Documentary: Long Distance Revolutionary: A Journey with Mumia Abu-Jamal (2012)
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The new documentary, “Long Distance Revolutionary: A Journey with Mumia Abu-Jamal,” was created by writer, producer, and director Steve Vittoria, as well as Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio, who has interviewed Abu-Jamal many times over the years.
Before he was convicted of murdering a policeman in 1981 and sentenced to die, Mumia Abu-Jamal was a gifted journalist and brilliant writer. Now after more than 30 years in prison, Mumia is not only still alive but continuing to report, provoke, and inspire. Mumia: Long Distance Revolutionary is an inspiring portrait of a man whom many consider America’s most famous political prisoner – a man whose existence tests our beliefs about freedom of expression.
Through prison interviews, archival footage, and dramatic readings, and aided by a potent chorus of voices including Cornel West, Alice Walker, Angela Davis, Ruby Dee, writer Tariq Ali, author Michelle Alexander, and others, this riveting film explores Mumia’s life before, during and after Death Row – revealing, in the words of Angela Davis, “the most eloquent and most powerful opponent of the death penalty in the world…the 21st Century Frederick Douglass.”
Justice On Trial: The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal (2010)
Created by Kouross Esmaeli as well as by Johanna Fernandez (A lawyer for Mumia Abu-Jamal). Big Noise Films Productions.
Mumia Abu-Jamal is the most recognized death row inmate in the world today. In 1982, he was tried and convicted for the murder of Police Officer Daniel Faulkner. Since then, the Abu-Jamal trial proceedings have come under scrutiny and today his case is one of the most contested legal cases in modern American history. A former Black Panther and now renowned author, his books and writings in venues as diverse as the Yale Law Review, Forbes, The Nation, and street-papers for the homeless, have led many to hail him the voice of the voiceless. Justice on Trial navigates the tempest of the Abu-Jamal trial by reviewing the known facts of the case. It demonstrates that the major violations in the Abu-Jamal case – judicial bias, prosecutorial misconduct, racial discrimination in jury selection, police corruption, and tampering with evidence to obtain a conviction– are not special to this case. Instead, they are commonly practiced within the criminal justice system and account for the disproportionate incarceration of African Americans and Latinos in the United States.
U.S. Files Its Rights Suit Charging Philadelphia Police With Brutality
By Philip Taubman
Special to The New York Times
WASHINGTON, August 13, 1979 — In a civil rights suit filed today, the Justice Department accused the Philadelphia Police Department of shooting nonviolent suspects, abusing handcuffed prisoners, suppressing dissension within its ranks and generally engaging in a pattern of brutal behavior that “shocks the conscience.”
The sweeping charges were leveled against the entire Police Department, which is the fourth largest in the country. It was the first time the Federal Government had moved against alleged police brutality by suing an entire police force rather than individual officers.
The suit, filed in Federal District Court in Philadelphia, accused the City of Philadelphia, Mayor Frank L. Rizzo and the Police Department of violating the basic civil rights of “persons of all races, colors and national origins.”
Rizzo Makes Retort
It specifically accused Mr. Rizzo of initiating many of the illegal practices when he served as Police Commissioner from 1967 to 1971 and of insuring the continuation of police brutality as Mayor.
Mr. Rizzo called the suit “complete hogwash.”
The 28‐page complaint filed by the Government, which was personally signed by Attorney General Griffin B. Bell, cites alleged abuses committed by the Police Department. Though no names and dates are given, the incidents cited paint a picture of a cruel, uncontrolled police department in which violence against suspects and prisoners was encouraged and covered up.
The suit named 20 top‐ranking city and police officials along with Mr. Rizzo, including the Philadelphia Medical Examiner, Dr. Marvin E. Aronson, and the Superintendent of Prisons, Edmond Lyons.
Major Charges Listed
The allegations concerned the following major issues:
Use of deadly force. Shooting criminal suspects who cease flight and offer to surrender; shooting nonviolent suspects who could be apprehended without the use of deadly force, and recklessly shooting innocent bystanders.
Street procedures. Stopping pedestrians and motorists without probable cause, then physically abusing them if they protest; physically abusing handcuffed prisoners; detaining persons without proper cause, and conducting illegal searches and seizures.
Investigation of abuse. Maintaining a “purposefully fragmented system” for investigating complaints to assure that investigations are inadequate; putting pressure on complainants to withdraw their complaints about abuse, then closing investigations prematurely, even when there is substantial evidence of abuse; taking statements from witnesses “in a manner calculated to justify the shooting rather than to determine the facts;” physically abusing witnesses, including victims, or shooting to discourage them from disputing the incident; impeding investigations of police shootings by outside law enforcement agencies, including the Justice Department, and intentionally excluding evidence in investigations that impeach the credibility of police officers.
Disciplinary system. Deciding whether to discipline accused officers before investigations are complete; only rarely disciplining officers involved in incidents of on-duty shootings to encourage policemen to use unwarranted deadly force, and commending and promoting officers who have abused suspects and prisoners.
Training. Failing to provide sufficient training for new officers in the use of deadly force, including “deliberate refusal to instruct on when not to use such force,” and failing to provide psychological services to help officers cope with stress.
Harassment of critics. Harassing political leaders and racial minority groups, monitoring and harassing officers critical of the police department, particularly black officers, and intimidating critics of the Rizzo administration.
Court Order Sought
In the suit, the Government asked for a court order forbidding the Police Department to engage in these practices and threatened to withhold Federal funds from Philadelphia until reforms were made.
The suit said that the Philadelphia police shot approximately 75 persons every year and received more than 1,000 complaints a year.
The Government charged that the police practices violated four Federal laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and six amendments to the Constitution.
Justice Department officials said today that the department was investigating allegations of police brutality in three other cities and that those investigations could result in suits similar to the one filed today. The three cities are Houston, Memphis and Mobile, according to Justice Department officials.
The allegations of brutality in Philadelphia and Houston are longstanding ones. The Justice Department investigation that led to today’s suit began eight months ago.
Earlier this year, the Civil Rights Commission conducted hearings in Philadelphia and Houston on the conduct of their police departments. The commission chose Houston because of numerous complaints of police abuse made by Mexican-American residents.
A Case for Mumia’s Innocence
Who Is Mumia?
Mumia is a revolutionary journalist.
Mumia has been writing since age 15, first as Minister of Information for the Philadelphia Black Panther Party (1969-1971), then for numerous Philadelphia radio and print venues, including National Public Radio. His journalism was featured in mainstream venues, but he refused to forget those whom corporate media routinely neglect. He was especially noted for covering police harassment of the MOVE organization, while other journalists ignored it. His writings, today, after 30 years in prison, now fill eight books and thousands of radio and print columns in publications ranging from homeless “street news” papers to Forbes magazine and the Yale Law Review.
Mumia served nearly 30 years on death row.
Mumia was confined for these years on Pennsylvania’s death row before federal courts ruled “unconstitutional” the death sentence he received at age 27 for the shooting death of Philadelphia police officer, Daniel Faulkner. He now is serving a “Life Without Parole” sentence in Pennsylvania’s general prison population.
Mumia’s is America’s most internationally renowned political prisoner.
Mumia is known worldwide as a political prisoner, because of the political context of his arrest, sentencing and imprisonment. He was arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced in the era of rampant police brutality, and also of activists’ resistance, under former Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo. In that period, Mumia uncompromisingly reported on police brutality and racism, exposing officials’ brutal assaults on the MOVE family and organization, and on other national and international revolutionary movements. When he was found already shot at the scene of Officer Faulkner’s shooting, police brutally beat Mumia beyond recognition, then charged him with the officer’s shooting. He has been imprisoned ever since, on the basis of a trial that systematically denied him due process, involving prosecutors’ withholding of evidence, racial bias in juror selection, and a judge’s rampant bias. Further, higher courts have routinely rejected Mumia’s numerous appeals on the basis of exceptional rulings that denied him the courtesy of court precedents that often were extended to others who lodged the same appeals on the same grounds.
Mumia is a framed man.
A charge of killing a police officer is the hardest rap to beat, even when innocent, especially for a revolutionary activist of color. Nevertheless, the arguments for Mumia’s innocence are some of the strongest makeable. He has maintained his innocence from the very beginning and to this day. Independent journalists researching his case have set forth cogent grounds that Abu-Jamal was framed (e.g. Patrick O’Connor, The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal, 2010). Amnesty International, in its extensive analysis of the case in 2000, called for “a new trial,” holding that the original trial “was irredeemably tainted by politics and race and failed to meet international fair trial standards.” Even a lawyer writing for the mainstream American Lawyer magazine, who was prone to call Mumia “guilty,” nevertheless still summarized at length the evidence for a police frame-up, announcing, “I’m joining the ‘Save Mumia’ movement, here and now” (Stuart Taylor, Jr., American Lawyer, December 1, 1995).
Mumia’s case – a primer for what many others suffer.
Mumia’s case is a veritable primer on the kinds of abuse suffered by the black, brown and poor in the U.S. today. What happened to Mumia foregrounds starkly what many suffer in police encounters, in dealings with prosecutors, in trial and appellate courts, and in U.S. jails, prisons and detention centers.Consider these links, below, between Mumia’s own experience and what is suffered by others in the U.S. today:
(1) Like so many others’ bodies, Mumia’s body was subject to a brutal beating by police, on the street and in his ambulance on way to the hospital, before any determination of guilt was even attempted. He was black, brown, poor – and so, vulnerable and beaten. Before that, he was subject to numerous cases of “stop and frisk” harassment.
(2) As seen by all too many of the poor, today, who stand before judges, the prosecutors suppress evidence that might work in favor of defendants. In Mumia’s case, the fact of a fourth person being at the crime scene, who was the likely perpetrator (Kenneth Freeman) was never considered by Mumia’s jury. The prosecutor in Mumia’s case acknowledged during another trial that this fourth person was present at the crime scene where Mumia was arrested and beaten. Both police and prosecutors also suppressed an independent journalist’s photographs of the crime scene. Taken by Pedro Polakov, these were the first photos taken at the scene. They disprove key points in the state’s case and raise numerous other questions undermining the coherence of prosecutors’ case. These were never made available to the defense or jurors despite the photographer’s offering them to both police and prosecutors.
(3) As experienced by many defendants of color, in Mumia’s trial the D.A. used 11 of its 15 “peremptory challenges” to target black jurors for removal from potential service on Mumia’s jury. This left Mumia, from a community that was overwhelmingly black, with a “jury of his peers” that was fully two-thirds white. Five years after Mumia’s trial, a video training tape came to light detailing D.A. strategies intentionally to keep black jurors off juries when there are black defendants.
(4) Along with many others, Mumia has suffered harsh constraints of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 that regulates the appeals process above the state level. This 1996 act, passed when some of Mumia’s strongest challenges to Pennsylvania’s courts were in process, limited federal powers of review over state court decisions. This effectively blocked Mumia’s chances, and those of others, in their attempts to gain relief for even their strong claims. Many of the 198 currently on Pennsylvania’s death row, and among the more than 3,000 on U.S. death rows, have been at the mercy of state courts ever since this 1996 Act. But Mumia has suffered this limitation acutely in his state, having his appeals denied repeatedly while others’ appeals have been granted for the same claims! A federal judge on the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals himself noted this fact. The repeated practice of this denial to Mumia came to be called “the Mumia exception.”
(5) Along with numerous others throughout Pennsylvania, Mumia faced a biased judge who had an unusually high number of his capital trial decisions reversed. That judge, Albert Sabo, also had been a member of a police union (the Fraternal Order of Police) and was heard in a court anteroom by a court stenographer to say of his work at Mumia’s trial, “Yeah, and I’m gonna help ‘em fry the n_____ .”
(6) Like all too many who go to trial without good defense counsel, Mumia was convicted in the absence of basic forensic evidence. The bullet that killed Officer Faulkner could not conclusively be matched to Abu-Jamal’s gun. The police also failed to perform routine tests on Abu-Jamal’s hands, which would have determined whether he had even shot a gun that night.
(7) Finally, and again like the experiences of many others in Philadelphia, Mumia’s arrest and trial conviction were secured in an era when city police corruption was rampant. Less than two years before Mumia’s trial, the Department of Justice, in an unprecedented move filed a lawsuit against the Mayor and 21 city and police officials for abuse that “shocks the conscience” (the lawsuit’s words). The officers who arrested and later brutalized Mumia came from the 6th District, which was under yet another federal investigation for police corruption, approved by the U.S. Attorney General under Ronald Reagan. As a result, fully a third of the 35 officers involved in Mumia’s case, including the top officer at the crime scene, Inspector Alfonzo Giordano, were subsequently convicted of corruption, extortion and tampering with evidence to obtain convictions.