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A Simple Plea
Here are the opening lines of a piece by Marc Cooper, Nation writer and radio correspondent, in the New York Press, a free weekly newspaper. I make no New Years resolution. Instead, I have a simple plea: Oh Lord, please make 2000 a year free of Mumia. Thats right. Thats no typo. I said free of Mumia. Not Free Mumia. This is so disgusting that it is hard to comprehend how it can have left the pen of someone who calls himself progressive. It doesnt get better as Cooper calls Mumia a flaky cult member, makes an analogy between Mumia and Charles Manson, and tries to portray those fighting for Mumia as mindless toads in thrall to a wigged out phony, blinded to the plight of others facing the death penalty or other legal injustice, without benefit of comparable counsel.
Cooper decries those who call Mumia a political prisoner for sullying the anti-death penalty movement, apparently privy to more wisdom on such matters than the rest of us. We thought by way of comment we would provide just a few contrasting views, made public in the same period in January as Cooper saw fit to express himself on the matter. Here, for example, is Martin Luther King III speaking for the SCLC, Conscience compels me to unite with Nelson Mandela, Catholic Bishop Thomas Gumbelton, elected representatives of the European Parliament, the Congressional Black Caucus, Amnesty International, Harry Belafonte, Paul Newman, Ossie Davis, Danny Glover, Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu, and millions of others around the globe to fight for the life of our brother in the struggle, Mumia Abu- Jamal. The folks listed are among those deceived by Mumias dreadlocks into believing he is worthy of support, at least according to Coopers grandstanding denunciation. King continues, We must stand by Abu-Jamals side just as we stood by the sides of Nelson Mandela, Angela Davis, Ben Chavis, and Joann Little We must come together as a family in the spirit of my father who said, the arc of the universe is long but is bent towards justice, and never give up until we save the life of our brother, Mumia Abu-Jamal. Coopers cult member becomes Kings brother.
Heres actor and activist Ossie Davis on the matter, at a meeting with federal officials in Washington, DC at the same time as Coopers piece appeared: I join in urging you to investigate the abundant record of the violations of the rights of Mumia Abu-Jamal. In doing so, I represent a tradition of artists and cultural figures who seek to give voice to a larger social conscience. We reflect a deep and broad concern about the injustice so clear and egregious in the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. This case rises to a level symbolizing a history of such abuse. The fact that so many artists of prominence have raised their voices is a measure of the importance of this case. Cooper, however, says that to fight for Mumia Abu Jamal is to degrade the fight against the death penalty.
Here is Sam Jordan, the Director of the Program to Abolish the Death Penalty for Amnesty International USA at the same federal meeting: I wish to point out that the Justice Department has already investigated the conduct of the police in many cities. Statistics concerning the death penalty establish that it is a weapon against the poor and overwhelmingly against African Americans and people of color. The record shows that while only 4% of the population of Pennsylvania, excluding Philadelphia, are Black or Brown, 70% of death row inmates are Black or Brown. If Philadelphia is included, the percentage increases to 90%. We also wish to point out that the U.S. Justice Department has obtained a Consent Decree in the wake of its investigation of the Pittsburgh Police Department. Other such Consent Decrees have been obtained by the Department of Justice where police brutality, corruption, and the violation of citizens rights have been endemic, institutionalized, and sustained over years.
The evidence before the U.S. Department of Justice establishes a pattern revealing the targeting and persecution of Black and Brown citizens, the overwhelmingly poor, and the disadvantaged. This clear pattern is itself a violation of the civil rights statutes. It requires a systematic investigation and it bears directly upon the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. These are the models for the investigation required here. We seek to make the case for U.S. compliance with its own strictures about the violation of basic rights which are present here.
Jordan, in Coopers eyes, is presumably not really concerned about the death penalty, given his concern for Mumia.
Jacquiline Petitot, a representative from Martinique was at that meeting too, and said, I am the spokeswoman here for over 1,000 people who signed the Open Letter to President Bill Clinton, among them Aime Cesaire, the great poet of Negritude, mayor of Fort de France and honorary MP of Martinique; for several Martinique MPs at the French Parliament; for local officials; and for a great number of students, pupils, artists, trade union and political leaders of our island. I also bring the endorsement of Georges Odlum, minister of the independent island of Saint Lucia, and of the general secretary of the National Workers Union of Saint Lucia. Guadeloupe trade union leaders also endorsed the letter. The people of Martin- ique, Guadeloupe, Caribbean islands are more and more concerned by the situation of Mumia Abu-Jamal. We wish you to know that African-Caribbeans and people of conscience in our region are anguished by this terrible injustice. We struggle for the life of Mumia Abu-Jamal and we appeal to you to defend democratic rights and the principle of equal justice before the law. But Marc Cooper knows better.
On the home front, at this same meeting was Lindsay Mclaughlin who said: I come here mandated by the rank and file membership of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). This is not the result of resolutions passed, although there are many of these. This reflects a considered belief that an injustice is taking place here of the gravest nature. A man who fights for the disadvantaged and who exposed police brutality and police corruption in Philadelphia has been singled out for reprisal in a replay of exactly what he himself so long exposed. Members of the ILWU know what such injustice means. We have a long experience of it and a history of resistance to it. We know that those in positions of power use the authority of the legal system to attack the rights of working people. A manifestation of our concern and our determination to see justice done in the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal was the ILWU shut- down of the ports on the West Coast of the United States on April 24 of last year. I am here to tell you that this case touches working people and affects their vital interests. Our union will continue to take measures and to urge others to join us in demanding justice for Mumia Abu-Jamal. Apparently, for Cooper, the ILWU is confused, too.
Among many others to offer comments for a section of Zs online system, Howard Zinn writes: When Sacco & Vanzetti faced death, and their lawyers came to them with hopeful new legal strategies, Vanzetti would answer: it wont helpthey are determined to kill usthe only thing that will work is if a million people take to the streets and frighten the hell out of the system. That did not happen, and they were executed. When Mumias death warrant was signed, there was a world-wide campaign (I saw signs on the buildings of Bologna, Italy) of protest, and the execution was stayed. Now it will take more. If a million black men could assemble, as they did, in Washington for a less-focused objective, certainly a million persons, black and white, men and women, could assemble in Philadelphia, for a clearly focused aim, to stop the murder of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
The Nation, thankfully, doesnt offer only Cooper. Here is an excerpt from a guest editorial they ran by Angela Davis, June Jordan, and Alice Walker: Even though these United States detain the worlds largest death row populationEven though these United States lead the industrialized world in numbers of people incarcerated and, correlatively, in total expenditures for prison construction, prison maintenance and prison personnelEven though these United States maintain a more aggressive, and growing, commitment to the imprisonment of their citizens than to public education of their peoplesHe must not die.
Even though close to 70 percent of Americas prisoners are people of colorEven though more than 90 percent of those on death row are poorHe must not die. As the state cannot take away what it has not givenHe must not die. As the state cannot retract what it has never conferredthe state cannot kill this man. He must not die.
As he still lives, a black man sentenced to death among so many millions of his brothers and sisters sentenced to penury, contempt and tragic short circuitries of choice and aspirationAs he still lives so he ennobles the rest of us to deepen, enlarge and improve our political opposition to a state gone mad with greed and the pathologies of uncontested, supremacist might. We begin here, where we can win. We can do this. We can keep him alive. He must not die.
All people of good will should care about Mumias case and lend their support to the effort to win him a new trial. Mumia is an eloquent voice for a more just world. But more, his case has evolved into a decisive contest in the struggle against the death penalty, racism, police brutality, and police-state frame-ups.
As to Marc Cooper, his role in the Pacifica conflicts was damning, but his New York Press essay is beneath contempt. Whether Cooper is running to the right looking for lucre or just confused doesnt matter a lot. Like Cooper, we, too, have a simple plea: lets make 2000 a year free of Coopers kind of garbage. Z