By JOHN LESLIE
On April 15, word went out among supporters of political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal that Mumia had been taken to a hospital when exhibiting symptoms indicating COVID-19. In a telephone conversation on the morning of April 16 Mumia said, “I am fine, I am not hospitalized. …what I need is freedom.” It’s clear now that the rumor of Mumia’s “illness” was a cruel hoax by a prison employee.
A press release from Mobilization4Mumia states: “The whole incident adds to a long list of lies and misinformation by the PA DOC since Mumia was first unjustly incarcerated in 1982. Why did a person at the SCI Mahanoy Superintendent’s Office on an official phone tell a concerned advocate that Mumia was being hospitalized with COVID-19?
“How would you react if someone in authority falsely told you your elderly relative was sick with COVID-19? As a concerned person, you would be outraged. So were the participants in the April 16 virtual press conference.”
The spread of COVID-19 through prisons is a threat to the health and lives of the incarcerated. The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections reports that more than 100 guards throughout the system have tested positive while 17 prisoners have tested positive at the Phoenix facility. While prisoners are being quarantined and time outside of their cells is limited, the measures are not adequate. With only limited testing, the potential for a disastrous result is great. The PA DOC has been slow to release incarcerated people, with only about 474 released so far. Pennsylvania has more than 95,000 prisoners.
The April 9 death of Rudolph Sutton, the first Pennsylvania prisoner to die from COVID-19, was just a few days before prosecutors announced their intention to review his case. Imprisoned for 30 years, Sutton had maintained his innocence. More recently, witnesses had come forward with information that bolstered his case for exoneration.
Additionally, Yvonne Harris, who was serving an 18-month sentence in the Philadelphia County jail, was the first prisoner in the county prison to die from the coronavirus. Of the more than 4,000 prisoners in the county jail, 53 have tested positive and of those 3 are hospitalized.
The frame-up of Mumia
Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former member of the Black Panther Party and award-winning journalist, was railroaded into prison by cops and a corrupt District Attorney’s office for the 1981 murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner.
The Philadelphia DA’s office is infamous for biased prosecutions and suppression of evidence in death-penalty and other cases. The DA’s office was exposed for a 1986 training video that taught assistant DAs how to keep Blacks off juries. In Mumia’s case, crime-scene photos taken by photojournalist Pedro Polokoff showed cops holding guns taken in evidence with their bare hands, and showed the hat of deceased Officer Daniel Faulkner placed on top of Mumia’s brother Billy Cook’s VW, though it appears on the sidewalk in the official police photos. The ballistics evidence was questionable.
An international mass movement grew in response to Mumia’s case. The movement’s steadfast determination to save Mumia’s life helped win a reversal of the death sentence, which was commuted to a life sentence. But although Mumia’s death sentence was overturned, he was later struck by a series of potentially life-threatening illnesses. It became clear that the Department of Corrections was neglecting symptoms of diabetes. He experienced chronic fatigue, painful itching, and eczema, which worsened when doctors prescribed a topical ointment. In 2015, Mumia was hospitalized for diabetes and in the same year initiated legal action to receive treatment for Hepatitis C. It took a two-year struggle to get life-saving medication for Mumia‘s Hepatitis C.
Mumia’s lawyers made significant progress in recent years challenging Mumia’s conviction and a new appeals process under the Williams v. Pennsylvania decision.
Terrance Williams had been convicted and sentenced to death for robbery and murder. Ron Castille, the chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, had been the district attorney of Philadelphia when Williams was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. When Williams appealed, his attorneys asked that Justice Castille recuse himself from the case, given his previous role as prosecutor. Castille refused. The U.S. Supreme Court later ruled that a prosecutor who later becomes a judge should recuse himself or herself if asked to hear an appeal in a case they had prosecuted.
The situation faced by Terrance Williams mirrors Castille’s refusal to recuse himself in Mumia’s case. On Dec. 27, 2018, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Leon Tucker ruled in favor of Mumia Abu-Jamal, holding that the actions of Judge Castille had demonstrated a “lack of impartiality” and “the appearance of bias.”
Attorney Judith Ritter explained at a Sept. 28, 2019, public meeting that the ruling referred to the discovery of a 1990 letter from Castille, when he was the Philadelphia DA, to Governor Bob Casey, urging him to sign death warrants for death-row inmates “to send a clear and dramatic message to all police killers that the death penalty in Pennsylvania actually means something.”
An urgent situation
Supporters of Mumia’s freedom have been fighting to bring Mumia home for years. This task is even more urgent now that COVID-19 threatens the lives of prisoners everywhere. We must demand that Mumia and all prisoners be freed—now. From county to state to federal systems, the prison doors must be thrown open. Free Mumia and all political prisoners! Free them all!
This teach-in is part of a series of events called “Rise Up and Resist” to celebrate Mumia’s 66th birthday. Other events include:
April 23: Press Conference (speakers tba)
April 25: Mumia Libre: An Instagram Live Dance Party
4/26: Poetry In Motion: A 24 hour Reading of the work of Mumia Abu-Jamal
More info: firstname.lastname@example.org
#freemumia, #freepoliticalprisoners, #freeemall, #66sitesofresistance
Cosponsored by: Common Notions, the Campaign to Bring Mumia Home, Mobilization 4 Mumia and The International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal (ICFFMAJ).