(Flickr/4WardEver UK )

An interfaith call for the freedom of Mumia Abu-Jamal

The only treatment for the seriously ill political prisoner and author Mumia Abu-Jamal is freedom.
(Flickr/4WardEver UK )

Dear brothers and sisters in the religious community — clergy, theologians and lay Ppersons,

We write to you at this very challenging moment in history, about the frightening health crisis facing Mumia Abu-Jamal, internationally renowned political prisoner and writer. Mumia has published 13 books during his nearly 40 years of imprisonment and continues to send out hundreds of recorded messages as well as written statements around the world. With heart surgery and other medical emergencies in the picture, this call is more urgent than ever.

Mumia, as you may recall, was very ill five years ago as a result of misdiagnosed and untreated Hepatitis C. He was very close to death at that point, and we are sad to report that his situation may indeed be even more precarious now. Despite decades of amazing international and U.S. support, and Mumia’s own great inner strength, Mumia’s life is in imminent danger.

Now 66 years old, Mumia was infected with the COVID-19 virus in late February, a condition he immediately recognized but which the prison doctors denied. His health had already been compromised as a result of the Hepatitis C after-effects, including cirrhosis of the liver and a related, very serious skin disease that causes him to suffer from a burning feeling throughout his body. The danger to Mumia’s life at this moment is also complicated by congestive heart failure, a condition only discovered during the recent COVID-19 emergency. According to Dr. Ricardo Alvarez, Mumia’s outside-of-prison medical consultant, his continued incarceration subjects Mumia to an average life expectancy of five years. Fifty percent of those suffering from congestive heart failure die within five years. With proper exercise, diet, and emotional support, a higher life expectancy would be predicted; with the opposite conditions (the very conditions that prison life embodies, especially during this pandemic), a significantly lower expectancy is predicted. The doctor, with a detailed analysis of the traumas of racism and violence imposed by the state of Pennsylvania, its officials, and the Fraternal Order of Police on Mumia over these nearly 40 years of incarceration, 30 of them in isolation on death row, states unequivocally that the only treatment for Mumia is freedom.

As a result of the international outcry that followed his 2016 illness — reminiscent of the 1995 and 1999 global mobilizations (when his death row execution was scheduled) — we were able once again to prevent Mumia’s death. We forced the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, or DOC, to provide Mumia with the available cure for Hepatitis C, which it had originally denied him. That powerful movement, which packed the courtroom on three consecutive weekdays in Scranton, when we brought a legal suit against the DOC for refusing to give Mumia the treatment that he needed, which was available, forced the powers that be — the governor, the commissioner of the DOC, the prison and whoever else — to provide Mumia with the medical cure he needed.  The result was not only a people’s victory that saved Mumia’s life, but it also made the Hepatitus C cure legally available to thousands of Pennsylvania prisoners and others working under the jurisdiction of the state. A victory for Mumia provided a victory for other prisoners and residents of Pennsylvania suffering from the same ailment who had previously been unable to afford this very expensive drug.

The current international support movement deluged the authorities immediately upon learning of Mumia’s recent COVID-19 symptoms, resulting in Mumia being rushed to a hospital where the COVID diagnosis was confirmed, and some care administered. It was at this time the doctors discovered that Mumia was also suffering from congestive heart failure and shockingly — and reminiscent of practices during slavery — he remained shackled to his bed with locks that exacerbated his bleeding and skin pain during the four days while hospitalized for the congestive heart failure.

By any human rights standards, calling this torture would not be considered an exaggeration.

Mumia is in such grave physical danger; that he and all other prisoners who are aged over 50—or who have particular vulnerabilities to Covid-19—must be of critical concern to us now. Statistics clearly show that these elder prisoners pose no danger to the community. Regardless of their history of conviction, they should be released from prison during this time of pandemic; otherwise, the conditions transform their actual sentencing to a de facto slow-motion death sentence.

In addition, as indicated in the legal summary added below, strong factual evidence has repeatedly surfaced showing Mumia’s fundamental innocence of the crime for which he was convicted. He remains a victim of the racist system under which we live, aimed at silencing powerful Black voices, as it has done over decades to other rising Black charismatic individuals including Fred Hampton, Jr., Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the exiled Assata Shakur. The recent film “Judas and the Black Messiah” has exposed some of the shocking practices of the U.S. government aimed at stifling dissent, particularly on the part of Black people. The connection between that reality and the imprisonment of U.S. political prisoners, including Mumia, the most well-known of all of them, has yet to be made.

We therefore ask that you sign the simple but powerful Religious Call for Mumia’s Immediate and Unconditional Release. Please reply to us at: FreeMumiaInterfaith@gmail.com


Dr. Cornel West
Rev. Dr. Emma Jordan-Simpson, Executive Director, Fellowship of Reconciliation
The Most Reverend John Eric Stowe, Bishop President, Pax Christi USA
Rabbi Alissa Wise, founding co-chair, Rabbinic Council of Jewish Voice for Peace
Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, Board Chair of the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity; member, Rabbinic Council of Jewish Voice for Peace
Dr. Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, founding member, National Council of Elders; Professor Emerita, African American Religions & Islamic Studies, Univ. of Florida

Addendum: A synopsis of Mumia’s legal lynching

Judge Albert Sabo, who presided over both Mumia’s original trial and his appeals process (known in Philadelphia as the Post-Conviction Relief Appeal), defined Mumia’s horrendous legal odyssey to this day. Each subsequent court and judge essentially rubber-stamped Sabo’s decisions. Albert Sabo had actually retired by the time Mumia’s case came up.  He was taken out of retirement to do this “job”.  He was known as a pro-death penalty judge, who in 14 years as a judge had presided over cases in which 31 defendants were sentenced to death — more death sentences than any other U.S. judge — and of those 31, 29 were people of color.

His rulings were consistently prejudicial against Mumia and for the prosecution, to list some of those rulings:

  • He prevented Mumia from having an attorney of his choice or alternatively to even defend himself if necessary,
  • He prevented the exposure of the corruption charges and ultimate firing of about half of the police on the crime scene the night Mumia was arrested and charged with the murder of the policeman,
  • He prevented the testimony of individuals who knew that the “confession” Mumia was claimed to have made was fabricated,
  • He prevented the introduction of extremely significant evidence by several witnesses that there were other very reasonable suspects for Office Faulkner’s murder including some who were seen running away from the crime scene immediately after the shooting (one of those, named Kenneth Freeman, had his ID found in Officer Faulkner’s pocket, a fact withheld from Mumia’s attorneys),
  • He prevented Mumia’s attorneys from properly monitoring the illegal racially biased peremptory challenges of potential black jurors, any evidence of which would have automatically required a new trial.

Finally, Sabo also presided over the appeals process of Mumia’s case and refused to recuse himself when requested to do so by Mumia’s attorneys even though his extreme bias and racism were repeatedly criticized by lawyers and other observers — and even the Philadelphia media, which did not support Mumia.

Amnesty International, or AI, in its pamphlet on Mumia published in 2000, concluded that the trial and appeals process had “failed to meet minimum international standards safeguarding the fairness of legal proceedings,” and called for a new trial for Mumia. It is noteworthy that AI expressed concern about the relationship between the Pennsylvania judiciary and the police, rising to the “unfortunate impression that justice is a one-way street leading to Mumia Abu-Jamal’s eventual execution”.  With respect to Judge Sabo, AI was extremely critical of his lack of fairmindedness, and his open bias and contempt toward both Mumia and his attorneys (even having the attorneys incarcerated in the courtroom when they argued with his decisions).  AI faulted the judge for barring Mumia from presenting witnesses and for restricting his lawyers’ questioning of witnesses and blocking them from making offers of proof on the record to show the importance of the precluded testimony.

We conclude that justice has not been done in Mumia’s case and that his innocence, for which there is abundant evidence, has been carefully denied inclusion in the record by a strategically selected judge working in close collaboration with the interests of the police. Sabo’s rulings have been essentially rubber stamped all the way to this moment. The Clinton Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act certainly also played a role in this, given that it severely limited the power of higher courts to challenge, let alone overrule, lower court decisions. In addition, the carefully manufactured record as constructed by Sabo limited the data available for strong challenges. And the biases and lack of courage of the judges at the higher levels no doubt also contributed to the disastrous lack of justice in this case (and so many others).

The exceptions to this pattern have been dramatic though to date have not changed Mumia’s legal situation, that is, have not challenged the issue of his guilt.

  • Justice Ambro in the Third Circuit insisted, in a dissent from the majority, that Mumia should have been granted a new trial based on the Batson ruling regarding racial bias in jury selection that would have granted Mumia a new trial, and
  • Judge Leon Tucker’s ruling that Judge Castille should have recused himself from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s consideration of Mumia’s case because his having been involved in the prosecution of Mumia in a lower court represented a conflict of interest, potentially opened the door for the appeal process in Pennsylvania to be reinstated. This could raise the possibility (on paper, at least) for Mumia to eventually have a new trial. However, given Mumia’s age, the highly toxic environment prison creates, and the severe health challenges he now faces, this remains a very remote possibility. If he remains in prison, Mumia is very likely to die before that could happen.
This story was produced by Fellowship Magazine

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