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Free Mumia? By: Paul Mulshine
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, August 01, 1995


Heterodoxy | August 1995


SEVERAL YEARS AFTER THE MURDER of her husband, Maureen Faulkner moved to Southern California. It was as complete a change as she could imagine, from the confined rowhouse neighborhoods of Philadelphia to the wide-open beaches of the Pacific. She wanted to get away from it all, but the horror of his death has followed her.

"I had a very interesting experience the other day," she told me. "I was pumping gas and I saw this guy get out of his car and he had on a 'Free Mumia' T-shirt. I went over to him and I said, 'Excuse me. Where did you get that shirt?'

" 'At a rally at UCLA,' he said.

" 'Tell me about the case,' I said.

" 'It's about a Black Panther and the police framed him,' he said.

"I said, 'Who do you really think shot the cop?'

" 'Some other guy did it and ran away,' he said.

"I said, 'You better get your facts straight, because the next time you walk around wearing a shirt like that the widow of the officer may come up to you.'

"He said, You mean you're the widow?'

"I said, 'If you give me your name and address, I'll send you the facts of the case!’

"He said, 'No, thanks.’ "

Maureen Faulkner wasn't surprised by this response. Those who worship in the cult of Mumia Abu-Jamal are allergic to the facts. In fact, ignorance is a precondition for the religious experience. Far better to restrict oneself to the experience of Jamal's cuddly image as an existential dreadlocked intellectual and of his voice, a wonderful, mellifluous instrument familiar to listeners of National Public Radio's All Things Considered. In a gesture reminiscent of the Ayatollah's communiqués from Paris during the years of his exile, Jamal regularly sends out from death row cassettes that teach the hands of the faithful in faraway places.

In Pennsylvania, where people know about him, Jamal is a nonentity, but in California he's a star. TV actors like Ed Asner and Mike Farrell preach his gospel, And college students in Los Angeles wear T-shirts emblazoned with his image and reject any invitation to learn the facts about his case.

The University of California has done some amazing things over the years, but perhaps its most remarkable accomplishment has been to make available to the masses the sort of high-minded ignorance that used to be the sole province of Ivy League alumni. It produces an amazing type of person, superficially educated yet totally devoid of the type of intellectual curiosity that the university education is supposed to engender.

When I covered the wars in Central America in the 1980s, I was amazed at the number of University of California students I'd run into in places like Nicaragua and Guatemala. I'd hear these people making huge, sweeping statements about local politics that had absolutely no basis in fact. I'd offer to show them some writings and documents that might alter their views, but they—like the guy Maureen Faulkner met in the gas station—would decline. Thought to them was not a matter of dry facts and boring theories; it was a question of consciousness. Once one's consciousness was raised about a given question, that was that.

Though I grew up and live in the East, I attended the University of California in the 1960s, so I'm not unaware of the roots of this phenomenon. It's what could be called the California Fallacy: that high moral authority derives from living in a beautiful place. When you're up in the eucalyptus groves above Berkeley, gazing at a panorama of the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean beyond, it's easy to believe that your thoughts are as wonderful as the view. This isn't true, but it has one major advantage from my point of view: Practitioners of the California Fallacy rarely show up where I live, just outside Philadelphia.

So it was a bit of a shock when, upon emerging from the dingy, gray Philadelphia courtroom in which the case of Mumia Abu Jamal was being argued, I found myself surrounded by a handful of University of California types who had caravanned east to chant on behalf of their favorite political prisoner. It was only a little more shocking when—fifteen minutes later—I was being assaulted by two of them on the street in broad daylight.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I was at the hearing in August 1995 because I was trying to discover just what it is about Jamal that has made him into an international celebrity. His fame is certainly a mystery to the working journalists of Philadelphia who have covered his case since the beginning. The evidence against Jamal at his trial was so conclusive that no one, not even those who are Philadelphia's politically liberal equivalent of the conservative, wealthy Main Line residents, doubts that Jamal shot police officer Daniel Faulkner.

One of the journalists who knows the case best is David Holmberg, who covered it for the Philadelphia Daily News. At the time of the trial in 1982, he was a committed liberal who was very skeptical of the Philadelphia police. He was prepared to give Jamal the benefit of the doubt. "It was just one of those things where the whole tone was, hey, this is a black guy. This is the Philadelphia police. If you were there at the time, your first inclination was to identify with Jamal," says Holmberg. "But the evidence was just so overwhelming. The testimony was so convincing."

Not only that, but Jamal also sabotaged his own defense by demanding to act as his own attorney. The crusty old judge, Albert Sabo, granted that request but refused to grant a further request that Jamal be aided in his defense by John Africa, leader of a weird back-to-nature cult called MOVE that Jamal had embraced. Mumia's ties with the cult had become so strong, in fact, that he had left his part-time job as a correspondent for public radio. Although in late 198 1, the time of the killing, Jamal was the head of the local chapter of the National Association of Black journalists, by then he had only a tenuous connection to the journalism profession. He made his living by driving a cab.

When Judge Sabo refused to permit John Africa to join the defense team, Jamal responded by disrupting the trial and playing to the audience, which was composed largely of MOVE members. A pattern developed. After warning him several times to cease disrupting the proceedings, Sabo would have Jamal removed from the courtroom and let his backup attorney, Anthony Jackson, handle the defense. Then Jamal would return for a while, until his next disruption.

After the jury returned a guilty verdict on first-degree murder, Jamal sealed his fate by choosing to address the jury during the penalty phase. He began a long political harangue during which he openly insulted the jurors, two of whom were black. They responded by sentencing him to death. Jamal's behavior was so bizarre that a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter speculated in print that the defendant was suicidal.

David Holmberg, now with a Florida newspaper, says he can't understand how the pathetic character on display at the trial metamorphosed into the cult hero of an international movement. "It's amazing the way these people come out of the woodwork for Mumia," he says.

That's what I figured and that's why I was in the courtroom when Jamal was brought into Philadelphia for hearings on the appeal of his death sentence. I wanted to find out just who was behind the Mumia phenomenon. One day, after the hearing ended, I went into the plaza to interview the demonstrators who'd been showing up faithfully for several weeks. A rather pleasant looking young woman handed me a "Free Mumia" pamphlet. I asked if I could interview her. It began well enough. She gave her name as Karla and her age as twenty-three. A graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz, she was looking for something to do during the summer, so she joined a six-car "caravan for justice" that began in Santa Cruz and eventually brought twenty-seven people to Philadelphia. She was a very nice, very sincere person who—in the great University of California tradition—was innocent of any knowledge of the case that she had traveled three thousand miles to protest.

I knew a lot more about the case than she did, and not simply because I'm a journalist. By pure coincidence I happened to be what might be called an "earwitness" to the crime. On December 9, 1981, 1 was living just two blocks from 13th and Locust streets in Philadelphia. I was up late that night writing. I was still awake when, just before 4:00 A.M., I heard a quick burst of what sounded like gunfire. I heard five or six shots, and it was over almost as soon as it began. Then I heard sirens.

The next morning, the newspapers said that a twenty-five-year-old cop by the name of Daniel Faulkner had been shot to death. Jamal was also shot, apparently by the cop. The facts were not controversial. Faulkner had stopped Jamal's brother, William Cook, for a traffic violation. Jamal happened, by what appears to have been pure coincidence, to have been driving a cab nearby. He observed Faulkner and Cook struggling. He ran across the street toward them and shot Faulkner in the back, according to the police account. Faulkner got off one shot and hit Jamal in the chest. Jamal then stood over the fallen officer and fired four more shots. When police arrived on the scene they found Faulkner dying from a bullet between the eyes and Jamal sitting on a curb nearby. A .38 caliber Charter Arms revolver registered to Jamal was at his feet with five spent cartridges in it. Jamal was wearing a holster.

I asked Karla to explain to me how Jamal could possibly have been innocent. Why was he wearing a holster? What happened to Jamal's five bullets? Had he, in a burst of compassion, fired them into the air while some Good Samaritan came to his aid and shot the officer?

"I don't know," Karla said. "There's a big possibility that another person shot him."

"Give me a scenario," I said. "Just one."

At this point she became a bit confused. She fetched another Mumiaite. He gave his name as Dan.

.Did you graduate from UCSC?" I asked.

"I went there," he said.

"Give me a scenario."

"There's a lot of scenarios" he said. "There were 125 eyewitnesses who claim they saw what happened, and the defense didn't get a chance to question them."

"Wait a minute," I said. "One hundred and twenty-five eyewitnesses at Broad and Locust at 4:00 A.M. on a December night? Have you ever been to Broad and Locust?"

Dan admitted he hadn't. I pointed out to him that, having traveled three thousand miles, he might want to walk three blocks to visit the murder scene. This might aid him in realizing that the intersection of Broad and Locust was certainly not the type of place where hundreds of people congregate at 4:00 A.M.

He backpedaled: "I'm not saying 125 people saw who did what."

"What are you saying? You mean you came all this distance and you've never even thought of a scenario by which your man could possibly be innocent?"

At this point Dan and Karla seemed to realize that, unlike most of the out-of-town journalists who had descended on Philadelphia for the Jamal hearings, I was not a fan.

"I don't want you to quote me," said Karla. "I want my quotes back."

"I'll consider it," I said.

"Me too," said Dan. "I don't want you to quote me."

I began to walk away. The City Hall courtyard was filled with Mumiaites, and I didn't want to attract a crowd of them. They were the usual collection of clueless Quakers, burned-out sixties radical women, and rasta-dressed middle-class black people. They'd been having their little party out there for days, and it was a pathetic sight. A woman who identified herself as the Socialist candidate for New York City Council took the megaphone to praise Cuba as "the only revolutionary free nation on the earth." At another point, a young black man who might have been a college student actually smashed a black-and-white TV with a crowbar to show his contempt for the media. I hadn't the heart to tell him that that particular piece of guerrilla theater had become a cliché before he was born.

No, I didn't want to get mau-maued by that crew. So I tucked my notebook in my back pocket and melted into the midday crowd. It was when I was a block away from City Hall that it happened. I felt a tug. I turned and saw Karla trying to escape with my notebook. I grabbed it back. Karla, to give credit where it's due, had a hell of a strong grip. Before I could work my notebook free, I felt someone grabbing me from behind. It was a tall Jamal supporter whom I'd seen back at City Hall. "Call the police!" I began to yell at bystanders.

The thought of an imminent arrest by the Philadelphia police instantly inspired a burst of rationality in the Mumiaites. The tall guy let go, and Karla surrendered the notebook. I stuck my finger in the tall guy's chest. "Listen, bozo, I could have you arrested for assault!"

"I am not a bozo!" he replied.

"Can't we compromise?" said Karla. "Those are my quotes. I don't want them used."

"Well, if you don't want your quotes used, don't talk to journalists," I told her. "This is the East. We play for keeps."

I went looking for a pay phone to dial 911 and have the two arrested. But by the time I found one, I began to appreciate the humor in the incident. "I am not a bozo!"—they should print that up on the back of all those T-shirts that say "Free Mumia!" in front.

The next night I attended a panel discussion on the Jamal case. By coincidence, the annual convention of the National Association of Black Journalists was in town. Security was heavy. The Mumiaites were out in force, picketing at the entrance to the hotel where the convention was being held. The panel featured attorneys on opposite sides of the case. For Jamal, there was Leonard Weinglass, the leftwing lawyer who has represented everyone from the Chicago Seven to the men who bombed the World Trade Center. The anti-Jamal side was represented by Joseph McGill, who had prosecuted Jamal in the original trial in 1982. McGill had since left the district attorney's office and gone into private practice, but he retained an interest in the Jamal case. He was fond of telling the media that the case was a prosecutor's dream, with every base covered—from motive to physical evidence to eyewitness testimony.

The panel discussion promised great drama, tremendous tension. The room was packed with the cream of the nation's black journalists, hundreds of reporters and editors from all over the country who were eager to examine the racially charged case of a black journalist on death row for killing a white policeman in a city that had had a history of bad relations between the races. As it began, the principals fiddled with their microphones and talked nervously.

Then an amazing thing happened—nothing. Weinglass got a bit of a charge out of the audience by bringing up every possible racial aspect of the case. He hit hard on the idea that the Philadelphia police were out to get Jamal because he had been a Black Panther in his youth. But McGill pointed out the simple facts of the case. Even if the police had been out to get Jamal, there is no way they could have arranged for him to show up at that particular intersection, armed, at the exact moment his brother was being arrested.

"It is almost beyond belief to imagine a conspiracy so wide and so deep as to get all this evidence together:' McGill said. He pointed out that the defense had failed to come up with any challenge to the fact that Jamal's gun was found at his feet with five spent casings in it.

As for Jamal's political involvement, it was more likely to prove his guilt than his innocence, McGill argued. Jamal's obsession with the MOVE cult had led him to grow dreadlocks and become an advocate of the group, if not a member. Shortly before the Faulkner shooting, Jamal had covered a trial at which MOVE members were convicted of killing a white policeman during a siege at one of their fortified houses. "Abu-Jamal indicated he was just overwhelmed with anger in 1981 when the MOVE members were sentenced," said McGill.

Shortly after this statement I first noticed a curious phenomenon: The black journalists in the audience were filing out. Discreetly, in ones and twos, they began making their way to the back of the room. Elsewhere in the hotel were hospitality suites, recruiters from major newspapers, all kinds of attractions for the young, well-dressed, upwardly mobile cream of the African-American journalistic establishment. Inside was a debate between white people about what, when you got right down to it, was the sort of local crime story that most reporters have seen enough of.

The question-and-answer session began. A Jamal supporter, one of those aging-hippie types with long hair on the sides but none on top, began a tirade on the subject of how unfair it was to call Jamal a "convicted cop-killer." This characterized Jamal as someone who habitually killed police officers, when, in fact, he was accused of having done it only once. The moderator cut him off after a minute or so: "Do you have a question?"

"Yes," the man said. "Mr. McGill, how can you call Mumia Abu Jamal a cop-killer?"

"He killed a cop," McGill replied.

"That doesn't make him a cop-killer!" the guy yelled.

This dialogue caused the remaining black journalists to look at each other. The movement toward the doors became less discreet. There were still some unfortunates left, however, when Pam Africa got to the microphone. She had wild dreadlocks and a child, also in dreadlocks, on her hip. The assembled black journalists seemed appalled. Unlike us white male journalists, who generally dress only slightly better than carpenters, black journalists tend to have a sense of style. Pam Africa was a living stereotype of every upwardly mobile black professional's nightmare.

In a guttural voice, Ms. Africa began a tirade on the innocence of Jamal. The trickle to the exits became a flood. After the panel discussion ended, a few black journalists whom I knew came over and discussed the Jamal case with me. They knew I was covering the case, and they were being polite. But to them, it was a non-story.

And for good reason. Leonard Weinglass has done an admirable job of fooling the national media into thinking there is some doubt about who shot Faulkner. But he's up against a problem often cited by a football coach at my old high school: You can't make chicken salad out of chicken shit. Jamal's decision to act as his own attorney at his 1982 trial left Weinglass with a trial record that is extremely damaging to his client. Weinglass can nibble at the edges of the evidence all he wants, but he can't get rid of that Charter Arms revolver found at Mumia Abu-Jamal's feet. Weinglass concedes there were five spent casings in the gun, but he criticizes the police for not testing the gun to see if it had been fired recently.

"How do you do that?" someone asked. Weinglass said, "You just smell it."

Wonderful: His client was literally caught with a smoking gun, so he criticizes the police for not smelling the smoke.

The other objections raised by Weinglass and the Jamal supporters have little coherence. The objections represent at least four separate and mutually exclusive theories of what happened that night. The theories get more and more fantastic as the case progresses. In this latest hearing, the defense one day produced a witness who said Faulkner was shot by a passenger in William Cook's car and on another day produced a witness who said Faulkner was shot by a guy with "Johnny Mathis hair" who drove up to the scene in the middle of the action and fired the coup de grace into Faulkner's face.

The press reported these scenarios as if they might have had validity. This is nonsense. The media have—amazingly—failed to report the most salient fact about the Jamal case: Jamal has never once said he didn't shoot Faulkner. A Time magazine article, for example, repeated the oft-stated contention that Jamal has denied shooting Faulkner. But in fact, he's never made such a statement. At his trial, he divided his time between political tirades about the MOVE organization and questioning that seemed to indicate a mild endorsement of the mystery-gunman theory. This strategy backfired when Jamal, acting as his own attorney, challenged the testimony of a prosecution witness, a cabdriver named Robert Chobert, who said, "I saw you, buddy. I saw you shoot him and I never took my eyes off you."

Jamal didn't take the stand at that trial to give his story. Nor did he call as a witness his brother, who presumably could have identified the mystery gunman. In all public statements since the trial, he has studiously avoided any discussion of the events of December 9, 1981. Reporters who get jailhouse interviews with him are told in advance they can't ask about the only moment in Jamal's life that is in any way newsworthy. All the various fantastic scenarios involving mystery gunmen come not from Jamal, but from his acolytes. What we have here is a first in history—a debate in which one of the participants holds up his end without talking.

Why the silence? On two separate occasions I asked Weinglass if he intends to stick to the mystery-gunman theory in the event Jamal wins a retrial. On both occasions he declined to comment. I upped the ante. "You're going to plead self-defense, right?" I asked. At this point he got a bit testy and called me a "prosecuting journalist."

The reason for his testiness is obvious. The search for a mystery gunman is a charade, a fund-raising stunt, a way of getting a new trial. In the event that he and his supporters outside the courtroom manage to win a retrial, Weinglass is likely to admit the obvious: that Jamal shot Faulkner. He could then claim that Jamal acted only to save his brother from a beating like that Rodney King received. (This isn't true—Cook sucker-punched Faulkner, eyewitnesses said.) He could stage a defense of the variety pioneered by Huey Newton in 1967—a political extravaganza of white guilt, inquiries into American racism, and cop-baiting. Putting the nation on trial, Weinglass might well create doubt about a few very hectic seconds of violence. The advantage to this strategy is that Weinglass doesn't have to win an acquittal. Under Pennsylvania law, any verdict below first-degree murder would permit Jamal to walk out of the courtroom the next day by virtue of time served.

This is the long-range strategy. For now, Mumia must remain silent. If he were to deny right now that he shot Faulkner, the political defense would be sidetracked because his statements could be used against him in a retrial. "You lied about shooting the officer," the prosecutor could ask. "What else are you lying about?"

Weinglass's plan may be a good one for his client, but it's an awful one for the United States. People around the world are being told that Jamal is a political prisoner who is on death row for a murder that someone else committed. It isn't true, but it's a compelling story, and he's a compelling character. On several occasions I've seen Mumia Abu-Jamal in the flesh, and he is—and this is a strange thing to say about a convicted murderer—cute. The dreadlocks, the granny glasses—he looks like a white hippie in racial drag. He reminds me not of any black person I've ever known but of my organic-farmer friend, George (who, coincidentally, is also a graduate of UCSC).

The Jamal people make a lot out of the racial nature of the case, but in fact few blacks in Philadelphia give a damn about Mumia. The MOVE group has zero popularity in the black community. The 1985 siege in which eleven MOVE members died was prompted because the neighbors of MOVE, virtually all of them black, demanded that the police do something about the noise and filth at the compound. Among the black journalists in Philadelphia, support tends to be limited to those who were friends of Jamal before the shooting. The crowds outside the courtroom are made up almost entirely of non-Philadelphians.

No, the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal does not strike a chord with most black Americans. In fact, his support comes almost exclusively from white Americans who are stuck in the sixties. These people, like the Santa Cruz students, hate the idea that actions have consequences, that a man can, in a few seconds, embark on a path that will put a permanent stain on his life. The ethos of the sixties was "If it feels good, do it." And perhaps it felt good, that night, for Mumia Abu-Jamal to take out a gun and even the score for what he perceived to be three centuries of racism. In the minds of the Jamal supporters, a balance has been struck. The racism of the Philadelphia police cancels out whatever happened the night Daniel Faulkner was shot.

In the middle of researching the Jamal case and reading his book, Live from Death Row, I happened to come upon a book by another black journalist/convict. The title is Makes Me Wanna Holler, and the author is Nathan McCall, who now writes for the Washington Post. McCall describes a life growing up in a solid, lower-middle class family. In his early teens, he joined a gang. Soon he participated in the gang-rape of a scared young virgin. Then he graduated to burglaries, holdups, and gang fights; on several occasions, he shot a pistol at other teenagers who were unarmed. Eventually, his political consciousness was awakened by the Black Panthers. He drove to a suburb and walked up to the picture window of a home where a white family was watching TV. He aimed his sawed-off shotgun at the window, fired, and ran away. He never learned whether he hit anyone.

He tells these stories in a bragging tone, full of the hip slang of the black underculture. He gives the standard dissection of that underculture and shows why it was racism that caused him to commit his crimes. By the end of the book, when McCall is safely at the Washington Post, he clearly wants the reader to be impressed by his generosity in coming to forgive white people. He's still upset, though, by the way some white folks act. When he enters elevators alone with middle-aged white women, they shrink defensively into a corner.

This he ascribes to racism. Perhaps. But perhaps these women are just good judges of character. Perhaps they sense intuitively that they are in an extremely confined space with someone who has proven himself capable of gang-raping a child, shooting at a family, and robbing people at gunpoint. The progressive theory of criminal justice holds that the past can be eradicated. No act is irrevocable. Given enough time, evil acts stop being evil acts and become something else—material for a best-seller. Rape a child? Shoot a cop? Write a book.

The problem of Nathan McCall, and of Mumia Abu-Jamal, is the same problem Herman Melville delineated in Billy Budd—who was, however, a far more sympathetic character. Budd was by all accounts a wonderful fellow. Even the naval officers who sentenced him to death realized that he struck and killed a superior in a moment of inarticulate rage caused by that man's unfair harassment of him. Billy Budd apologized from the heart for his crime. But that didn't make the crime go away. His execution was necessary to maintain the ritual of order on a ship in wartime. "With mankind, forms, measured forms, are everything," says Captain Vere, who reluctantly orders the execution.

Melville was one of the first to be skeptical of the modem notion that human nature could be changed by the great burst of rationality that shaped the nineteenth century. You wonder what he would make of the example of novelist E. L. Doctorow. Doctorow has come to Jamal's defense not out of any understanding of the case, but out of an amorphous, damp feeling that the matter should be discussed into eternity. Doctorow wrote a piece in the New York Times based solely on the many distortions in Weinglass's petition for a new trial. In the piece, he refers to "Jamal's own account"—which does not exist—"that he was shot first by the officer as he approached." He concludes that a retrial should be granted.

There are several amazing things about Doctorow's piece. A man who has written extensively about crime, Doctorow didn't bother to call the Philadelphia district attorney's office and get the other side of the story. But even more amazing is that he seems to be building a theory that Jamal, having just been shot by a cop, somehow managed to get off five shots without hitting anyone while someone else came along in that same brief moment and shot the officer. Doctorow concludes, unctuously, "Will the pain of Faulkner's widow, who supports Jamal's execution, be resolved if it turns out that the wrong man has been executed and her husband's killer still walks the streets?"

If Doctorow were really concerned about "the pain of Faulkner's widow," he could simply call Maureen Faulkner and discuss it. Then he'd learn that this pain is greatly exacerbated by foolish people like him who take the side of her husband's killer without learning the facts. But few of the people who follow Mumia Abu-Jamal seem to want to think too much about the facts. They're happy with hints of a mystery gunman, and they'd like to leave it at that, floating in the air.

What they hate more than the police, more than racism, is the idea that some acts are irreversible, that a cute, reasonable-sounding guy like Mumia Abu-Jamal could have held a gun eighteen inches from the head of a man who was lying helpless on the sidewalk, pulled the trigger, and sent a hollow-point bullet into his brain, where it proceeded to expand to many times its original size. (The gun-shop owner who sold Jamal the hollow-point bullets testified at the trial as well.)

Well, tough luck, boys and girls. Jamal did it. Worse, he did it and he never once expressed any remorse, any sadness for anyone but himself Sorry, Karla, we can't compromise. Some things are irreversible—trivial things like quotes given to a reporter and big things like a bullet in the brain. Sorry E. L., this isn't one of those Random House novels where the identity of the mystery gunman is revealed at the end. This is real life in a bad part of town. If there's a better candidate for the death penalty than a man who kills in cold blood and shows not the slightest regret, we Philadelphians haven't heard of him.

The great irony here is that if Jamal had simply told the truth at his trial and let his lawyer do his job, he probably would have been convicted of manslaughter or third-degree murder. He would have served his time by now and been released. He appears to have learned his lesson. These days, he sits quietly in court while his defense team does the talking. He is evolving. "You wait," says Maureen Faulkner. "if he ever gets a retrial, you're gonna see Jamal in a buzz haircut and a suit."

A safe bet. But it’s also a safe bet Jamal will never get another trial. The rules for appeals call for the defendant to show not only that an issue was wrongly decided at trial, but also that if the decision had gone the other way, the verdict might have been reversed. In Jamal's case, that's a stiff burden. Throw out any one piece of evidence and there are still a dozen more. And the smoking gun simply won't go away.

As a radio journalist, Jamal was a failure. As a writer, he's a mediocrity. It is often said of bad writers, "He couldn't write a ransom note." That can't be said of Jamal. His entire book is a ransom note, a cleverly disguised plea to raise the ransom to get him off death row. So far it's brought in at least $800,000. But as literature, it's laughable.

In life, Mumia Abu-Jamal was little more than a sixties social experiment that failed. It's only in death that he will finally be able to do something for his fellow man. His departure, if it ever comes, will signal to all Americans-from the most august professor at the University of California to the lowliest TV star-that we human beings are irrevocably tied to our actions. It will mean that we are not condemned to frolic forever clueless among the redwoods, but that we do indeed have a civilization, and that civilization has certain rules that protect us from the whimsies of our barbaric nature.

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