Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Mumia: Still Guilty After All These Years

Activists who are trying to free convicted Philadelphia cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal from Death Row and get him a new trial say they will protest outside Rockefeller Center tomorrow morning as the widow of the officer appears on the Today Show.

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 Philadelphia, 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.

Beyond political postering and basking in the glow of international awards, among them being made an honorary citizen of Paris (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.

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.

Is 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.


jj mollo said...

I like to think of myself as a liberal, but this is one subject where most liberals really embarrass me. Those people who represent the Law, those who maintain the civilization we benefit from, they are people, too. It's consequently a great pleasure to read your post on this. It's apparent you know what you're talking about, and not just because I agree with every word you say here.

There is the general question of what to do about useful citizens who are locked away. Would I let him out? No way! But I guess it's just part of the tragedy. It's such a waste. It's the Birdman of Alcatraz question.

There's also the question of whether he can be considered socially useful as long as he refuses to admit his guilt and shows no remorse. His charisma is compounding the damage he did by his crime.

Bike Bubba said...

How badly were the ballistics botched? I would assume that the bullets that killed Faulkner, and the gun that allegedly fired them, is still in an evidence drawer somewhere with the perp's fingerprints still on it, right? That would seem to end the argument....or is this what you're referring to about botching the ballistics?

jj mollo said...

The Inky has a review of a film at Sundance bannered as "Another take on Mumia", but it sounds like just another rehash of the same old story.

Mantan Calaveras said...

Hhhm, skewed facts, overtly emotional speech, conservative pulpit thumping, clearly this isn't a very illuminating article.

You are simply ignoring the shades of grey present in the reality of the situation. You spit out words like "cop killer" as if they that label itself indicts someone. Well, all I can say is that I don't have any less respect for a "cop killer" than I do for your average "killer cop". If anything, I have a little more respect for a man attempting to defend himself and his family from an act of violence, if that is indeed what happened. I see no reason to speculate that the cop wasn't abusing his badge, as is the standard behavior for men in state issued costumes and state issued costume jewelry, with state issued murder weapons.

As far as I can see, this case is far from clear cut, your account of the event is speculative, just as Mumia's is subjective. This is an unverifiable case, a case for reasonable doubt.

I don't know that Mumia should be freed, Jack Henry Abbott is an example of why not, but he definitely shouldn't be incarcerated, de-humanized, made a subject of the torturing excesses of the prison system. What kind of psychopath punishes a human being by locking him in a rape cage?

Finally, you state that people shouldn't pay attention to Jamal, an offensive suggestion. I listen to his commentaries from time to time. I disagree with most of what he says, but every so often there is a statement of such clarity and insight, that I'm glad to get access to as little of his ideas as I can. To suggest that a man should be locked up and forgotten, it's barbaric, fascist, an embarrassment to all human values. Shame.

And then you paint Mumia's supporters with a wide brush, we're sycophants huh? What a load of blatant nonsense. Insulting, and intellectually bankrupt. Well, thanks for that.

Anonymous said...

Mumia admitted to the crime. If in representing himself he presented a poor defense - it was his choice. The Judge made the effort to save him from himself by bringing in another lawyer - hardly an act consistent with the hypothesis of a political show trial. Bottom line is that Mumia was unambiguously involved in a felony during which a cop was killed - that in itself even if he did not pull the trigger is death-penalty territory, then he publicly stated he killed the cop and never recanted. Then he goes on to argue ideologically that the action was politically justifiable. The bottom line is that there is nothing in this that is exculpatory for the death. Meanwhile for the cop, life is over - I understand liberals do not care about that but under the law killing someone can get you the death penalty. Mumia knew this as we all do. Mumia has had a nice run manipulating the fools for fall for his spiel and posturing for the liberal Marxists who want to see all the cops killed. Nice run but the run should end with its judicially determined outcome. Mumia did an evil deed and determined his own life course in that moment - an evil man who took a life then spent decades running from the consequences like a little girl.

Alexander Baron said...

I read the transcripts on the Daniel Faulkner website; it took a little time but it was worth it. Almost everything the Free Mumia crowd espouse is lies, distortions or so what?

One interesting point that struck me is that towards the end he said he wasn't satisfied with the definition of murder. A strange thing for an innocent man to say.

Abu-Jamal's supporters have done their best to undermine the witnesses and the judge, and have even brought forth perjured evidence, to now avail.

If you want to see what a real miscarriage of justice looks like, check out the website I set up about Michael Stone, who was framed for the Chillenden Murders.

thedarkman said...

I've written quite a bit about this case but don't think I've ever covered the death penalty angle so I will here but I'll be brief.

Firstly, the two major criticisms of the death penalty are that a) it is barbaric and all that jazz; b) that a wrong man could be executed.

The first is really a sentimental argument; the second has a lot more credibility.

I grew up believing in the death penalty by and large then turned against it in my 20s; my position now is that if it were reserved for the worst of the worst, there would be no real argument against it.

When I say worst of the worst I mean serial killers who have murdered time after time and have been convicted on absolutely overwhelming evidence. Not terrorists - who can be made out to be martyrs - not spree killers, not somone convicted of setting a fire that killed half a dozen people but the Ted Bundys, John Gacys and John Allen Muhammads of this world.

Abu-Jamal is not in that league, in fact if he'd adopted a reasonable trial strategy he'd quite likely have been parolled years ago.

Picture this: I saw this cop assaulting my brother, that was how it looked to me, I just lost it. When he shot me back I thought I was dead. I wanted to take him with me.

I'm really sorry your honour, members of the jury; I know some people will think I deserve to die but I'm really not a bad person.

Then he could have paraded the dozen or so character witnesses that he did at the trial.

He might still have been sentenced to death, but I doubt it.

The position he took is untenable, but in a way, and I'm not the first to say this, he has achieved more than he ever would have as either a cab driver or a local journalist - before he blew that.

That is all I have to say.

Shaun Mullen said...


I am against the death penalty and will remain against it until the last vestige of prosecutorial misconduct is banished from American courtrooms. I am not, of course, holding my breath waiting for this to happen.

You astutely observe that Mumia would be in all likelihood back on the street had he adopted a reasonable trial strategy. "In the heat of the moment" may have helped, even before a Philadelphia jury.

m said...

This is why I'm against the death penalty. It takes way too long, costs way too much, and makes celebrities out of reprehensible people for despicable crimes.

Mumia should rot, forgotten and unnoticed in some dank hell hole. I can't imagine any liberal defending a policeman for shooting someone in the back while they are struggling with their partner.