The Partisan Defense Committee had (in 2008) passed "An Open Letter to All Supporters of Mumia‘s Freedom" to this writer. Those few who might not know of the torturous legal battles to free this innocent man can find further information at the above-mentioned Partisan Defense Committee site archives. I make my own comments below.
Normally I pass information about the case of political prisoner Mumia abu-Jamal on without much comment because the case speaks for itself. The case has been front and center in international labor defense struggles for over two decades. However, in light of the adverse ruling by a majority of a federal Third Circuit Court of Appeal panel in March 2008 that affirmed Mumia’s 1982 conviction for first-degree murder of a police officer and left the only issue for decision that of resentencing to either reinstate his original death sentence or keep him imprisoned for life without parole I have some things to say about this fight.
Occasionally, in the heat of political battle some fights ensue around strategy that after the smoke has cleared, upon reflection, leave one with more sorrow than anger. Not so today. Today I am mad. Am I mad about the irrational decision by the majority of the Third Circuit panel in Mumia’s case? Yes, but when one has seen enough of these cases over a lifetime then one realizes that, as the late sardonic comic and social commentator Lenny Bruce was fond of saying, in the Hall of Justice the only justice is in the halls.
What has got me steamed is the obvious bankruptcy of the strategy, if one can use this term, of centering Mumia’s case on the question of a new trial in order to get the ‘masses’- meaning basically parliamentary liberal types interested in supporting the case. This by people who allegedly KNOW better. The bankruptcy of this strategy, its effects on Mumia’s case and the bewildered response of those who pedaled it as good coin is detailed in the above-mentioned Open Letter. Read it.
Today, in reaction to the Third Circuit court’s decision, everyone and their brother and sister are now calling for Mumia’s freedom. At a point where he is between a rock and a hard place. However, it did not have to be that way. Mumia was innocent in 1982 and he did not stop being innocent at any point along this long road. Freedom for Mumia was (and is) the correct slogan in the case. A long line of political criminal cases, starting in this country with that of the Haymarket Martyrs if not before, confirms that simple wisdom. Those who consciously pedaled this weak ‘new trial’ strategy as a get rich quick scheme now have seen the chickens come home to roost. And Mumia pays the price.
I would point out two factors that made a ‘retrial’ strategy in the case of an innocent man particularly Pollyanna-ish for those honest militants who really believed that Mumia’s case was merely a matter of the American justice system being abused and therefore some court would rectify this situation if enough legal resources were in place. First, it is illusory that somehow, as exemplified in this case, a higher court system would remedy this egregious wrong. Long ago I remember a lawyer, I believe that it might have been the late radical lawyer Conrad Lynn no stranger to political defense work, telling a group of us doing defense work for the Black Panthers that all these judges belong to the same “union.” They do not upset each other’s work except under extreme duress.
Second, and this is where the ‘wisdom’ of the reformists about reaching the ‘masses’ by a stage-ist theory of defense work (fight for retrial first, then freedom) turns in on them. As witness the list of names of those who have signed the Partisan Defense Committee’s call for Mumia’s freedom, excepting professional liberals and their hangers –on, those interested in Mumia’s case (or any leftwing political defense case) will sign on just as easily for freedom as retrial. Thus, opportunism does not pay, even in the short haul. That said, Free Mumia- say it loud, say it proud.