Happy Birthday, Mumia! May God Grant You Health, Peace, and Freedom!
May 4, 2016 by Herbert Daughtry
As you know, Mr. Governor, Philadelphia, PA has become ground zero during this election season. A lot of attention has been focused on the interruption of former President Bill Clinton’s speech on April 7th by REAL Justice Coalition activists for his 1994 Crime Bill. As numerous studies confirm, the bill is responsible for the mass warehousing of young black people and people of color. It targeted poor communities of color, set lengthy prison sentences, flooded black neighborhoods with police officers, made many more crimes punishable by death, and allowed courts to try juveniles over the age of 13 as adults. For this reason many in the US and around the world agree that the signing of this bill was an abominable development in US history.
We want to remind you that many of those imprisoned under this punitive and racist 1994 Crime Bill are today threatened with execution through medical neglect. Failure to respond immediately to this crisis contradicts your public position against the death penalty.
The world’s most well-known prisoner and journalist, Mumia Abu-Jamal, is one of the thousands of prisoners threatened with execution through medical rights violations at the hands of prison officials in your state. This attempted execution, through a deliberate indifference to Mr. Abu-Jamal’s life-threatening health condition, is a further outrage that only compounds the earlier unlawful attempts by Pennsylvania to execute him.
As you know, the state of PA twice attempted to execute Mr. Abu-Jamal, and like many others he should never have been imprisoned. Two years after the passage of the Crime Bill, Congress also passed the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), which dramatically eroded the rights of prisoners to file writs of habeas corpus, and thereby eliminated the possibility that evidence of innocence in the Abu-Jamal case could be reviewed, by higher courts. The bill forced appellate judges to accept as “fact” evidence presented in the lower courts by police who, especially in Philadelphia, have a long history of falsifying, tampering with, lying about, and manufacturing evidence to obtain convictions.
Just a couple of weeks after the end of Mr. Abu-Jamal’s trial in 1982, fifteen of the thirty-five police officers who collected evidence at the crime scene of Officer Daniel Faulkner’s shooting were convicted and jailed on charges that included graft, corruption, extortion, and tampering with evidence to obtain convictions in hundreds of other cases. Chief Inspector Alfonzo Giordano, who led the crime scene investigation in Mr. Abu-Jamal’s case, was among those convicted officers.
The investigation that led to these convictions was conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia, with the approval of the U.S. Department of Justice under President Ronald Reagan. But the jury that heard Mr. Abu-Jamal’s trial only a couple of weeks earlier was not aware of these rampant police violations, so they believed the falsehoods that the police said at trial. Adding insult to injury, under the 1996 AEDPA, appellate judges were forced to accept as legitimate the “evidence” reviewed in the lower courts.
In 1995, an investigation of the Philadelphia Police Department discovered that police violations like these were still widespread in Philadelphia. Amidst the scandal, former Philadelphia DA Lynne Abraham told the Legal Intelligencer that her office would “discard any cases where evidence surfaces that even one of the officers involved in an investigation lied in court or in written reports.”
In fact such evidence has surfaced. In 2006, for example, photographs taken of the crime scene in the Abu-Jamal case by freelance photographer Pedro Polakoff proved that police officers had lied about and tampered with evidence. In just one of many instances of lying on the part of the police, Officer James Forbes, who testified in court that he properly handled the two guns allegedly retrieved at the Faulkner crime scene, is photographed holding the weapons with bare hands.
In 2016, after 33 years of injustice and wrongful imprisonment in this case, Mr. Abu-Jamal’s own personal medical crisis is now foregrounding and amplifying the medical rights violations that daily threaten prisoners’ lives across the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Because of this long history of injustice – involving Mr. Abu-Jamal and the thousands of other Hep C sufferers – we set before you the urgency of this most human of crises, a person’s health. We therefore are submitting, yet another request for a meeting with you.
We wish to remind you that during his tenure as the 42nd Governor of Pennsylvania, your predecessor, the late Robert Casey, Sr., granted our request for a meeting. At the time, our objective was to appeal to Governor Casey to resist political pressures that called on him, unlawfully, to sign Mr. Abu-Jamal’s death warrant before the appellate process had run its course. Despite the tough-on-crime frenzy that gripped the nation at that time, Governor Casey granted our request to meet and then also responded positively to our appeal and to the call of conscience. He did not sign the death warrant. All the more today, and in this moment of social upheaval and growing concern over the injustices daily meted out to prisoners in the nation’s prisons, we ask that you do the same.
As an urgent matter, for which we requested a meeting almost a month ago, we ask you to respond today, Thursday, April 21, by the end of the workday. On Friday, April 22, we either participate in a meeting with your representatives on the issues discussed above, or we make this an open letter to the Governor, to be shared with press and media outlets.
END OF LETTER
On Saturday, April 23, 2016, there was another rally and march through the community. There was a concert on the following evening. All of the events drew large and enthusiastic crowds; thus, testifying to the love and loyalty for Mumia Abu-Jamal and the determination to continue the fight for health and justice for all incarcerated persons.