"For the Liberation of Mumia Abu Jamal!"
Note: Following is an interview with Suzanne Ross, International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, William E. Bachmann, US Labor activist involved in Mumia's defense, and Omowale Rupert-em-Hru, of the Pan-Afrikan Society, which is part of the Free Mumia Abu- Jamal campaign in Great Britain. The interview was published in the International Liaison Committee of Workers and Peoples (ILC) Newsletter, Issue No. 36 (No. 405 Old Series) on May 27, 2011.
In November the ILC, a broad regroupment of political and trade union organizations, came together in Algiers for the Open World Conference Against War and Exploitation. Fifty-two countries, including the United States, were represented at the conference. Suzanne Ross, representing the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, addressed the plenary on the case of Mumia.
The interview below was conducted in Paris on May 2, 2011, almost six months after the conference. It is a follow up of the report that Suzanne Ross presented in Algiers. It accompanied a meeting the three Mumia activists had with Daniel Gluckstein, Co-coordinator of the International Liaison Committee, and Gerard Bauvert, Director, International Committee Against Repression.
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"We Absolutely Will Not Stop Until Mumia Is Free!"
Question: The Mumia question was one of the cases at the center of our conference against war and exploitation in Algiers. The comrades who came to the conference in Algiers in November would like to know about the important recent developments in Mumia's case in these past almost six months. Could you give these comrades as well as all the other labor activists who are concerned about this issue some concrete and precise information about what these developments are?
Suzanne Ross: Okay. But first I want to communicate to our dear, dear comrades around the world who in Algiers showed such love and solidarity for Mumia. I was quite overwhelmed by the strong feelings for Mumia that people expressed. "We're so happy to hear about Mumia after these years where we haven't heard much", "How is he?" "Please give him my love". It was very moving and also very encouraging to experience that.
I reported on that to my comrades in the US and also to Mumia. So we owe all those people the opportunity to have up-to-date information of what has transpired since the conference.
The comrades will recall that that we were very concerned at the time about the possible execution of Mumia since the prosecutor and the State of Pennsylvania, where Mumia comes from and where he is situated on Death Row, were aggressively demanding that the question of Mumia's execution be reconsidered more seriously. That had not happened since 2001, when a federal judge ruled that Mumia should be sentenced to life in prison without any chance of parole rather than to an execution because of faulty instructions to the jury in the original trial.
We immediately became very concerned given the move toward the right in the United States, and especially with a right wing Supreme Court. We took it extremely seriously and spent from January 2010 until just this last month fighting this process, both in the courts and in the streets.
I am happy to report that there we had something like a legal victory in the sense that the courts had to admit that there was no new basis for reinstating the death penalty; that, in fact, the 2001 decision of life in prison without parole was affirmed. The original 2001 decision was made on a very technical basis and not given out of any humane consideration, or any consideration for a profound sense of justice. And still where it now stands legally, even if this decision is not overturned on appeal, is that Mumia will never get out.
So, it's not a decision that we ever wanted, in the sense of a final decision. The final decision has to be Mumia's freedom. And I repeat that: the final solution of the struggle – we do not stop, let me repeat this, we absolutely will not stop until Mumia is free, in fact until all political prisoners are free.
But the struggle for Mumia does not end once they remove the immediate threat of execution, and we want friends of Mumia around the world to know that, that we will fight to the very end on this issue. Mumia has never fought for life imprisonment without parole; that's not what he is fighting for. In fact, just to report, the lawyer who called him, to give him the news, — you know, the lawyer of course was very happy. She said Mumia didn't react that strongly. She heard him, she spoke to him and he said very little. Okay, how could Mumia be happy after thirty years? "Oh, yes, life in prison without parole? That's great."
No, Mumia was not ecstatically happy, we're not ecstatically happy. We are glad the enemy was defeated and had a set-back; they could not move ahead with execution. That doesn't mean they won't try again. They have the legal possibility of trying again. But this was definitely a set back for them. This defeat for the enemy means that Mumia no longer has an immediate threat of execution.
The other big thing I want people around the world to know is Mumia's legal is now under the leadership of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. The two keys lawyers, Christina Swarns and Judith Ritter, were both involved before but they are now in charge. This is the organization (now completely separate from the NAACP, a more centrist organization not focused primarily on the legal front) that led the struggle for racial justice in the courts in the 1950's during the Civil Rights Movement. It won the landmark decision of Brown v. Board of Education that desegregated (officially at least) the schools. The Legal Defense Fund specializes in legal struggles on the issue of race.
They have taken on this case precisely because they feel it is very much defined by race and racial issues. I don't mean personal prejudice alone but rather powerful racial institutional forces in the legal system. In Mumia's case, this included the original judge who is known infamously for having said, outside his own courtroom but in an adjacent courtroom, "I'm going to help them fry the nigger" — to the selection of a jury that was extremely biased, and selected purposefully to be disproportionately white — to a police force that is known for its racism which has fought tooth and nail for Mumia's execution.
The NAACP Legal and Educational Defense Fund's moving into this case is wonderful. It's a big victory for Mumia. After nearly 30 years of this case, the most prestigious and most effective civil rights legal institute takes on his case in a major way, not just participating, but leading the team.
Those are the two major things that have happened since the conference, the Third Circuit ruling and the new legal team.
Question: You spoke about cruel and inhumane treatment in the prisons at the very moment when we hear about the US government speaking about democracy and human rights all over the world. Can you explain to our readers, even after the end of the immediate threat of execution, what are the conditions of Mumia's imprisonment?
SR: Mumia has been in prison and on Death Row for almost thirty years. He was twenty-seven years old when his case came up. He was a widely respected radio journalist, known as a radical critic of the corruption, racism, and brutality of city officials and government, brilliant, a peace-maker with children, a very involved and loving father. He was even known outside of Philadelphia because he was head of communications for the Black Panther Party in Philadelphia and as an emerging leader traveled for the Party. He wrote, he spoke. He has the kind of voice that actors have; people stop to listen to him. Also, he is a very clear thinker.
The prosecutor's office and the police took a charismatic young Black leader like that and presented him as a monster. They created a monster, a cop- killer, someone who wanting nothing more than to kill a cop. In a recent film the prosecution, police, and even the mayor of Philadelphia supported, Mumia was portrayed as someone who dreamed of killing cops, who was obsessed with fantasies of killing cops, almost from his mother's womb, someone who was born that way.
And that is how they justify denying Mumia all human rights. He's been living in this isolated cell that is the size of a small bathroom, he can make maybe two phone calls a week, and he is allowed out of his cell for an hour a day on weekdays, when it's not raining or snowing, to exercise within a small caged area with one other prisoner. He can never touch another human being, his wife, his children, his grandchildren: he sees them all behind the plexiglas barrier.
Until recently, every visit he went to, he had to undergo not only a strip search, but also to come in shackles, his legs shackled, his hands hand-cuffed. It was not until Archbishop Tutu came to visit him and protested that this man is no threat behind glass and that this is just too degrading to a human being, that the shackles were removed and he comes to his visits now without the shackles and the handcuffs.
But the lack of freedom and the intrusiveness is impossible for us to imagine. And this man, in the face of all that indignity, in the face of that brutality, maintains a spirit of humanity. He shows respect for all human beings and remains concerned about others, whether in the prison or death row area he is at or 7,000 miles away from where he is. I mean, you know from his articles and when people visit him, the first thing he asks is "How are you?", and he wants to know how you are. He asks about all the conditions people he knows or knows about are facing.
So this inhumane capitalist society, talking about human rights, trying to justify isolating or invading any country in the world it needs to defeat, in the name of defending the people's "human rights". Please! There is nothing that any country could do that would match – I mean, I should never say "never", but I can't imagine any country that would violate the human rights of people all over the world more than the United States.
I can't imagine any country whose violation of human rights — and not that there aren't violations of human rights in too many other parts of the world — would ever, ever justify the US having the right to say something about it. The US has no right to speak on the issue of human rights when it does what it does to its own citizens like Mumia Abu Jamal, the other political prisoners, and all those in prison — and to people around the world with its invasions, occupations, wars, and the constant stealing of the world's resources.
As far as I'm concerned there is no reason to ever take seriously what Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton or Obama say about human rights anywhere in the world. The US hasn't earned the right to be taken seriously about its supposed concern for human rights. It has stood for the very opposite, the denial and trampling of human rights whenever US economic, political, or military concerns are at stake.
Question: You explained in Algiers that Mumia is still alive today because of international solidarity. Maybe you could develop this question?
SR: Yes, Mumia is still alive today because of international solidarity, because of millions of people around the world, including in the US of course, who have cared about what he represents, who he is, and how much is at stake in his survival and liberation from prison. Those people have fought for him to be alive and free and have succeeded in keeping alive, though not yet free.
The US government wanted to and still wants to kill him. Every arm of the government has participated in this conspiracy: the police hierarchy in Philadelphia, the courts all the way to the Supreme Court, and the Department of Justice and President of the US in refusing to review the case. Additionally, the media has played a very large role in propagating the lies created by the police and prosecution. This despite the fact that it is obvious to millions of people that there has been a conspiracy to kill Mumia so as to silence him.
Yes, the only reason Mumia is alive today and they haven't been able to kill him is because people around the world have made it clear that they will not accept that. And the US government and the powers know that they are being watched by the whole world. This last time, when they had the hearing in the Pennsylvania court, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, the courtroom was packed with supporters, including representatives from Germany and France.
The streets outside the court room were covered with loud and determined supporters, even in the face of dozens of police and dogs in the area, especially at the entrance to the court, meant to intimidate and discourage people from attending the hearing. And almost three decades after this case began there were demonstrations in many parts of the world. Messages came in saying,"We're with you", "We stand with you". "Free Mumia".
Immediately after that was the strong solidarity the Algiers Conference represented by providing the opportunity for the body to hear about Mumia's situation, and thus reinvigorating the support of those present. That kind of international solidarity has kept Mumia alive.
We end by calling on the world progressive forces to continue to be vigilant and watchful about Mumia, the other political prisoners in the US dungeons, and the 2.3 million person prison population in the "land of the free". We extend our reciprocal solidarity for the critical people's struggles going on in so many different parts of the world at this moment, but perhaps most dramatically in North Africa.