Supporters of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer in 1981, used the 39th anniversary of his arrest to call for his release from prison on Wednesday, saying he was innocent.
They also condemned the 1985 bombing of the MOVE compound in West Philadelphia and rejected a recent apology Philadelphia city councilmembers offered for the city’s actions that day in starting a fire that killed 11 people.
The group, many of them MOVE members, gathered at the corner of 52nd and Larchwood Streets to demand freedom for Abu-Jamal, 66, a MOVE supporter who lived under a death sentence for two decades before his sentence was overturned by a federal judge in 2001. He’s now serving life without parole for the Dec. 9, 1981, slaying of Officer Daniel Faulkner.
Despite Abu-Jamal’s conviction and numerous failed appeals, his supporters maintain that he is not guilty of killing Faulkner, who was 25, and that his trial was tainted by racism and corruption.
“His only crime was that he survived a vicious ass-whooping, [being] shot in his chest, and a whole bunch of prison time, 39 years,” his wife, Wadiya Jamal, told a crowd of about 35 people.
Faulkner’s widow, Maureen, and Philadelphia police have actively defended the conviction, arguing that the evidence of Abu-Jamal’s guilt was clear and noting that the verdict had survived numerous appeals.
The campaign to free the former taxi driver, Black Panther member, and author of 13 books garnered support last month from former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who said Abu-Jamal was framed and called for his release from prison.
That demand was echoed at Wednesday’s rally, as was the rejection of City Council’s apology. In November, all councilmembers voted in favor of the apology except Brian O’Neill.
Janine Africa, 65, a MOVE member who spent 41 years in prison for the 1978 death of a Philadelphia police officer who died during a clash with the group, characterized the apology as a public relations stunt.
“An apology with no action behind it is meaningless,” she said. “Show us a symbol of your sincerity by releasing Mumia Abu-Jamal.”
Pam Africa, a MOVE leader, thanked the members of City Council who supported the apology, saying they had “good hearts” and were “courageous.” But she, too, said it is not enough. “An apology can’t bring our family members back, and it doesn’t mean anything if they don’t bring Mumia home,” she said.
Faulkner and Abu-Jamal crossed paths shortly before 4 a.m. after the officer pulled over a car being driven by Abu-Jamal’s brother, William Cook.
Abu-Jamal, who happened upon the traffic stop while driving his taxi, shot Faulkner in the back with a .38-caliber revolver as his brother fought with the officer, and Faulkner turned and shot Abu-Jamal in the upper chest before dying, according to trial testimony.