Mumia Abu-Jamal was convicted and sentenced to death in July 1982 for the murder of white police officer Daniel Faulkner on 9 December 1981. Although he has consistently maintained his innocence he has spent almost all of the last 26 years on Death Row.
To deprive a man of his life in such a fashion, really you would want to be sure of what you are doing. You would want to remove any doubts over the conviction and that this was the best course of action for society. Wouldn’t you?
The case is a remarkable one and Amnesty International research suggests that his trial did not meet international standards and raising concerns over possible political influences.
Amnesty’s report expresses "alarm" that the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police Officers was actively campaigning for the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal. Whatever happened to the idea of police officers as servants of the people and impartial enforcers of the law? And what about the Government counter-intelligence programme which appeared to list Abu Jamal as a target?
Yet the story is somehow unremarkable. For Abu Jamal is a black man, as are 50% of those on Death Row. He received inadequate representation and was convicted on the basis of questionable evidence – for example the witnesses were confused and unclear about the height of the shooter, what clothes he was wearing, in which hand he held the gun, and whether he ran away from the scene.
At his trial, the prosecution used 11 of its 15 peremptory strikes to remove African Americans from the jury. Including four alternate (reserve jurors), Mumia Abu-Jamal’s jury consisted of 14 whites and two blacks in a county whose population at the time was 40 per cent African American.
Amnesty opposes the death penalty on principle, as a violation of the right to life. But the harsh practical realities also paint a picture of a dysfunctional system where to be poor or black (or both) leaves your access to justice hanging by a thread.
Amnesty has collaborated with the film makers behind In Prison My Whole Life which tells Abu Jamal’s story through the vehicle of activist William Francome as he discovers the story. And we are collaborating on several screenings of the film around Scotland, taking part in post-screening discussions at the following venues.
I hope to see you there.
Glasgow, Sunday 18th Jan 5.30pm
Stirling, Thursday 22nd Jan 8.15pm
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