14 December 2009

Rights groups call for Justice Department probe into Mumia Abu-Jamal case

December 9th marked the anniversary of the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. Journalist and former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal continues to sit in prison for the crime, which he maintains that he did not commit.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider an appeal by Abu-Jamal, thereby letting his murder conviction stand. The appeal argued that some blacks had been unfairly excluded from the jury. Prosecutors are currently seeking to reinstate Abu-Jamal's death sentence in follow-up to a 2008 order by the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeal for a new capital sentencing hearing over concerns that the original jury was improperly instructed.

At this point, it appears that Abu-Jamal is running out of options. And so his supporters are taking the matter to the U.S. Justice Department. And this is not just the work of a few radical black revolutionaries.

In July, the 95th annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) passed an emergency resolution calling on Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the cases of Abu Jamal and some other prisoners.

A coalition of organizations and activists followed the NAACP's lead and delivered more than 25,000 letters to the Justice Department on November 12, calling for a civil rights investigation into the Abu-Jamal case. This was accompanied by a press conference that included representatives of the NAACP, the National Lawyers Guild, Amnesty International, the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, the Riverside Church Prison Ministry, and other groups.

Amnesty International is no newcomer to the case. In 2000, after an extensive investigation, the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights organization concluded that "numerous aspects of this case clearly failed to meet minimum international standards safeguarding the fairness of legal proceedings." Amnesty expressed concerns about judicial bias and hostility, police misconduct, and the apparent withholding of evidence from the jury. Amnesty called for a new trial "in a neutral venue, where the case has not polarized the public as it has in Philadelphia."

Abu-Jamal's supporters insist that he is innocent, that he was set up, and that racial bias and witness coercion had played a big part in an unfair trial. They also point out that Faulkner was killed with a .44 caliber gun, while the gun that Abu-Jamal was licensed to carry as a nighttime taxi driver was a .38 caliber.

At the same time, there are many people here in the Philadelphia area, and probably elsewhere, who want to believe that Abu-Jamal is guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt, and who can't wait for his execution. They say that his execution will finally bring "closure" to Faulkner's family and his colleagues in Philadelphia Police Department.

But I ask them this: How can true closure be achieved unless we are absolutely certain that justice was served in a fair and unbiased manner?

Without that, we're not looking at justice, but rather at a case of knee-jerk revenge against a conveniently controversial character.

And that, I contend, is just not good enough.

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