Supporters of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer in 1981, held a noon rally in front of the District Attorney’s Office on Saturday, contending he has COVID-19 and renewing their demands he be released from prison.
About 40 people gathered outside 3 Penn Square, across from City Hall, holding signs that read “Innocent with COVID symptoms” and “Immediate Release,” and playing reggae songs through a speaker, including “Shackles” by Sister Carol.
Several passing cars honked in support, while one slowed down as an occupant shouted an anti-Abu-Jamal sentiment punctuated with profanity.
During a phone interview earlier Saturday morning, MOVE activist Pam Africa said prison officials deny Abu-Jamal has COVID-19, but he believes that is the obvious explanation for his symptoms.
“His breathing is challenging, and he’s afraid his lungs will be compromised,” Africa said. She learned from him he was sick Friday night, Africa said at the rally.
In an announcement on Twitter Saturday morning, rally organizers called for not only the release of Abu-Jamal but all inmates older than 50 and any who are “medically vulnerable.”
Abu-Jamal, 67, is “medically vulnerable” and experiencing shortness of breath and chest pains, according to the tweet.
Maria Bivens, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, replied to a request for comment by emailing, “Medical information about an inmate is not public information.” She said the department’s website lists COVID-19 treatment and mitigation efforts.
A spokesperson for District Attorney Larry Krasner did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Abu-Jamal’s supporters, many of them MOVE members, have long demanded freedom for him. He lived under a death sentence for two decades after his conviction for the slaying of Officer Daniel Faulkner, who was 25. That sentence was overturned by a judge in 2011. Abu-Jamal is serving a life sentence without parole at the State Correctional Institution – Mahanoy.
Despite Abu-Jamal’s conviction and numerous failed appeals, his supporters maintain that he is not guilty and that his trial was tainted by racism and corruption, allegations that were repeated at Saturday’s demonstration.