BY BETSY FARLEY
PHILADELPHIA - More than 1,000 people rallied and marched here November 7 to protest the decision of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upholding the conviction and death sentence of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Many, like 18-year-old Erica Young, heard about the protest on their campuses and organized cars, vans, and buses on short notice. "Mumia Abu-Jamal was wrongly convicted and needs a fair trial," Young said. "But this fight has significance for more than just Mumia. The whole setup is aimed to keep repression and racism going, and justify use of the death penalty." Young drove all night along with two other students from Warren Wilson College in Ashville, North Carolina, to get to the rally.
Political activist Mumia Abu-Jamal, a journalist and former member of the Black Panthers, was framed up, convicted, and sentenced to death in the 1981 shooting death of Philadelphia policeman Daniel Faulkner. The prosecution's main witnesses were subjected to pressure and harassment by the cops. Much of their testimony was contradictory. Witnesses who saw another man fleeing the scene at the time of the shooting were effectively silenced by police intimidation and coercion. Abu- Jamal, who was also shot, was beaten by police on the scene and again after he was taken to the hospital.
Prosecutors claimed that Abu-Jamal's gun was the murder weapon. Police ballistics experts testified, however, that the bullets that killed Faulkner could not be matched to Abu- Jamal's gun. Although no physical evidence linked Abu-Jamal with the murder, he was convicted and sentenced to death in 1982 after less than four hours of deliberation by a mostly white jury.
In 1995, Abu-Jamal won a stay of execution, the result of an international campaign in his defense. Thousands across the United States and from France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Brazil, Ireland, Cuba, South Africa, and many other countries joined in protests demanding the government stop his execution and grant a new trial. The fight became an emblem of the struggle for Black rights and against the death penalty.
The November 7 Philadelphia protest included people from Delaware, Ohio, Georgia, South Carolina, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, and several other states. The youthful crowd marched from the State Office Building through Center City to chants of "Brick by brick, wall by wall, we're going to free Mumia Abu-Jamal," and "They say death row, we say hell no!"
Stopping briefly in front of District Attorney Lynn Abraham's office, the marchers heard a speech from Barbara Vance, the aunt of Kenneth Griffin, who was shot to death by Philadelphia cops a year ago. Vance linked the frame-up of Abu- Jamal with the police killings of several Black youth here in recent years, most recently 19-year-old Donta Dawson, shot to death by Philadelphia cops as he sat in his car on October 1 of this year.
Speakers at the rally included Pam Africa of the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, Native American activist Jason Corwin from the Philadelphia Leonard Peltier Big Mountain Support Group, and Rodney Muhammad from the Nation of Islam.
Leonard Weinglass, Abu-Jamal's attorney, explained the next step for the defense would be to ask the Supreme Court to reconsider its denial of a new trial. Until this appeal is acted on Pennsylvania governor Thomas Ridge cannot issue a death warrant. If the appeal is denied, that verdict will be appealed to a federal district court. Until recently these courts have overturned 35 percent of the death sentences appealed from state courts. The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, rushed through Congress and signed into law by President William Clinton in 1996, severely limits the right to this type of appeal. Weinglass said that Abu-Jamal's federal appeal will challenge the law's constitutionality.
Sonia Gibbs, 18, and Zeke Schlader, 19, helped organize a group of 40 students from Antioch College in Ohio get to the demonstration. They explained that antiracist protests and a demonstration on their campus against the killing of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming, encouraged students to make the trip to Philadelphia. For Jennie Negash, a 19-year-old student at the University of Massachusetts in Boston attending her first political demonstration, the Abu-Jamal case was new. "I didn't know what it was about, with the evidence being so obvious and still being ignored," she said. "It makes you start to question everything."
Actions are taking place across the country demanding justice for Abu-Jamal. Some 250 people marched and rallied in downtown Chicago November 7. Among the participants in the action were locked-out broadcasting workers from ABC Inc. Steven Mies told Militant reporters, "Today I marched for Mumia out of solidarity, and because supporters of Mumia's case have supported our strike." One striking ABC worker addressed the rally.
Marcos Vilar, director of the National Committee to Free the Puerto Rican Prisoners of War and Political Prisoners, also spoke at the rally. Vilar read a statement from Edwin CortÚs in solidarity with Abu-Jamal's fight. CortÚs is one of the Puerto Rican political prisoners currently in a U.S. jail.
The International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu- Jamal has announced plans for continuing actions, including a protest on Thanksgiving Day, November 26, in Philadelphia.
Young Socailists member Elena Tate from Boston, Jason Corley
from New York, and Joshua Carroll from Chicago contributed to
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