Many Philadelphians remember exactly what they were doing when they learned that 25-year-old police officer Daniel Faulkner had been gunned down on Dec. 8, 1981 at 13th and Locust Streets. It’s our local “where you were when JFK was shot,” an indelible memory that shapes how we understand the city.
In the aftermath, Philadelphians learned more about Mumia Abu-Jamal, the man accused of killing Faulkner. A member of the Black Panthers, he stoked racial division with his radical ideas and political activism. In the years since his conviction, questions have been raised about the impartiality of the trial, with some supporters calling him a political prisoner.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Philadelphians have taken sides when it comes to Abu-Jamal. There are those who think he should be freed from prison and those who think he deserves the death penalty.
As the decades have passed, Abu-Jamal and his lawyers have filed copious appeals in an attempt to end his prison sentence. In 2011, Philadelphia prosecutors, under then-District Attorney Seth Williams, announced that they had halted the state’s effort to execute Abu-Jamal.
I stand in support of Faulkner and his wife, Maureen, who has been tireless in her efforts for justice for her murdered husband. In my opinion, it is an abomination that Abu-Jamal is not only still breathing but considered the icon of a social justice movement.
But District Attorney Larry Krasner and his groupies disagree.
On Wednesday, Krasner’s office announced that he was dropping his office’s opposition to a judge’s ruling that will allow Abu-Jamal to re-argue his appeal before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, making way for the case to again go before the state’s highest court and causing more anguish for Faulkner’s family.
Abu-Jamal’s renewed hope is because of procedural irregularities — namely, the fact that a judge found that Ron Castille, who became district attorney after Abu-Jamal was convicted in 1982, did not recuse himself from hearing an appeal from the defendant when Castille became a Supreme Court justice. Krasner initially fought against the ruling that would allow Abu-Jamal to argue his appeal again before the high court, but gave in. In a press release, he said, “Although the issue is technical, it is also an important cautionary tale on the systemic problems that flow from a judge’s failing to recuse himself where there is an appearance of bias.”
It’s hardly surprising to me that Krasner, who has a background as a public defender and has drawn criticism for lacking sensitivity toward victims and their families, would not oppose Abu-Jamal’s attempt to abuse the system with one more baseless appeal. Krasner has shown that his inclination is to empathize with the accused. Take for example: the young food delivery man who allegedly stabbed real-estate agent Sean Schellenger in Rittenhouse Square, or the man who allegedly shot a South Philly grocery store owner, or the two men who pleaded guilty for killing police officer Robert Wilson III in a North Philly video game shop.
What’s especially galling about Krasner’s refusal to stop Abu-Jamal from victimizing Maureen Faulkner with the agony of yet another appeals process is the fact that his actions perpetuate the myth that Abu-Jamal is a victim of the system — despite thousands of pages of transcripts, hours of eyewitness testimony, appeal after appeal, and court ruling after court ruling proving otherwise.
Abu-Jamal is not a victim. He is the darling of social justice warriors who see in him a chance to attack the establishment. More important, he and his lawyers have never provided legitimate proof that his conviction was tainted. His legal team has nothing more than bullhorns and grievance in their arsenal. Four decades of fact-finders and legal minds have echoed the same word: guilty.
My hope is that if Abu-Jamal does go before the state Supreme Court that the District Attorney’s Office will use that opportunity to argue in favor of keeping him in prison where he belongs.