By JOHN LESLIE
An important win in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has provided an opening in the protracted struggle for the freedom of Mumia Abu-Jamal. The court struck the King’s Bench petition filed by Maureen Faulkner with the support of the Fraternal Order of Police. Faulkner is the widow of police officer Daniel Faulkner, whom Mumia was falsely accused of killing in 1981.
The purpose of the petition was to remove Mumia’s case from the jurisdiction of Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner’s office. McKean County Judge John M. Cleland, who had been appointed “special master” in the case, recently ruled that there was no evidence of a “direct conflict of interest” or “impropriety” in the DA’s office’s handling of the case.
The decision puts the case back where it was before the filing of Faulkner’s petition. In a series of court hearings over the past two years, Mumia’s lawyers sought a new appeals process under the Williams v. Pennsylvania decision. Ron Castille, the retired chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, was formerly district attorney of Philadelphia when Terrence Williams was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. During Williams’ appeal, his attorneys asked that Castille recuse himself from the case, given his previous role as prosecutor. Castille refused. The U.S. Supreme Court then ruled that prosecutors who later become judges should recuse themselves if asked to hear an appeal in a case they had prosecuted.
Castille, formerly a district attorney during Mumia’s prosecution, also refused to recuse himself during Mumia’s appeals process. Mumia’s legal team sought to prove that Castille’s involvement in the appeal constituted a violation of the Williams decision. In December 2018, Common Pleas Court Judge Leon Tucker ruled in favor of Mumia, citing Castille’s “lack of impartiality” and “the appearance of bias” in his handling of the case.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner had initially indicated that he planned to appeal Tucker’s decision, but withdrew the appeal on April 17, 2019. There are more than 24 constitutional violations in Mumia’s case, but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has so far refused to hear any of these.
The decision opens up renewed hope but does not mean Mumia’s case is over by any means. There will have to be mass pressure as well as the pursuit of legal remedies in court. It was the mass movement that helped keep the pressure on the state, first winning the commutation of Mumia’s death sentence, and it was the outcry from the movement that ensured that Mumia received medical attention.
Mumia, a former Black Panther and award-winning journalist known as “the voice of the voiceless,” has been the subject of a long-term campaign by reactionary politicians and police unions. These forces of state repression first wanted to hold a legal lynching and then tried to kill Mumia through medical neglect during his struggle with Hepatitis C.
Kaepernick under fire
During a recent press conference, Colin Kaepernick released a strong statement in solidarity with Mumia’s freedom struggle. This has sparked a reactionary backlash against Kaepernick from police unions, Maureen Faulkner, and media pundits. Faulkner accused Kaepernick of ignorance and called his support for Mumia a “disgrace.” Writer and FOP mouthpiece Michael Smerconish appeared on CNN to “refute” Kaepernick by repeating all of the questionable talking points from the original frame-up case.
Kaepernick, who was blacklisted by the National Football League for his stance against police violence and the ex-judicial murder of Black people, has taken a courageous stand for the life of Mumia and deserved the support of all those who oppose the racist criminal justice system.
In a recent statement siding with Kaepernick, the Oakland Education Association was unequivocal: “The Oakland Education Association (OEA), representing nearly 2,800 educators in the Oakland Unified School District, applauds Colin Kaepernick’s statement calling for freedom for Mumia Abu-Jamal. In a video statement, Kaepernick documented how nearly 40 years ago Abu-Jamal was framed for the murder of a Philadelphia police officer, framed by a police department notorious for its systematic racist brutality and for tampering with evidence to convict the innocent.”
The OEA statement continues: “But despite his prominent role, and despite his deep ties to the Bay Area and his extensive work with Oakland high school youth, the local mainstream media have disappeared Kaepernick’s courageous statement of support for Abu-Jamal since CNN Wire Service reported it on November 19. This continues the long-time media blackout on Mumia Abu-Jamal, a conspiracy of silence about a blatant, racist miscarriage of justice.”
Labor activists should circulate the OEA statement in their union locals and workplaces. As working people, we understand the lengths to which this system will go to silence
Free Mumia! Defend Kaepernick!
The antiracist rebellions of 2020 have opened space to renew and expand the fight for Mumia’s freedom. It was the mass movement that has kept Mumia alive against all odds. It is the movement that will win Mumia’s freedom. In this period, we will also have to defend those with the temerity to speak out. A system so obsessed with silencing Mumia will stop at nothing to discredit and silence his supporters.
Free Mumia and all political prisoners! Compassionate release for all elderly prisoners now! Defend Kaepernick and all fighters for justice!