The case of Mumia Abu-Jamal has been in the press lately. Convicted in 1982 of killing a Philadelphia police officer, the State of Pennsylvania has been trying for several years to execute Abu-Jamal. Through appeals and bizarre public support, Abu-Jamal's life has temporarily been spared as he sits on death row.
Mumia Abu-Jamal was born on April 24, 1954. At the age of 14, he became a member of the Philadelphia chapter of the Black Panther Party. In the summer of 1970, he worked for the Black Panther Party newspaper in Oakland, California. He returned to Philadelphia shortly before the police raided the three offices of the Panther party in Oakland.
In the 1970's, he became a prominent radio reporter and journalist who criticized the Philadelphia Police Department. He also questioned Mayor Rizo's version of the 1978 police department's siege of the MOVE organization in West Philadelphia. During that seizure, a police officer was killed and several MOVE members were arrested, convicted and sentenced to prison. Because of his advocacy for the MOVE organization, he eventually lost his broadcasting job. Abu-Jamal then took a job as a late night cab driver.
On December 9, 1981, Officer Daniel Faulkner made a traffic stop on a car being driven by Abu-Jamal's brother. A fight ensued between Officer Faulkner and Abu-Jamal's brother. Moments later Abu-Jamal arrived at the scene. What happened next is a matter of debate between Abu-Jamal and the police. The confrontation ended with Officer Faulkner being shot and mortally wounded. Before he died, Officer Faulkner managed to shoot Abu-Jamal. Abu-Jamal was caught at the scene of the crime and survived the shooting.
In July of 1982, a jury found Abu-Jamal guilty of shooting Officer Faulkner. Witnesses testified they saw Abu-Jamal shoot Officer Faulkner. When Abu-Jamal was arrested at the scene he had in his possession the murder weapon. A hospital security guard and a police officer testified that Abu-Jamal confessed in the hospital to shooting Officer Faulkner.
In recent years, Abu-Jamal has gathered a following which has been advocating a "Free Mumia" movement. This has included numerous celebrities and entertainers which have shown support for the convicted cop killer. Abu-Jamal himself proclaims that he is innocent. In 1995 from prison, Abu-Jamal published the book "Live From Death Row." On page 18 of the Preface, he writes, "I continue to fight against this unjust sentence and conviction." While Abu-Jamal may believe that his conviction was "unjust," what we do not find in his book is a denial that he shot Officer Faulkner. Not once does he write, "I did not do it." He never states, "I did not shoot Officer Faulkner." Even though "Live From Death Row" focuses on the brutalities and humiliations of a prison life, we would still expect an innocent person to tell us "I didn't do it." I don't care if I wrote a book on gardening. If I am sitting on death row, somewhere in that book amidst the corn and cucumbers I am going to tell you that I did not kill Officer Faulkner.
In 1997, Abu-Jamal published a second book "Death Blossoms" which is a collection of short vignettes and reflections. In the Foreword on page 12, Cornel West writes, "As one who has lived on the night-side of this dream - unjustly imprisoned for a crime he did not commit - Mumia Abu-Jamal speaks to us of the institutional injustice and spiritual impoverishment that permeates our culture." In the Preface on page 21, Julia Wright pens, "'Death Blossoms' raises the issue of the innocence of one man - any man - at the hands of an elitist society that manufactures and projects its guilt upon it citizens in order to enrich itself." These two people clearly believe that Abu-Jamal is innocent of killing Officer Faulkner. But what does Abu-Jamal have to say about his conviction? Again, nowhere in his second book does he say, "I didn't do it." "I did not kill Officer Faulkner."
We cannot believe that Mumia Abu-Jamal is innocent if he doesn't tell us that he did not commit this crime. So why are so many celebrities convinced that he is not guilty? Because people do not listen. They focus on other issues raised by this case. The police may have targeted certain MOVE members in the 1970s. The police may have been heavy handed when dealing with MOVE members. Civil rights may have been violated. But none of that changes the fact that on December 9, 1981 Mumia Abu-Jamal shot Officer Daniel Faulkner. Something that Abu-Jamal hasn't denied.