1. Firstly, can you give us a short background of Mumia and how you became acquainted with his case?
Mumia Abu-Jamal is an imprisoned radio journalist in the US and former Black Panther—one of the most famous prisoners in the world. In 1981, he was framed by the Philadelphia police, railroaded in the courts and wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death for the killing of Daniel Faulkner, a white police officer in Philadelphia. As in the case of over a dozen other former Black Panthers, he continues to be imprisoned today because of imprisoned continues to be imprisoned today as punishment for his Sixties activism. In the 1990s, Mumia came dangerously close to execution, first on August 17, 1995 and again on December 2, 1999. An international movement saved his life. During the same time, he wrote his first, Live From Death Row – a New York Times best seller –humanized death row from the inside and exposed its racist character. In 2011, a federal court ruled his death sentence unconstitutional and he is now serving a sentence of life in prison without parole.
I first learned about Mumia’s case in college. Inspired by his defiant voice, I was one of hundreds of thousands of young people around the world who marched in defense of his life in the 1990s. It was during this time that he became known to the world as the Voice of the Voiceless. Years later when I joined the faculty, as a postdoctoral fellow at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA, I began to visit Mumia and other prisoner on death row at SCI Greene in Waynesburg —an hour away. Since then I’ve spend hundreds of hours in conversations with him on the roots of social problems; our eyes focused on the moment when freedom movements would once again take up the task of transforming society. My mind and life have been profoundly enriched by having Mumia as a colleague, collaborator, and friend.
2. I appreciate in a system where there is massive racial bias many challenges are had. From your perspective what is the biggest thing required to help change a racist judicial system?
We need to build a culture of resistance that educates people about the racist character of incarceration in the US, which as you know grew exponentially after the civil rights movement—it was part of a much larger project, on the part of the US state, to restore social control following the movements of the sixties and the defeat of the US military in Vietnam.
Social movement and revolutions change society, so we need to rebuild radical organizations and social movement if we are to win reforms in the courts and the prisons.
Because prisons are the most repressive and freedom-denying institution in society, the crisis of imprisonment raises broader questions about the kind of society we want to live in.
3. Being not just a keen supporter but a friend of Mumia. How hard is it to separate the two? Does that bring with it certain pressures and how do you cope with that dichotomy?
Since I started visiting Mumia well over a decade ago, he became a real human being to me and this has strengthened my resolve to fight for his freedom and for a better world.Mumia is funny, he curses, he’s silly, he breaks into song, he’s humble and down to earth—all in addition to being the biggest nerd in the world.
I’ve spend hundreds of hours in conversations with him on the roots of social problems; our eyes focused on the moment when freedom movements would once again take up the task of transforming society. My mind and life have been profoundly enriched by having Mumia as a colleague, collaborator, and friend.
Politicians were able to consolidate the project of mass incarceration ideologically through the dehumanization of black men in particular, and other people of color, and through their depiction as dangerous free agents, disconnected from the family, friends, and community. We need to build movements that humanize the oppressed.
4. Mumia’s case for freedom has been sabotaged on numerous occasions by those that have intended to keep him in a prison since his 1982 wrongful conviction. As someone who has always admired and been inspired by his will to remain free in mind and spirit under such extreme circumstances where his body is not what is it you feel helps him to remain so hopeful of a better world?
I would say that his study of history keeps him hopeful and the movement that has supported him all these years. He always says that in his darkest hour on death row he felt the love of the people. Mumia is loved the world over; he receives letters from people all over the world, and remember that an international movement saved his life.
Beyond that, he often quotes Che Guevara, “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.”
5. I read once that: when a man is faced with adversity against what appear insurmountable odds; what else can they do but smile. When I look at Mumia, listen to his voice and read his writings I’m always reminded of this. I believe Mumia is suffering from Hepatitis C. Can you give us an update on his physical/mental well being?
After a long two-year battle, in the courts and in the streets, the movement to Free Mumia won a precedent- victory on prisoners’ health standards, an issue which others thought unwinnable. In January 2017, a Federal judge ordered that the Pennsylvania’s Department of Corrections must administer the Hep C cure to Mumia, who had been deathly ill from the liver disease. Mumia’s health suit victory was the first of its kind; it paved the way for the recent success of a class action suit filed by PA prisoners suffering from the same deadly disease. Over 7,000 prisoners in PA will now be treated with the Hep C cure.
6. Mumia’s sentence was commuted from Death Row solitary confinement to Life Imprisonment without the possibility of parole in 2001. What updates can you give on his case as it stands today?
Following an April 24 request by Mumia’s attorneys, a judge has ordered the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office to turn over records and memos related to Mumia’s original case. These records are necessary in order for Mumia’s attorneys to demonstrate that due process rights were violated. For the first time, the prosecutorial and judicial misconduct that led to Mumia’s wrongful conviction stand to see the light of day. For Mumia and many of other capital crime prisoners, the decision could be of immense consequence, potentially overturning sentences and even convictions.
These hearings and dozens of others were granted on the basis of a recent landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, Williams v. Pennsylvania, which ruled that it is a violation of due process for a judge to rule on a case in which he/she had prior personal involvement as prosecutor.
When these prisoners presented appeals arguments in the court they were denied relief by one man, the former D.A. turned Chief Justice of the PA Supreme Court, Ronald Castille. Because Castille refused to recuse himself from these cases, he played the role of prosecutor and judge in each of these cases— a conflict of interest and violation of the constitution.
In the Mumia’s case, his attorneys filed a petition as early as 1998 requesting that Justice Ronald Castille, remove himself from the panel overseeing the case, citing his close relationship with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the organization vested in Mumia’s conviction and execution.Although the police organization had helped fund Castille’s bid for the PA Supreme Court and named him Man of the Year, Castille responded stridently that he would not step aside, and noted that five of the seven judges of that Pennsylvania Supreme Court were supported by the FOP.
7. During, what was deemed the “civil rights” struggle the FBI used CointelPro (Counter -Intelligence) to bring down many a great man and movement that resisted the ugly face of white supremacy makeup of the country. In an age of social networking and internet it seems people are more dumb-down and passive even though information is at hand with a touch of a button. The paradox is a strange one but for those that are wanting to know the merits of the case and to support other political prisoners where would you direct them for more information to help get involved?
Watch this video: https://www.youtube.
The website of the Campaign to Bring Mumia Home
On all US held political prisoners see:
Read this special issue on Mass Incarceration edited by Mumia and me
Amnesty International Report on the case:
Excellent book on the case:
Justice on Trial: https://www.youtube.
In Prison My Whole Life: http://
Long Distance Revolutionary: http://www.
Case for Reasonable Doubt:https://www.amazon.com/
8. Sadly, there are many political prisoners like Mumia locked up in dungeons, the likes of Leonard Peltier and others that have faced the same kind of treatment in the US judicial system. Barrack Obama, before he left Office, was in a position where he could have used his presidential powers to pardon such blatant unjust rulings but true to form he refused to. How can we the global masses hold our governments and elected officials to account in such cases? What can we do to lobby and bring pressures to change the status quo?
Educate people around you about these cases.
Organize campaigns to pass resolutions demanding the release of these prisoners at your churches and mosques, universities, unions, local government
Pressure the European Parliament to pass a similar resolution
Donate to Mumia’s Legal Defense email: JFernandez1202@gmail.
Interview by Hamza Mohammad