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Now what am I going to do with all these signs
December 7, 2011 11:45 AM   Subscribe

After almost 30 years of appeals and legal maneuvering, Philadelphia prosecutors have abandoned attempts to impose the death penalty on Mumia Abu-Jamal for killing police office Daniel Faulkner in December 1981. Background, previously.
posted by anigbrowl (56 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is very good news. Abu-Jamal's status as lefty cause celebre and his outspokenness on other political issues have caused a lot of center-right faux-liberals to complain about how much they've heard about his case, but it has always been a massive miscarriage of justice, and it's great to see this finally if belatedly, half-heartedly, equivocally admitted by the authorities who'd devoted so much too much of the state's time and resources to pressing their case for his execution. Now everyone wins, including the people who complain about seeing Mumia-related signs at unrelated demonstrations.
posted by RogerB at 11:53 AM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Note: still in jail for life w/o possibility of parole.
posted by lalochezia at 11:54 AM on December 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


That is a super disingenous NY Times article. The Mumia case doesn't make any sense unless you talk about MOVE and Abu-Jamal's previous political work, and about the political climate in Philadelphia prior to the case.

To me, this is pretty much the same as saying that the guy is innocent - cops and courts never back down on these cases or admit wrongdoing, so the fact that they've given up on trying to kill the guy really says something.

Mumia Abu-Jamal is apparently a big science fiction fan, which is cool.
posted by Frowner at 11:57 AM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Good on the overthrow of the death penalty.

I read the Wikipedia article to try to get a better understanding of what exactly happened. It's my understanding that he shot and killed a police officer, and he opened fire first. He was wounded in the exchange. In the hospital, he was reported as saying he did it and hoped the police officer died.

Can someone explain to me why people think he's innocent or is not deserving of life in prison?
posted by Malice at 12:00 PM on December 7, 2011 [8 favorites]


Luckily, we will still always have income inequality as a pretense to play bongos in public.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 12:00 PM on December 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Regardless of his guilt or innocence, the death penalty is anathema to a civil society and anytime it is not pursued is a cause for approbation.
posted by smithsmith at 12:08 PM on December 7, 2011 [15 favorites]


"To me, this is pretty much the same as saying that the guy is innocent - cops and courts never back down on these cases or admit wrongdoing, so the fact that they've given up on trying to kill the guy really says something.

He's pretty likely one of those folks who are both guilty and railroaded; the dropping of the death penalty is a pretty good resolution to that.
posted by klangklangston at 12:09 PM on December 7, 2011 [21 favorites]


And somewhere, Rage Against the Machine ceases to rage.
posted by nathancaswell at 12:09 PM on December 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Now everyone wins, including the people who complain about seeing Mumia-related signs at unrelated demonstrations.

Except that usually the signs say "Free Mumia," and he still isn't free.
posted by infinitywaltz at 12:10 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


!
posted by Navelgazer at 12:16 PM on December 7, 2011


Snark aside, the death penalty has no place in civilized society. This is a good step in the right direction.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 12:25 PM on December 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


I think it's worth asking what the "Free Mumia" case says about various activist cultures - it certainly has been a knee-jerk kind of thing and a lot of people's commitment to it is pretty shallow. Here's what springs to mind:

1. Mumia is pretty charismatic, also handsome and a good writer. He's perceptive and smart. It's easy to root for him.

2. Folks have forgotten MOVE, a genuinely weird Africanist anarcho-primitivist group. (My take on MOVE - when white anarchist college kids act like MOVE, people say snarky things; when black folks act like MOVE, they face intense repression. Also, folks have forgotten how much crazy state and paramilitary violence the Black Panthers and other radical black groups faced. By the late seventies, you're talking about a political community where you could reasonably expect politically-motivated police violence and where a number of important people (and young people - Fred Hampton was in his early twenties) had been shot by police. Interactions with the police are all contoured by this - and police interactions with black political activists. I have friends who have been held at gunpoint by police during political raids; it fucks with you.

I mean, maybe Mumia did shoot the guy. God knows. But there's a big difference between willfully shooting a cop out of the blue just because you hate cops and reacting (maybe badly, maybe wrongly) to a situation when people around you have been routinely getting hurt or killed by cops for years and you're messed up by it and you are plausibly afraid.

We're all hung up on absolute innocence, as if the only way we can oppose racism or police violence is if the police are racist against tiny perfect kittens who have never used their claws. And as if somehow living in a really racist, violence climate makes people into saints instead of fucking them up.

3. I also think that a lot of young white activists feel that they've done their anti-prison duty by doing Mumia stuff - as if you're checking off the "fight the prison industrial complex" box.

I used to think all that Free Mumia stuff was...a bit silly, anyway, until I met a guy (a white guy, older) who had worked pretty extensively with radical black activists in the seventies and eighties and who knew a bunch of people from Abu-Jamal's general milieu. He was plausibly convinced that Jamal had been set up or framed based on having seen the whole case unfold from the beginning, along with seeing the way the police treated black activists in Philly.
posted by Frowner at 12:26 PM on December 7, 2011 [50 favorites]


Yeah, I wonder if people who complain about "Free Mumia" signs and think we should be 100% certain of his guilt have ever even heard of the 1985 MOVE bombing. The Philadelphia police behaved (and sometimes still behave) toward black radicals like an army at war, not a city police force.
posted by RogerB at 12:35 PM on December 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


Fucking crazy to think that this has been going on nearly as long as I've been on this planet,
posted by mannequito at 12:37 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


That is a super disingenous NY Times article.

It's breaking news, rather than analysis.

To me, this is pretty much the same as saying that the guy is innocent - cops and courts never back down on these cases or admit wrongdoing, so the fact that they've given up on trying to kill the guy really says something.

I think you need to work on that minor premise. The legal problems for the state of Philadelphia which led to the overturning of the death sentence sprang from ambiguities in jury instructions. The 3rd circuit court of appeal rejected the claim that the trial or trial judge were racially biased, but found that the instructions given to the jury were confusing and could have caused them to exclude mitigating evidence (see page 235). Errors in jury instructions are very often a basis for appeal in criminal cases.

The evidence in regard to the murder itself is very strong; it's the trial process that was legally deficient, albeit on highly technical grounds. It's worth reading the review of the facts and the explanatory footnote about the workings of the appeal process on pages 3-5.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:41 PM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


here's Amnesty International's report on Mumia Abu Jamal's case (pdf). They take no position on his guilt or innocence but provide a backdrop to the case - racial tension and police violence in Philly - and discuss the ways that Mumia' case does not constitute a fair trial.
posted by entropone at 12:42 PM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


klangklangston: "He's pretty likely one of those folks who are both guilty and railroaded;"

That's always been my impression. It reminds me of the O.J. Simpson trial (please note I am not comparing the two crimes), when the reaction of a lot of folks was, "they framed the guy who did it."
posted by Chrysostom at 12:53 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


After familiarizing myself with the case, trail, state appeals, habeas proceedings, etc., is there any real doubt that he killed the guy? I understand the deficiencies in the procedure, counsel, racial elements and death penalty activism, but...people really think he is innocent?
posted by arveale at 12:54 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not so much innocent perhaps, as not guilty of murder.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:00 PM on December 7, 2011


After familiarizing myself with the case, trail, state appeals, habeas proceedings, etc., is there any real doubt that he killed the guy? I understand the deficiencies in the procedure, counsel, racial elements and death penalty activism, but...people really think he is innocent?

IME a lot of people say "Mumia Abu-Jamal is innocent" and mean "he was set up or something else intervened such that he was not morally culpable" - in activist circles, moral culpability is often of more interest than procedural culpability because we tend to emphasize restorative justice and preventing-things-from-happening-again.
posted by Frowner at 1:00 PM on December 7, 2011


is there any real doubt that he killed the guy?

No, but given a generally neutral appraisal of what likely happened, and the grotesque irregularities in the penalty phase, it's doubtful he'd have gotten the death penalty.
posted by fatbird at 1:02 PM on December 7, 2011


it's not if you're guilty or innocent, it's if they can prove it and if they've proven it by cheating, you should go free.
posted by nadawi at 1:04 PM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]



it's not if you're guilty or innocent, it's if they can prove it and if they've proven it by cheating, you should go free.


How did they cheat? (legit question, I'm trying to understand)

And also, would you say the same of someone who was convicted of raping a child?
posted by Malice at 1:08 PM on December 7, 2011


(Also I add that there is no "left" take on the case - an anarchist would talk very differently about the case than a democratic socialist than a left-liberal, etc etc, partly because each would have a different theory of the courts and the police....actually, come to that, a labor anarchist would probably have different ideas than a green anarchist, etc etc.)
posted by Frowner at 1:09 PM on December 7, 2011


Yeah, I wonder if people who complain about "Free Mumia" signs and think we should be 100% certain of his guilt have ever even heard of the 1985 MOVE bombing. The Philadelphia police behaved (and sometimes still behave) toward black radicals like an army at war, not a city police force.

When it comes to MOVE, there are no simple answers. I watched the siege, the bombing & the fire on live TV & avidly followed the endless broadcasts of the MOVE commission on the local PBS channel. Yes the city from Mayor Goode on down all made some staggeringly bad decisions; but MOVE presented a problem beyond the experience & ability of the city to handle even (especially?) given the earlier incident at Powelton Village. I don't think there were any right moves to make that day, only a choice of which disaster to play out. At every step MOVE did everything they could to provoke their neighbors & the authorities into overreacting. In the end they got what they wanted, with tragic results not just for themselves but for the city as a whole.
posted by scalefree at 1:09 PM on December 7, 2011


I knew my marching in 1998 would pay off! BRICK BY BRICK, WALL BY WALL, WE'RE GONNA FREE... MUMIA... ABU JAMAL!

Those were the days...
posted by symbioid at 1:10 PM on December 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


And also, would you say the same of someone who was convicted of raping a child?

If you're going to have courts, the courts themselves have to be above reproach. Otherwise, you might as well say "the police should arrest everyone and keep us all in low-security gulags, because among all citizens are bound to be a number of rapists and pedophiles, so the probity of the police and courts don't matter."
posted by Frowner at 1:10 PM on December 7, 2011 [11 favorites]


I am well aware of the need for appellate review and exoneration in certain situations. That said, the "Free Mumia" doesn't seem to me to be the same as "Give Mumia a fair appeal," or "Don't Execute Mumia."

There are many issues in this case on both sides (hint: never try and represent yourself), I just don't think that his commission of the crime is in much question.
posted by arveale at 1:14 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


President Obama: Please pardon my horrible syntax.
posted by arveale at 1:15 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


And also, would you say the same of someone who was convicted of raping a child?

I don't know if this is a good parallel. If Mumia hadn't been railroaded and had a fair trial, I would be surprised is he would have gotten more than a second-degree murder conviction. In Philadelphia, as I understand it, this often leads to a life without parole sentence, which is functionally what Mumia has now.

It seems a long way to go about getting to the same point they would have gotten by being cricket in prosecuting the man, and they might not have made a martyr out of him.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:17 PM on December 7, 2011


And also, would you say the same of someone who was convicted of raping a child?

Either we're a nation of laws that work regardless of your innocence or guilt or we're not. I'm sure there's an appropriate quote by a Founding Father or other eminent scholar that says it's especially important that we observe the rules when it comes to men we believe are guilty of the most heinous crimes. So yes, as hard as it is to accept, I'd say even the child rapist should go free, to preserve the greater principle of the impartiality of favor for men before the Law.
posted by scalefree at 1:17 PM on December 7, 2011 [13 favorites]


Despite the fact that Mumia and I are alumni of the same college (so I heard about freeing Mumia for 4 years straight) and have a similar hairstyle, I've never had an opinion on his "guilt" or "innocence." I am, however, of the opinion that killing people is pretty much never okay, and that, without a doubt, the American justice system is not blind when it comes to race and/or class and/or "radicalness." That inability to treat all citizens fairly was pretty evident in this case, so yeah, this news is good and just.
posted by eunoia at 1:20 PM on December 7, 2011


Now everyone wins, including the people who complain about seeing Mumia-related signs at unrelated demonstrations.

I don't understand this logic. If you're fed up with the Free Mumia movement and it's almost-a-running-joke invasion of every single rally and cause-based movement in the last two decades, I don't see how his guarantee to remain alive for the next 20 or 30 years is going to quell that.

I'm totally against the death penalty and am glad one less person isn't being sentenced to it, but that's irrelevant to the "Free Mumia" movement. They don't think he doesn't deserve the death penalty; they think he's not guilty, or at the very least didn't get a fair trial.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 1:21 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Rotting away in jail is a far better punishment; if he is innocent after all, Pennsylvania has not committed murder and he can be released later.
posted by Renoroc at 1:25 PM on December 7, 2011


And also, would you say the same of someone who was convicted of raping a child?

Absolutely. The prosecution has to play by the rules. If they can't prove you guilty within the confines of the rules, then you're not legally guilty even if you did. Our system almost certainly let a pretty large number of child rapists go free, and I'm fine with that because it makes it less likely that someone who is not raping children (like, to be selfish, me) will go to jail for something they didn't do,
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:26 PM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


One often hears that it's better that a dozen guilty persons go free than a single innocent person be imprisoned.

Having worked pretty closely with the American criminal justice system for over ten years now, I have to say that yes, it's a much better world and a much better system which allows the guilty to go free than the system which imprisons or--god forbid--executes an innocent person. The system we have, however, doesn't even pretend to err on the side of innocence. From the moment some police office somewhere decides you're guilty of something, at some time, and therefore a good enough candidate for the Guy in his case, you're treated as guilty by everyone you come into contact with. Even, more often than not, the person defending you, even a surprising number of the hardcore bleeding heart defender types.

I have never paid much attention to the Mumia case, but it certainly seems very little about his trial and sentencing was "fair" in the sense that a judicial system capable of sentencing people to death should be impartial. As said above, "He's pretty likely one of those folks who are both guilty and railroaded". As far as I am concerned that's a miscarriage of justice which should not be tolerated.

Failing to tolerate those sorts of abuses of a justice system should not be equated to wantonly letting child rapists go free. Failing to tolerate those sorts of abuses is more akin to holding our society to a higher standard of justice, competence and civilization.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:30 PM on December 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


But there's a big difference between willfully shooting a cop out of the blue just because you hate cops and reacting (maybe badly, maybe wrongly) to a situation when people around you have been routinely getting hurt or killed by cops for years and you're messed up by it and you are plausibly afraid.

Really not seeing the distinction there. Murder is illegal, regardless of what you've seen, experienced or if you are "messed up."
posted by lstanley at 1:34 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


In the end they got what they wanted

Including the five children killed in the blaze?

When it comes to MOVE, there are no simple answers.

Not everything regarding MOVE has a simple answer, but that doesn't mean there aren't any. Should Goode have dropped a bomb on the MOVE house? That does have a simple answer: No.
posted by chortly at 1:35 PM on December 7, 2011 [9 favorites]


Really not seeing the distinction there. Murder is illegal, regardless of what you've seen, experienced or if you are "messed up."

But even the courts take circumstances into account to a degree, right? I don't really understand this narrowly proceduralist mentality except as a desire to identify with the punishing authority rather than with everyday people. We must punish everyone equally (except we don't punish the rich and powerful very much!) regardless of why they did what they did, what misapprehensions they labored under, etc etc! Because punishment is an end in itself?
posted by Frowner at 1:39 PM on December 7, 2011


This is pretty amazing. I was a teenager when the MOVE fiasco went down, and am now nearly 40 witnessing the death sentence on Mumia scrapped. And this is one guy with a very high-profile case. Sort of doesn't make me very optimistic for everyone else on death rows across America with dodgy casesþ
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:50 PM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's not how courts work, in general. It's complicated; one frequent criticism of the system is that it's too complicated for ordinary people to understand, and that this undermines confidence in and compliance with the law. On the other hand over-simplificaion creates problems of its own. The fact that different activist groups typically have different takes on the issue is a large clue to the weakness of simplistic analyses.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:53 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


But even the courts take circumstances into account to a degree, right?

Regardless of Mumia's feelings towards the police, the physical shooting itself was cold blooded murder. Mumia wasn't the victim of a no-knock raid in the middle of the night, he was responding to a fight with a uniformed officer.

We must punish everyone equally regardless of why they did what they did, what misapprehensions they labored under, etc etc!

You don't get an excuse or a lesser sentence because you don't like, or have apprehension towards, the local "punishing authority."
posted by lstanley at 1:53 PM on December 7, 2011


We must punish everyone equally regardless of why they did what they did, what misapprehensions they labored under, etc etc!

You don't get an excuse or a lesser sentence because you don't like, or have apprehension towards, the local "punishing authority."


Not true. In Pennsylvania at least, if you have a sincere belief, albeit unreasonable, that you are committing a justifiable homicide (viz. self-defense), then that falls under voluntary manslaughter, not murder.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:00 PM on December 7, 2011


That's not how courts work, in general. It's complicated; one frequent criticism of the system is that it's too complicated for ordinary people to understand, and that this undermines confidence in and compliance with the law. On the other hand over-simplificaion creates problems of its own. The fact that different activist groups typically have different takes on the issue is a large clue to the weakness of simplistic analyses.

Ah, I don't mean to say that his "fame" was what overturned the sentence. My point was that with this one man - with a legal team that was possibly able to bring in more resources than your average death row inmate thanks to his case being familiar to a great many people across the country - still waiting decades for the sentence to be pushed aside in this very dodgy case, I'm left feeling not really optimistic about others on death row with less dodgy cases and fewer possible resources available.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:01 PM on December 7, 2011


Now everyone wins

Not Daniel Faulkner.
posted by lampshade at 2:05 PM on December 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Marisa, I was actually replying to the comment above yours. I don't think Jamal's conviction was especially dodgy; the volume of support for a given person's case isn't a good proxy for the legal soundness or lack thereof. Jam al's case had some procedural flaws, but they were relatively minor and it's unlikely that a new trial would result in a substantially different outcome.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:28 PM on December 7, 2011


I'd considered making a post here on prisoners of conscience in the U.S. eventually, but I never bothered tracking down better links than : OpenWiki, Daisy Brain, and Vox NYC.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:46 PM on December 7, 2011


jeffburdges: "I'd considered making a post here on prisoners of conscience in the U.S. eventually"

Maybe I don't know what "prisioner of conscience" means, but I don't think it applies to a dude who shoots a cop in the back.
posted by falameufilho at 3:04 PM on December 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


Meanwhile, Leonard Peltier remains in a federal pen and Anna Mae Aquash is dead.
posted by docgonzo at 3:40 PM on December 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Meanwhile, no one has ever been prosecuted for the aerial bombing of a residence that killed 6 adults, 5 children, and burned down over 60 homes.

I will cheer for the triumph of justice once those indictments appear.
posted by broadway bill at 3:44 PM on December 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


According to the court memorandum linked by Anigbrowl, the courts determined that Jamal ran over to a police officer who was scuffling with his brother, whom he had just pulled over. Jamal shot the officer in the back and the officer fired back once, hitting Jamal in the chest. Jamal subsequently fired four more shots after the officer had fallen, the first of which entered the officer's brain between the eyes. There's a fair bit of evidence for this, including eye-witnesses and an unprompted confession made by Jamal after he had been brought to a hospital.

Jamal's trial was in two parts: guilt and penalty. Jamal's claims of constitutional violations during the guilt phase were rejected. One appeal was granted on the basis of a constitutional violation during the penalty phase. I thought the violation was a bit subtle - apparently the instructions to the jury were capable of being misunderstood: the jurors might have thought that they had to unanimously agree that that there were either no mitigating circumstances or that the mitigating circumstances were outweighed by aggravating circumstances. I didn't get that impression from reading the jurors' instructions, but this is what the case law says.

Anyway, as a matter of law he has been found guilty of murder, but due to the defective instructions given to the jury the appeal court overturned the earlier decision that the act had the aggravating circumstances which warrant the death penalty. I think this is a good outcome for everybody.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:00 PM on December 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


What's interesting is that the initial article said "convicted cop killer" in the title instead of "Mumia Abu-Jamal," which strikes me as stupid considering his incredible name recognition worldwide, and the fact that "cop killer" is an incredibly loaded term. There's a big difference, for instance, between the words "child rapist" and "pedophile." Apparently someone at the Times agreed with me, because they changed the headline, but the original title is still there in the link.

As far as his guilt, well, the whole thing is incredibly sketchy and a lot of the evidence/confessions are pretty questionable. I wouldn't be surprised if he's innocent, and I wouldn't be surprised if he's guilty. However, after learning about stuff like COINTELPRO years ago, I don't trust the authorities in cases like this.
posted by Slinga at 4:06 PM on December 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Now everyone wins

Not Daniel Faulkner.


Yeah, he would be so psyched if Mumia joined him in death.
posted by Saxon Kane at 5:12 PM on December 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I saw the documentary made by sympathizers and came away convinced of his guilt...the more i looked into it, the guiltier he seemed. Glad he's not being executed, but I hate when liberals cite him (or Che) as some hero...it makes us look bad. all the celebrities who went to bat for him are just like those who signed the petition for roman Polanski to me (and I'm uber-liberal).
posted by whatgorilla at 5:28 PM on December 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


Abu-Jamal's status as lefty cause celebre and his outspokenness on other political issues have caused a lot of center-right faux-liberals to complain about how much they've heard about his case

I don't really think there ought to be a liberal litmus test, but if there were, I really don't think "Wanting to hear, repeatedly, about Mumia Abu-Jamal" should have a lot of weight in the rubric.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 9:26 PM on December 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yeah, in terms of priorities, Leonard Peltier got hardcore jobbed, and Mumia's a dude who copped to shooting a cop then felt both boots come down on him. Mumia was cause celeb when I was in college, and I got assigned his books more than once, and I always felt incredibly annoyed at how coy and cagey he was about exactly what happened — it felt like he was going out of his way to weasel out of responsibility, and it felt narcissistic for him to presume on naive undergrads to fight for his freedom. I mean, if I was up against the death penalty and a fairly smart guy, I'd bring all of my persuasive skill to bear, but the dishonesty just turned me off.

As opposed to Peltier, who has like zero actual evidence against him outside of political affiliation.
posted by klangklangston at 11:33 PM on December 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


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