Migrants, Multiculture, Struggles, United Kingdom

Living on death row

The history of the justice system in the United States has countless disgraceful phases, one of them being that of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the most well-known person to be condemned to death in the country.

Deisy Francis Mexidor

Abu-Jamal, journalist and ex-member of the Black Panthers Party, was accused of taking the life of a white policeman in Philadelphia in 1981. In 1982, he was sentenced to capital punishment following a widely criticized trial for being biased, flawed and racist.

The evidence led to irrefutable proof:  the deceased agent was shot with a .44 calibre handgun, however according to expert evidence Mumia had a .38 calibre handgun.  There was one witness, a Vietnam War veteran, who saw the whole incident but was intimidated and forced to change his testimony.

At the same time, African American members of the jury were changed before the conclusion of the hearing.

The execution of Abu-Jamal was suspended in December 1999, after his lawyers requested that the review process consider the confession of Arnold Beverly, who by then had been declared as the true murderer.

Still, Mumia maintained that he did not commit the crime saying, ‘A court cannot make an innocent man guilty’.

Meanwhile, he has spent three decades on death row, waiting for a seemingly blind justice system.

The case has increased the solidarity of thousands of people worldwide, and includes personalities such as South Africans Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, and France’s First Lady, Danielle Miterrand.

What is more, large sections of the intelligentsia and arts of the United States have called for this injustice to be rectified.

In 2010 a petition was launched for Mumia to be set free which went on to gain around 33 thousand signatures.

Voices of those including actor Paul Newman, the writer Alice Walter and the actor and activist Danny Glover, stood out in the request for the prison release of the black journalist.

In January of last year, the Supreme Court supported a prosecutors appeal to annul what was in facts a substitution of the death penalty passed against Mumia.

The case returned to the Court of Appeals, which had previously invalidated the judgement of a maximum sentence to Abu-Jamal, to grant him a new trial to re-new his conviction, although not his culpability.

Finally, on the 26th April, 2011 a court in Pennsylvania considered that the defendant, currently 57 years old, had the right to a new hearing in the next six months, but that the sentence ‘for first-degree murder would stay’.

John Payton, Executive Director of the NAACP Legal Defence and Education Fund, an organisation that fights for civil rights in the prisoner’s defence, declared that the decision is the first step towards the correction of a longstanding error.

Mumia Abu-Jamal, born Wesley Cook, was bought up in a Black-American ghetto in Western Philadelphia on the 24th April 1954 to a poor family and embraced ideas of emancipation from a young age.

His political activism and the discriminatory nature of the system as a whole were both elements that contributed the process being carried out against him.

“This process is implemented by the ruling class and always has been, but what can ‘this’ be with nearly two million people in prison, 50 per cent of whom are black and Hispanic?”, expressed Mumia to a reporter in an interview given at the end of 2001.

At this point he highlighted that ‘being black in a white supremacist state is a constant death threat’ and went to say that there were more people in prison that in any other nation in the world, even more so than countries with greater populations such as India or China.

The situation has not changed.  The numbers, far from going down are rising.

Now, with the new decision, another winding legal path has opened for Mumia.  “They don’t only want me dead, they want me silenced”, he maintains.

But it is not possible to crush the unshakeable will of a man who says: ‘There is imperial history, national history and a town’s history.  The imperialists rise and fall.  The nations are also in a constant state of transformation.  Only the towns stay as they are”.

And yet since being on death row he has published many newspaper articles, kept a spot on the radio and written five books.  Furthermore, he has expressed his solidarity with other causes that similarly put a black mark on this justice system. (PL)

(Translated by Emily Russell – Email: er@tisef.com)

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