Mumia Abu Jamal Essay, Research Paper
Near 4 AM on December 9, 1981 Mumia Abu-Jamal was working a second job as a nighttime cab driver in the hope of making additional money for the upcoming holiday season. He was driving west on Locust St. when he saw that his brother’s Volkswagen had been pulled to the side of the road by a Philadelphia Police cruiser. Mumia pulled into a parking garage on the North side of Locust so he could question his brother to make sure he wasn’t in any trouble. After emerging from the parking garage he saw Officer Daniel Faulkner holding his brother “spread eagle” over the hood of the squad car, bludgeoning him with what appeared to be a flashlight. Eyewitness Mark Scanlan, who was on the northwest corner of 13th and Locust collaborates this story saying he saw Faulkner spin Jamal’s brother around and throw him against the hood. He said that Jamal’s brother then turned back around and struck the police officer at which point Faulkner proceeded to strike Jamal’s brother. After arriving on the scene officers found Faulkner’s flashlight, broken and covered in blood propped against the curb. One officer also noted that Jamal’s brother had a deep laceration on his temple.
Upon seeing this scuffle, Mumia broke into a run to cover the distance between the parking garage and the squad car. It was 4 AM, it was dark, Officer Faulkner had just been “assaulted” by a suspect in a neighborhood that wasn’t known to be police friendly, and now another black male was running in his direction from across the street. We can only speculate as to what happened next. None of the witnesses called to trial saw who shot whom first. A series of gunshots erupted on the scene, at least five in all, and both Mumia Abu-Jamal and Officer Faulkner dropped to the ground. Mumia recovered, Faulkner did not.
Afterwards no less than five eyewitnesses originally testified to seeing somebody flee the scene. They all agreed that he was approximately 6′2 and 220 pounds. They all agreed that he was black and wore dreadlocks. They all agreed that he fled east, on the south side of Locust towards an alley that runs south of Locust, incidentally a perfect get away route for a prospective criminal. Eyewitness Dessie Hightower stated that he also saw a man, “possibly a Jamaican”, sitting in the VW that Officer Faulkner had pulled over. No investigation into this individual was ever made.
Police were on the scene less than a minute later. When they arrived they found Officer Faulkner dying from a gunshot wound to the head. They also found Mumia Abu-Jamal sitting on the curb in front of the squad car dejectedly saying, “I’m shot, I’m shot. Oh my God, I’m shot.” They recovered two weapons at the scene, Officer Faulkner’s police issue revolver and a .38 caliber pistol that was registered to Mumia Abu-Jamal. It seemed like an open and shut case. Black man sees his brother being attacked by a white cop, shoots the white cop, and gets shot himself. Perhaps the most surprising discovery to be made in the next six months was that the bullets that struck Officer Faulkner were not fired from a .38 caliber pistol. Instead, a man that would have to have been standing directly behind Officer Faulkner fired them from a .45 revolver. Stunning evidence that when coupled with eyewitness testimony claiming to see another black male, with dreadlocks, flee the scene, could exonerate Jamal. Additionally, the driver’s license of yet another unidentified black male was found on the corpse of Officer Faulkner. Unfortunately, the police and the District Attorney of Pennsylvania suppressed this evidence.
Mumia Abu-Jamal’s trial was a sham from the beginning. The judge assigned to the case was Albert Sabo, the man who put a whopping 31 people on death row, accounting for over 25 percent of Pennsylvania’s death row population at the time. Of these 31, 29 of them are black. Judge Sabo, a member of the Philadelphia chapter of the fraternal order of police, the National Sheriff’s association, and the Police Chief’s Association of Southeast Pennsylvania, served as the Under Sheriff of Philadelphia County for 16 years before ascending the bench; certainly evidence of a pro-cop bias. In addition, many believe that Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo handpicked Judge Sabo to preside over this case. Remember that Mumia Abu-Jamal was a prominent black journalist, nationally renowned for his indictments of the Rizzo administration, the fraternal order of police, and police misconduct in the city of Philadelphia. Also, in the November 1, 1983 issue of The Philadelphia Inquirer (not the gossip magazine, National Enquirer) over one third of attorneys surveyed rated Judge Sabo as unqualified to preside over death penalty cases. After hearing this Judge Sabo curtly remarked, “If I were a defense attorney I wouldn’t vote for me either,” a clear indication of his general pro-prosecution outlook regarding capital cases. Lastly, Judge Sabo’s rulings in capital cases have been reversed 11 times, giving him the national record in two rather dubious respects. Judge Sabo has sentenced more people to death than any judge in the country. He has also had his sentences overturned more than any other judge in America. Judge Albert Sabo has more than earned the title of “hanging judge” in this new era of crime prevention.
Initially Mumia was granted the right to represent himself. Given his high intelligence he thought that he could levy a better defense than an under-experienced, over-worked public defender. This wouldn’t last long. During voir dire, which is the process by which a jury is selected, Mumia was able to select only one juror before being stripped of his right to self-representation by Judge Sabo for no apparent reason. The juror he selected, an African-American, was later dismissed during trial for transient reasons. She was replaced with a white male juror who had expressed a bias in the case and had stated that he would not be able to view the facts objectively. When Mumia protested the judge’s ruling he was banished from the courtroom leaving him without adequate defense counsel during opening statements. To further the appearance of racial impropriety the prosecution used eleven of fifteen peremptory challenges to excuse nearly 75% of the eligible black jurors. The resulting jury consisted of only three black jurors, one of which, as stated above, was later dismissed from the case. Obviously, this constitutes a violation of Mumia’s right to a jury of his peers. Additionally, at least three jurors, headed by the jury foreman, met separately and discussed the merits of the case throughout the trial. One of the jurors has come forward to say that a group would meet behind closed doors and discuss the case. She further stated that the group was pro-conviction from the outset and actively searched for ways to convict Jamal, this of course, being a clear violation of due process.
Throughout the trial Judge Sabo acted to sabotage the defense’s case. He excluded Mumia from important in camera (in judge’s chambers, private) conferences held with the prosecution where discovery of evidence was allowed and objections were ruled upon. This constitutes a violation of Jamal’s right to a public trial. The prosecutor used evidence of Jamal’s former affiliation with the Black Panther Party to urge conviction and the sentence of death. Even though Mumia had joined the Black Panther Party during the turbulent civil rights movement of the late sixties and hadn’t been a member in nearly ten years, the prosecution used his membership as evidence, saying that he had been waiting for 12 years to kill a cop, this being a flagrant violation of Jamal’s 14th Amendment right to equal protection before the law. Naturally, Judge Sabo, “a defendant’s worst nightmare” (Philadelphia Inquirer), didn’t see things this way. The prosecutor also used Mr. Jamal’s refusal to testify against him in the sentencing phase of the trial, saying that his silence on the shooting bespoke a lack of emotion. This being a definitive violation of Jamal’s fifth Amendment right to silence. Once again, Judge Sabo, “a vacation for prosecutors” (Philadelphia Inquirer), didn’t see things this way.
Aside from the courtroom fiasco that passed for trial, the city of Philadelphia engaged in the suppression of pivotal evidence, the intimidation of witnesses, and offered bribes to prospective witnesses who would testify against Mumia Abu-Jamal. Veronica Jones, an eyewitness at the scene, has testified that the police threatened her with arrest if she didn’t comply with fellow prostitute Cynthia White’s testimony. She also stated that the Philadelphia police department offered her a deal similar to the one they offered Cynthia White, namely unimpeded reign of the streets as a prostitute and police protection while turning tricks. Eyewitness Robert Harkins originally stated that he could identify the shooter but failed to identify Jamal in a photo line-up. Harkins has since testified that after failing to identify Jamal in the photo array he was told by the police to refrain from speaking to the defense and the incident regarding the photo line-up was not uncovered for years. Another witness, Dessie Hightower, passed a polygraph examination wherein he swore that he saw the shooter flee the scene. Discovery of this important piece of evidence was not disclosed to the defense until years later when Hightower himself told Mumia’s attorneys about it. Another witness, William Singletary, reporter seeing a man other than Mr. Jamal shoot the officer and flee the scene. According to Mr. Singletary, police falsified his interview report, forced him to sign a false report, and then through threats drove him out of town so he wouldn’t be available for trial.
The most damning suppression of all though involves hundreds of pages of information gathered on Mumia Abu-Jamal by the FBI. Since joining the Black Panther Party at the age of 15 Mumia Abu-Jamal has been the target of incessant police surveillance as is shown in an FBI file recently released to the defense committee. Close scrutiny of Mumia under the eyes of the FBI and the Philadelphia police department were unable to connect Mumia to any criminal activity from the age of 15 until the debauchery we are currently discussing. It also further enforces the theory that the police had motive to pervert and suppress important findings in the case.
Additionally, consider the omissions by the prosecution. Mr. Jamal was never granted a non-suggestive police line-up before witnesses that could have proven his innocence. The police never tested Mumia’s firearm to see if it had recently been fired. The police never tested Mumia’s hands for gunshot residue, which could have demonstrated that he hadn’t fired a weapon recently. The FBI ballistics report which was created in an attempt to link Mumia’s weapon to the murder was deemed inconclusive by the prosecution’s ballistics expert. Further, the defense’s ballistics expert has testified that additional tests could actually exclude Mumia’s weapon as the murder weapon. Recently one of the officers that apprehended Mumia on the scene has been caught beating a black suspect on tape, substantiating Mumia’s claim that he was beaten severely after police took him into custody. Prison officials have seized large quantities of important legal documents from Mumia Abu-Jamal further impeding his ability to raise a defense. Pathological evidence indicates that Mumia could not have possibly fired the shots that hit Officer Faulkner due to the respective trajectories of the bullets and the relative positions of the men as described by the prosecution. A copper jacket was found at the scene a few feet from Officer Faulkner’s body. Neither Mumia’s weapon or Faulkner’s revolver are capable of firing a bullet with a copper jacket. Lastly, the original autopsy report clearly demonstrates that a .45 caliber bullet was found in Officer Faulkner’s brain. Mumia’s pistol was a .38 caliber.
Unless Mumia Abu Jamal’s final petition is answered, and he gets the fair trial he deserves, America will see it’s the first explicitly political execution since the Rosenbergs were put to death in 1953.