Why Mumia Matters
A couple of weeks ago, I went to Park Street to rally for the life of Mumia Abu Jamal. In all, the rally was attended by about 50 people, mainly college students and long-time activists, along with occasional passers-by and the requisite heckler whose mission was to tell everyone at the rally how wrong they were.
The mood of the rally was rather positive even though Mumia’s case is entering the final stage of appeals, which is the last chance for new evidence to be brought before a jury. Still, it seems that the movement to free Mumia is gaining in both momentum and public awareness. His case has gained worldwide notoriety through grassroots organizing and the music of Rage Against The Machine. It has also been the catalyst of the current controversy over the death penalty.
While I don’t know enough about the facts of the case to give an undeniable reason as to why Mumia should be free, I would like to offer my opinion on what Mumia’s case (and his life) might mean to the rest of us.
First, some background. At the age of 15, Mumia Abu-Jamal was already speaking out against injustice in his hometown of Philadelphia. As a journalist, he exposed the brutality of the Philadelphia police department (specifically, those officers belonging to the Fraternal Order of Police) on a weekly radio show. In an altercation with police, Mumia’s brother and police officer Daniel Faulkner were shot to death; Mumia would later be charged with the murder of that officer. Mumia’s trial seemed to be something of a joke; witnesses gave false testimony, crucial evidence was suppressed, Mumia could not represent himself, and he was removed from his own trial when he protested. Mumia was convicted, sentenced to death, and has spent the past fifteen years on death row, though he still maintains that he did not kill the officer.
So what makes this case different from other murder cases or even cases where the innocent are wrongly convicted? Why have so many people rallied to keep Mumia alive?
It’s because of what Mumia has done in the past and what he could do in the future that makes his case so important. He stood up and made known the criminal acts perpetrated by those we trust to protect us. In addition, he has fought for people who could not fight for themselves. For his support of the Zapatista movement, for his support of the unions and for his denunciation of the inhumane conditions in the prison system, he has been called “The Voice of the Voiceless”. This is why there are countless groups all over the world struggling to save him. This is why intellectuals like Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky write articles decrying the supposed justice that exists in our judicial system. This is why Zach de La Rocha went before the United Nations to plead for a new trial.
But this is also the reason why he was not given a fair trial, and why those he spoke out against would rather see him dead than free. This trend of neutralizing those who would fight for the people is all too apparent in recent U.S. history. From Martin Luther King Jr. to Malcolm X, the message has been that any prominent figure pushing for social change will meet with an early demise. The message was clear when they shot Medgar Evers and when they shot John Kennedy. The message was clear when they crucified Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, the message is as clear today as it ever was.
But those in control understand that they don’t have enough power to just kill Mumia. Instead, they would rather the public never find out about Mumia to begin with. They would prefer that Mumia’s case never got to the front pages of the newspaper, or to the six o’clock news. If they could fill our heads with things that don’t really matter, we’d have no reason (or time) to become informed about Mumia. More than that, we’d think we’ve received all the crucial news and that any other story is insignificant. This way, those in control lessen the impact of Mumia’s case and his struggle against injustice.
The uniformed public is always easier to control, and this is what happened to me. I was alive when Mumia was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to death. I was around for the fifteen years of his imprisonment, yet I never learned of his case until I went beyond mainstream media. If you don’t believe this happens in our “democratic” system, ask yourself if reading this article is the first time you have heard about Mumia Abu Jamal. If it isn’t, from what mainstream source did you hear about Mumia?
I wasn’t around to hear Martin Luther King Jr. or John F. Kennedy speak, but I could imagine the kind of energy and power they generated. I can imagine the hope and excitement for the future they gave to those who listened. I can also imagine the utter disbelief and the emptiness in the hearts of those same people when King and Kennedy were shot and killed. I can do this because I see in Mumia Abu Jamal an influential person courageous enough to do the right thing in the face of tremendous opposition, much like King and Kennedy.
It is obvious that those who want to maintain the status quo are bent on silencing the voice of Mumia, either through imprisonment or death. We cannot let this happen if we want to continue to call America a free democracy. We as citizens of this “great land” have the responsibility of becoming informed. No matter what the media tries to feed us, no matter what our government tells us what is right, we have to search for the truth and act for justice.
A lot of information about Mumia can be found on the Internet.One site in particular, <http://www.zmag.org> has information on Mumia’s case and links to other Mumia sites. Another site, <http://danielfaulkner.org,> has information colored from an opposing position.