Monday, November 8, 2010

Impending Danger Threatens the Life of Veteran Journalist and Activist Mumia Abu-Jamal

 The life of African American leader and death-row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal is in new danger. A pending US Supreme Court ruling on a case in Ohio could set the stage for the reinstatement of Mumia's death sentence.
Activists continue to voice their anger at US judicial injustices. They are calling for a fair trial of the internationally renowned journalist and activists Mumia Abu-Jamal who has spent the last 30 years in US jails.

Incredibly corrupt American judicial system has convicted Abu-Jamal for a crime the veteran journalist denies he had committed. Meanwhile, the 2008 US presidential candidate, Gloria La Riva, has recently criticized court proceedings in Abu-Jamal’s case, describing the verdict of the death penalty as a clear example of shameful racism in the United States.

Last year, the US Supreme Court declined to hear Abu-Jamal's appeal for a new trial. The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia has upheld his conviction for the murder of Officer Danny Faulkner. In other words, the highly racist judicial system seem to have decided that Mumia will never get out of jail even if all evidence point to his innocence.

Following is Gloria La Riva’s appeal from the ANSWER Coalition to people from around the world - particularly Muslims – to help save Mumia’s life from the ongoing prejudices.  
"The life of African American leader and death-row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal is in new danger. A pending US Supreme Court ruling on a case in Ohio could set the stage for the reinstatement of Mumia's death sentence. Mumia's case is also separately before the US Supreme Court, but presented by Philadelphia prosecutors seeking to have his death sentence reinstated," the statement said.

Prosecutors and politicians in Pennsylvania and Philadelphia have vengefully sought to execute Mumia for 28 years. He has been on death row since 1983, when he was wrongly convicted of killing Philadelphia policeman Daniel Faulkner on Dec. 9, 1981.

"In Mumia's trial, flagrant violations-false police testimony, coercion of witnesses, judicial and prosecutorial misconduct, exclusion of Black jurors, inadequate defense and pervasive racism-led to his wrongful conviction and death sentence. The overriding issue that allowed these violations is the deeply racist and repressive nature of Philadelphia's ruling apparatus and collusion by the police, prosecutors and courts," La Riva stated.

Mumia was a well-known radical journalist frequently covering the blatant injustice directed at the MOVE organization, which was heavily targeted by the police. In his independent journalism, Mumia exposed the racist brutality of the police and other injustices.

Years after his conviction, it was revealed that he was under extensive surveillance by the FBI, local police and other agencies for having been a member of the Black Panther Party in his teens. His political affiliations were used against him in a highly prejudicial manner during trial.

Knowing that justice can't be won in the courts without a people's struggle, a worldwide movement has grown around Mumia's fight for freedom. Supporters in dozens of countries and in the United States have mobilized countless actions on his behalf.

The former US presidential candidate then added that an urgent national mobilization is now underway to demand that US. Attorney General Eric Holder hear supporters' arguments that Mumia's civil and constitutional rights were violated throughout his arrest, trial and sentencing.

In Washington, D.C., on Thurs., Nov. 12, Mumia's supporters presented thousands of letters and petitions to Holder at the Department of Justice, calling on him to examine the case as an urgent matter of civil rights.

Substantial evidence exists to prove Mumia's innocence if it were heard in a new trial.

Meantime, La Riva blasted US justice system, and stated, "Yet-as is true with thousands of other defendants in the US "justice" system-procedural restrictions in US law render the appeals process virtually ineffective. Poverty and the inability to acquire proper counsel are major factors in wrongful convictions. And convictions are virtually impossible to overturn."

Most harmful of all to death-row inmates is the draconian Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), signed into law by President Bill Clinton. One of its provisions prohibits the federal courts from granting appeals relief to a defendant who is convicted in state court unless there is "unreasonable" application of federal law by the state court, an almost insurmountable bar.

There is also a one-year limit for one final habeas corpus petition after direct appeals are exhausted. For many inmates, one year is not enough time to prepare a legal appeal.

AEDPA is the main reason Mumia and other death-row prisoners have been denied new hearings on substantive issues that could win their freedom or the lifting of the death sentence.

The activist further recalled other cases in the US justice system, and added, "Another innocent man in grave danger of being executed is Troy Anthony Davis, a Georgia man several judges acknowledge is innocent. But because of AEDPA's restrictions over the right of appeal, these same judges cite AEDPA to deny him justice."

One positive step in Mumia's long legal fight was when his death sentence was overturned in 2001. Federal District Judge William H. Yohn, Jr. ruled that improper instructions were given to the jury in Mumia's 1982 sentencing.

Yohn cited the important case Mills v. Maryland, which set a standard in which a jury's majority-rather than unanimous agreement-was sufficient for weighing mitigating circumstances to recommend a life sentence instead of execution. Although it was a state court decision, Mills v. Maryland has been accepted in many federal appeals cases. But now, Ohio and Pennsylvania want that case set aside to exercise their "state's rights."

In an example of double-standard attitude in US judicial system, La Riva noted, "For the state of Ohio, the US Supreme Court has agreed to hear the death-penalty case, Smith v. Spisak, of a neo-Nazi who murdered three people in 1982 and who, during his trial, openly bragged about it and promised to kill more people. Spisak's attorneys have argued that the jury was erroneously told that they must be unanimous in considering any mitigating factors that could weigh in favor of a life sentence instead of execution."

"As in Yohn's overturning of Mumia's sentencing, the Sixth US Circuit Court of Appeals agreed in Spisak's appeal that Mills v. Maryland was applicable, and that the jury was improperly instructed that they could not consider mitigating circumstances unless they all agreed."

In 2001, when Yohn cited Mills v. Maryland to overturn Mumia's death sentence, he ordered the prosecution to hold a new hearing within 180 days to determine Mumia's new sentence, either life imprisonment or death. But the Philadelphia prosecutors immediately appealed to have the death sentence reinstated without a hearing, and now it is before the US Supreme Court.

If the court were to affirm "states' rights" on death penalty sentencing, the state of Pennsylvania could try to move quickly to sign a death warrant against Mumia.

There is extensive proof of a vengeful and racist prosecution against Mumia by the Philadelphia police, prosecutors and the judiciary ever since a policeman, Daniel Faulkner, was shot and killed Dec. 9, 1981, in Philadelphia.

On April 6 of this year, Mumia's own appeal for a new trial was rejected by the US Supreme Court, on the issue of Black people being excluded from the jury that decided his trial.

"By refusing to hear Mumia's appeal, the Supreme Court ignored its own decision in the precedent-setting 1986 Batson v. Kentucky (476 U.S. 79) case, which says that jurors may not be excluded solely because of race, a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment," the statement added.

In the writ of certiorari petition to the court, Mumia's attorneys showed that 11 Black people were struck from the jury pool by the prosecutors. Only two Black people sat on the jury, the rest of the jurors were white. The African American population of Philadelphia is 43 percent African American.

"Racism runs deep in Philadelphia's and persecution of Black people has been the order of the day," the statement reiterated.

It is important to remember that in 1985 the Philadelphia police firebombed the home of the MOVE organization, an African American group that had been under attack for years. Eleven people-including five children-died in that brutal SWAT aerial bombing and siege. More than 60 homes in the neighborhood were destroyed by the fire. No police were ever held accountable.

An overwhelming percentage of death-row prisoners in Pennsylvania are Black. Although the state's African American population is 10.8 percent, the percentage of Black inmates on Pennsylvania's death row is 59 percent, 130 people out of a total of 221.

The judge in Mumia's trial, Albert Sabo, came to be known as the "hanging judge." He sentenced far more people to death row than any other judge in the state. Of all the 17 prisoners currently on death row whom he sentenced, 14 are Black, one is white and two are Asian.

A court stenographer, Terri Maurer Carter, signed an affidavit in one of Mumia's subsequent appeals that she heard Sabo say during a recess in the trial, "I'm going to help fry that n----." [racist word for a Black person--glr]

Yet, despite a clear preponderance of Mumia's civil and constitutional rights being violated, state and federal appeals throughout the years since his 1982 wrongful conviction have been rejected.

Many Philadelphia police and politicians have made their political careers through the systematic repression of Black people in that city.

The notoriously brutal Frank L. Rizzo was police commissioner from 1967 to 1971, during which time the Black Panther Party offices were assaulted, MOVE members attacked and the African American community subjected to great repression.

Rizzo was then elected mayor from 1972 to 1980. Ed Rendell, the district attorney who led the prosecution of Mumia, is now Pennsylvania governor. He has promised to sign Mumia's death warrant.

Tom Ridge, who became governor in 1994 and signed Mumia's death warrant in 1995, signed more than 224 execution warrants while in office, five times more than the two previous governors had done in 25 years. His award was being appointed as the first Homeland Security director after 9/11.

Now, Seth Williams, assistant city prosecutor, Democrat and African American, campaigned for the district attorney position this year. He promised to fight for the reinstatement of Mumia's death sentence if elected. On Nov. 4, Williams was elected. He was supported by the 14,600-member police association.

Right-wing financier Kevin Kelly is backing the production of a new film that falsely claims the killing of Faulkner was a planned execution. Called "The Barrel of a Gun," it promotes the outrageous lie that Mumia's membership-as a teenager in the Black Panther Party-was his motivation to plan the killing of a police officer.

The charge of a planned police killing was never even claimed by the prosecutors in Mumia's trial. Why this lie now?

The Philadelphia police and prosecutors have been determined to execute Mumia at all costs. They are also worried about the growing national and international support for Mumia.

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