Thursday, June 09, 2005

Very Bad News about Mumia Abu Jamal's Appeal

This morning I had an email about Judge Pamela Dembe's May 27th rejection of Mumia Abu Jamal's most recent appeal for Post-Conviction relief. You can read about the case and the decision at free One of the main items in the email is that there has been "a deafening silence from many of those who were outraged ten years ago."
Why is this? Part of it has to do with the overturning of Abu Jamal's death sentence in December of 2001 in Pennsylvania. This move was viewed as a victory and considerably slowed momentum for the defense. I recall thinking during the five years of activism on this issue that commuting the sentence would be the most skillful strategy for making the movement "go away." (Readers should know however, that while the sentence was overturned, it could still be reinstated, especially after the turning down of this appeal by the Court of Common Pleas).
I think that the movement's lack in momentum also has to do with the some very bad political decisions on the part of people in the defense movement upon the publication of a seriously problematic book by a member of the defense team. Briefly, there has been so much sectarianism in the immediate defense movement that it has been very difficult to retain a mass base. The best political analysis of the case appears in Dave Lindorff's book, reviewed here. Not all the slowed activism on the case can be attributed to the focus on the war. After all,when I read the latest decision by Dembe, it was clear to me that all the issues are still there, and quite urgent to a number of people. The primary reasons she gave for denying the appeal were that it was "untimely" an issue that has haunted all death penalty cases since the 1996 passing of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and McCleskey vs. Kemp decisions, and that the witnesses brought forth by the defense team are "untrustworthy," which speaks to the general disbelief of anything done/said by prisoners/defendants in criminal cases. Both of these issues are even more urgent today, given revalations from Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and the patriot act.
However, when I hear the deafening silence around the case, I am still reminded of of the words of the first lawyer, Fred Moore , who fought for Sacco and Vanzetti in the 1920s...

...Sacco and Vanzetti are entitled to the unswerving loyalty of those who pretend to be their friends. A committee that would serve them must be broad gauged enough and intelligent enough to act in such wise as to permit all shades of political and industrial opinion to cooperate freely in the struggle for justice. I am compelled to believe that your committee is not actuated by such motives....all but... are of one political faith and you have looked askance and with disfavor upon the aid or assistance of anyone unless they accepted your political dogma. Members of your committee are not even affiliated with organized labor. You have never made any sincere or honest effort to reach even the Italian public of America. It is impossible to secure a decision from you which is abided after being made. At the so-called convention of last February you created a committee of members of the same political faith as yourself and all Italian. Arbitrarily and by your own action you have cut yourself off from all contact, moral and racial with all other groups in America. Now you are bankrupt. (Fred Moore to SVDC, 7 July 1924)
While I wouldn't say what Moore said - either about the SVDC OR about the Mumia team, I was frustrated by the firing of Leonard Weinglass from the case and alarmed by the strategic direction since 2001. My larger point is that the Sacco-Vanzetti defense was damaged by sectarian conflicts in ways that injured the lives of the defendants; I think this is true of Mumia's case as well. Moore was eventually fired from the case that year because of his efforts to control the political direction of the defense committee instead of just working on the legal aspects of the appeals. (If you want to read more about the story behind Moore and the defense committee, you'll hvae to wait on my book...or read my dissertation.)
Meanwhile, with the rejection of this latest appeal by Judge Dembe, there is a new urgency to Mumia's case, and interestingly, it looks as if momentum may grow. I have been unable to find any further information about Mumia's current legal status, or about what the next steps in the case are, but just this week it looks as if some Mumia supporters have wound up in positions of power in a "renegade" NAACP chapter in Ossining, NY (right outside Sing Sing prison.) I think that's a very good thing, no matter what my disagreements with some strategic decisions. FYI: There's a march in Philly on June 16th to support Mumia and oppose this most recent court decision. You can read about it on links above.

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