The Fight to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal


This publication is an expanded version of the Partisan Defense Committee pamphlet Mumia Abu-Jamal Is an Innocent Man! originally published in September 2001. A prize-winning journalist, Black Panther Party spokesman in his youth, supporter of the MOVE organization and defiant opponent of racist state terror, Mumia was railroaded to death row in 1982 at the hands of Philadelphia’s notorious cop and court frame-up machine on false charges of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.

This pamphlet includes the crucial affidavit of Arnold Beverly, who confesses that he, not Mumia, killed Faulkner, as well as the affidavits and declarations of Partisan Defense Committee counsel Rachel Wolkenstein, Mumia Abu-Jamal, his brother William Cook and others. In this edition, we are also including a presentation given by Wolkenstein as part of a series of day schools held between February and May by the Spartacist League and Labor Black Leagues on “The Fight to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal” in New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and Oakland and by the Ligue Trotskyste de France in Paris. Wolkenstein’s Paris presentation coincided with her invitation to speak at the April 29 ceremony in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis to name a street in honor of Mumia.

The material presented here is a decisive refutation of the police frame-up. Wolkenstein’s talk and affidavit also detail the extensive efforts of the Partisan Defense Committee in publicizing Mumia’s case to a broad public internationally and initiating united-front protests in cities around the world. They describe our longtime role in assisting Mumia’s legal efforts, including as part of his defense team for several years. Particularly important was our pursuit of the proof of Mumia’s innocence. For over two years, Mumia’s then-lead attorney, Leonard Weinglass, and attorney Daniel Williams refused to present in court the Beverly affidavit and supporting evidence. Wolkenstein and Jonathan Piper, another attorney from the Partisan Defense Committee, resigned from the legal team in 1999, refusing to be complicit in suppressing the Beverly confession.

The fight to free Mumia Abu-Jamal reached a critical juncture in December 2005, when the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals put Mumia’s case on a “fast track” for decision. Both Mumia and the prosecutors are appealing decisions made in 2001 by U.S. District Court judge William Yohn, who overturned Mumia’s death sentence but upheld every aspect of his frame-up conviction. By the end of 2006 the court could decide what is next for Mumia: death, life in prison or more legal proceedings. This pamphlet provides a crucial tool for mobilizing urgently needed mass protests for Mumia’s freedom organized on the basis that he is an innocent man whose case lays bare the workings of the capitalist frame-up system. As Wolkenstein explained in her talk, “the Beverly evidence demonstrates the unity of purpose of the cops, prosecution and courts to uphold the capitalist rulers’ interests. It makes it clear that the injustice to Mumia was not the action of one rogue cop or prosecutor or judge, but the entire functioning of the capitalist system of injustice, which cannot be reformed.”

There Is No Justice in the Capitalist Courts!

The frame-up of Mumia Abu-Jamal has come to symbolize what the racist death penalty in the U.S. is all about. A legacy of chattel slavery, capital punishment is the lynch rope made legal.

Mumia is an innocent man. But innocence means nothing to the forces of “law and order,” represented by both the Democratic and Republican parties, who want to see Mumia dead because they see in him the spectre of black revolution, a voice of defiant opposition to the oppression of black people that is a cornerstone of American capitalism. The state’s quarter-century-long determination to carry out his foul murder is a warning to all who challenge vicious cop repression in the ghettos and barrios, to workers who stand up for their rights on the picket lines, to those who protest U.S. imperialist depredations in Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world.

Mumia is up against the vast resources of the capitalist state and its mouthpieces in the bourgeois press who howl for his blood. Court after court has barred Arnold Beverly’s confession, as well as the mountains of additional evidence of Mumia’s innocence. With the execution in December 2005 of Stanley Tookie Williams, over substantial popular opposition, the bloody rulers sent a signal that they want Mumia next. California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger made this clear when, in denying clemency for Williams, he cited the fact that his book Life in Prison was dedicated to—among others—Mumia Abu-Jamal.

To give an idea of what Mumia is up against: many of the Third Circuit judges testified for the reactionary Samuel Alito during his January 2006 Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Among the members of the Third Circuit is Marjorie Rendell, wife of Democratic Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, who was the Philadelphia D.A. during Mumia’s frame-up trial and who has spent his political life dedicated to seeing Mumia executed.

It was worldwide protests, crucially involving trade unionists, that won a stay of execution for Mumia in August 1995. At the time, and over the next few years, Mumia’s name was a household word. Articles about Mumia and his own written commentaries were a regular feature of the U.S. black press. Mumia’s face was emblazoned on the T-shirts of student activists and ghetto youth; his name became a symbol in hip-hop for racist frame-up and also rolled off the lips of many union activists. Not today. A movement of millions was demobilized. This can be seen in the dwindling attendance at annual demonstrations on Mumia’s April 24 birthday. Time is running short. Mass protest must be rekindled now—nationally and internationally.

Mumia’s freedom will not be won through reliance on the rigged “justice” system or on capitalist politicians, whether Democratic, Republican or Green. The power that can turn the tide is the power of millions—working people, anti-racist youth, death penalty abolitionists—united in struggle to demand the freedom of this innocent man. Crucial to this perspective is the mobilization of the labor movement, which gave a taste of its social power in New York City in December 2005 when striking transit workers crippled the financial center of U.S. capitalism.

Lessons must be drawn as to how Mumia’s supporters were demobilized. The answer lies in the political program advanced by a host of liberal and reformist organizations—Workers World Party (WWP), Socialist Action (SA), the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), among others—that centered their protest actions around the call for a “new trial” for Mumia. That call represented a program of reliance on the racist capitalist courts which at every level have declared, as in the infamous Dred Scott case, that Mumia has no rights they are bound to respect. As Wolkenstein points out, “Here was the expression on the political plane of the suppression of the Beverly evidence on the legal front.”

Reformists Demobilize a Movement of Millions

The call for freedom for victims of the capitalist frame-up system has historically been a staple of the workers movement: Free Sacco and Vanzetti, Free the Scottsboro Boys, Free Huey Newton, Free Angela Davis. The demand for their freedom expressed the belief that their imprisonment for even an hour was an outrage. But since 1995, the call to free Mumia has been explicitly rejected as the basis for major mobilizations by the reformist left.

At a January 1999 “Emergency Leadership Summit Meeting,” representatives of SA, Solidarity, WWP, the RCP’s Refuse & Resist, International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal and others adopted a strategy and slogans for the April 24 “Millions for Mumia” demonstrations and beyond. Following a debate, the “free Mumia” slogan and opposition to the death penalty were rejected in favor of calling for a new trial. Solidarity’s Steve Bloom approvingly wrote in Against the Current (March/April 1999): “Everyone who spoke from the podium sounded a similar theme: We must build a broader and more inclusive movement, one which reaches out to the American mainstream.”

For the reformists, the “mainstream” included those who were agnostic on Mumia’s innocence. At bottom, the “new trial” slogan was an appeal to bourgeois liberal forces who see Mumia’s case not as the frame-up of an innocent man but as an isolated “miscarriage of justice,” an aberration that threatens to stain the reputation of American “democracy.”

To those liberal forces, Mumia is just another of the anonymous 3,300 men and women on death row, who should be provided all the trappings of “due process” before being sentenced to execution or life behind bars. Behind the attempts to limit the struggle for Mumia to a call for a new trial is a political program premised on reliance on the capitalist state—a program directly counterposed to a mobilization of working-class power for his freedom. The capitalist state and its courts are not neutral institutions but organs of repression against the working class and the oppressed.

The reformists’ approach dissipated the forces of millions who rallied to Mumia’s defense. As Wolkenstein points out, “It meant rejecting the very reasons that millions around the globe had taken up Mumia’s cause: revulsion with the injustices inherent in capitalism—poverty, racial and ethnic bias, war. There was broad identification with Mumia’s fight against the ‘system’ and for justice for all of humanity.”

Since taking up Mumia’s case in 1987, the Spartacist League and Partisan Defense Committee have advocated pursuing all possible legal proceedings in Mumia’s case. But we place all our faith in the power of the masses and no faith whatsoever in the justice of the courts. We realize that only the pressure of the mass movement, particularly that of the labor movement, can make the courts respond.

Although some opportunist “socialists” now raise freedom for Mumia in conjunction with calls for a “new trial,” their politics remain in the framework of reliance on the bourgeois state. The Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, initiated by supporters of the International Bolshevik Tendency, organized a 2000 “Labor Conference for Mumia” that resolved to appeal to Clinton’s Justice Department to investigate Mumia’s case. The conference also resolved to lobby delegates to the Democratic National Convention to pass a motion calling for a new trial. Currently, WWP’s International Action Center (IAC) Web site posts a petition to Pennsylvania’s governor (misidentified as former governor Mark Schweiker) pleading that he direct the state attorney general to take over the case from the Philadelphia district attorney’s office and “confess error” in the court.

Because the Beverly confession makes clear that Mumia’s case consists of a conscious, racist, political frame-up of an innocent man, the response by bourgeois liberals and their reformist tails to this evidence has ranged from outright hostility to indifference. In 2001, Mumia’s former co-counsel Daniel Williams published a book titled Executing Justice that derided the Beverly confession as “insane,” dismissing any suggestion that the cops knowingly framed up Mumia.

Dave Lindorff—a regular contributor to the radical/liberal CounterPunch who is often cited as an expert on Mumia’s case—was not only an early and loud voice trashing the Beverly confession, but discredited Mumia’s testimony as well. In his 2001 affidavit, Mumia states, “I did not shoot Police Officer Daniel Faulkner.” Two years later, in an afterword to his book Killing Time (2003), Lindorff asks himself whether Mumia actually shot Faulkner and answers “maybe.” This didn’t stop the International Socialist Organization from lauding Lindorff’s book for “exposing the flaws in Mumia’s case” (Socialist Worker, 16 December 2005). As of this writing, over the past two years, Workers World has barely mentioned the Beverly confession, while Socialist Action has totally disappeared it.

Every court to which it was presented has refused to hear the Beverly evidence. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Mumia could raise only three issues on his appeal—the racially biased jury selection in his 1982 trial, the D.A.’s prejudicial summary argument that Mumia would have “appeal after appeal,” and the grossly biased post-conviction state hearings before Judge Albert Sabo in the 1990s. These challenges should be heard in court. But every aspect of Mumia’s case shows how much the capitalist rulers want him dead. Thus, the harsh reality is that the Court of Appeals—like every other court in this case—has refused to hear the countless other violations of Mumia’s rights.

In an interview in the French Communist Party’s newspaper, L’Humanité (25 April), Mumia said of the current appeal: “I have very little hope in a favorable decision from the Federal Court which has agreed to look at three points of the petition submitted to appeal by my lawyers.” The reformists have a very different appreciation. The IAC hailed the December 2005 ruling as a “resounding federal court victory.” Refuse & Resist posted an article by Lindorff headlined, “A Stunning Win for Mumia Abu-Jamal.” Not to be outdone, Socialist Action’s Jeff Mackler declared, “There are several possible outcomes. The worst—but least expected—scenario would be one in which Sabo’s unconstitutional sentencing instructions are upheld, and Mumia faces execution” (Socialist Action, December 2005).

For Class-Struggle Defense!

In describing a late stage in the court proceedings that led to the execution by the state of Massachusetts of Italian anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti in 1927, James P. Cannon, founder of the International Labor Defense, wrote:

“The latest move should be suspected as another maneuver of the same sort, designed to give the outward appearance of still more scrupulous ‘fairness’ in the process by which the two labor fighters are to be burned alive.

“Remember, also, that powerful influences of the exploiting class are being brought to bear for the carrying out of the death sentence, and that the final issue, just because it is an issue of the class struggle, and not merely an isolated instance of the miscarriage of their so-called ‘justice,’ will depend upon the power and might of the class forces set into motion on each side.

“The great task, therefore, in the few fateful days remaining, up to the last minute of the last hour, is to put all energy, courage and militancy into the organization of mass demonstrations and protest strikes. All brakes upon this movement must be regarded as the greatest danger. All illusions which paralyze the movement must be overcome. All agents of the bosses who try to sabotage and discredit the protest and strike movement must be given their proper name.”

The road to victory in Mumia’s case begins with the understanding that the class enemy is determined to carry out his execution. The multiracial working class has every interest in fighting against that outcome, which would further bolster the machinery of capitalist state violence whose ultimate target is the working class.

If labor’s power is to be brought to bear on behalf of Mumia, it must be mobilized independent of the very forces of the capitalist state that framed up this innocent man. Based on the only significant integration in racist America, the trade unions have the social power and potential to become battalions in the struggle against exploitation and racist oppression. If undertaken with a mobilization of the union movement, the fight to free Mumia would be a first giant step in that direction. Integrated unions representing millions of workers have gone on record in support of Mumia. That these millions have not been mobilized in action to combat this racist frame-up is the responsibility of the pro-capitalist labor misleaders, who fear calling their members into action to defend their economic interests, much less in defense of blacks, immigrants and others cast off to starve in the streets or locked away in prison hellholes.

The fight to free Mumia and all class-war prisoners is an integral part of the struggle to forge a Leninist vanguard party to lead the working class in socialist revolution. Such a party must act as the champion of all the exploited and oppressed, recognizing that the liberation of labor from the chains of capitalist exploitation is inextricably linked to the fight for black freedom. Free Mumia now! Abolish the racist death penalty!

—8 July 2006