Activists who are trying to free convicted
cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal from Death Row and get him a new trial say they will protest outside Philadelphia tomorrow morning as the widow of the officer appears on the Today Show. Rockefeller Center
Abu-Jamal's supporters are angry that NBC won't give them equal time to peddle their oft-told story on the air when Maureen Faulkner touts her new book, Murdered by Mumia: A Life Sentence of Loss, Pain, and Injustice. That story includes new photographic evidence that they say shows that police manipulated the crime scene and framed Abu-Jamal.
Notice that I did not write alleged cop killer in the opening paragraph – and for good reason. As surely as the seasons come and go, Abu-Jamal and his sycophantic supporters cycle in and out of the headlines. I knew Abu-Jamal, am intimately familiar with his case and have no doubt that he is guilty as sin.* * * * *I don't remember why I had stayed after my 1 a.m. quitting time as night city editor of the Philadelphia Daily News early on the morning of December 9, 1981, but I do remember that I was talking to Tom Schmidt, the overnight editor, when a message crackled over one of the police radio scanners:
"Officer down at 13th and Arch. Send back-up and assistance."
Police Office Daniel Faulkner had stopped a car in Center City driven by one William Cook. According to the police and prosecution version of what happened next, Cook assaulted Faulkner, who then tried to subdue Cook. At this point, Abu-Jamal, Cook's brother, jumped from a nearby taxi that he was driving and shot Faulkner in the back.
Faulkner returned fire, seriously wounding Abu-Jamal, who shot the officer four more times at close range as he staggered toward him. Abu-Jamal was quickly arrested and transported to a nearby hospital. He is said to have stated in the emergency room that "I shot the motherfucker, and I hope he dies," but later denied having implicated himself.
Abu-Jamal, born Wesley Cook, was as a part-timer writer for several African-American publications who drove a cab to make ends meet. He wanted so badly wanted to work for the Daily News that whenever he had an opportunity he would stop by the newsroom to schmooze. I thought that Abu-Jamal was a nice enough guy, but was a little too green and much too willing to inject his politics into what he wrote.
There never was any doubt in my mind that Abu-Jamal, seeing his brother scuffle with Faulkner, had shot the office in the heat of the moment. A jury agreed and he was convicted and sentenced to death in 1982. In 2001, the death sentence but not the conviction was overturned. Both sides are appealing.
In the 26 years since the murder, Abu-Jamal has become a jailhouse pundit and international cause célèbre, a darling of Amensty International and lightning rod for opponents and proponents of the death penalty. He enjoys little support in
, but the further one gets from there the more people consider him to be the victim of a racist political prosecution. Among his celebrity supporters are Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, Michael Moore and Spike Lee. Philadelphia
Beyond political postering and basking in the glow of international awards, among them being made an honorary citizen of
(sacré-freaking-bleu!), Abu-Jamal has been unable or perhaps has not even wanted to do the one thing that would seem to matter most -- make a convincing argument for his own innocence. Paris
He has refused to testify on his own behalf and has failed to produce his brother to testify. As perverse as it seems, Abu-Jamal may understand that the fame he has attained in prison would have eluded him on the street.
Nevertheless, his never ending legal case highlights a lot that is wrong and damned little that is right with the criminal justice system.
* The judge at the original trial showed a clear bias for the prosecution.
* Abu-Jamal fired his first lawyer and represented himself. He put on a political defense ("they went after me because I'm a black man") and did such a lousy job that the judge ordered the lawyer back into the courtroom.
* While the physical evidence against him is powerful, the ballistics tests were botched.
* * * * *Was Mumia Abu-Jamal the victim of a racist political prosecution? Probably.
Was he guilty but an effort was made to frame him? In all likelihood.
Has he explained why he has not made a convincing effort to try to prove his innocence? No.
s he deserving of all the attention? Absolutely not.
Let's be very clear: The system failed Abu-Jamal. But does that absolve him of the murder of Daniel Faulkner? Of course not.