 3 PCRA hearings- at which his lawyers were given EVERY chance to present ANY thing to challenge the case. They presented nothing that stood up to scrutiny, one of their witnesses claimed to have talked with a dead woman, and their own expert admitted the state’s evidence was solid. I’ve read the hearing transcripts, the Supreme Court Opinion——— I have no doubt. Read them, and see what you think after.

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