LAST WEEK, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams announced that his office would no longer pursue the death penalty against Mumia Abu-Jamal. This announcement, combined with the huge pro-Mumia event at the National Constitution Center, has brought his case back to the center of public conversation. As a Mumia supporter, and as a friend who has co-authored a book with him, I have many questions to answer over the case.
Here are the ones I get asked most often:
Q: Why are you backing a cop-killer?
A: There isn't a day that goes by in which I don't get asked this illogical and typically disingenuous question, which rests upon the assumption that I believe Mumia killed a cop and still support him. In truth, I do not believe that Mumia is guilty, and I offer him my unwavering support.
If I believed that Mumia Abu-Jamal murdered Officer Daniel Faulkner, I wouldn't lend my support. My decision is based on my certainty that he is both factually innocent and legally not guilty.
Q: If you actually read the facts of the case instead of listening to the rhetoric of his supporters, you wouldn't be saying this.
A: If I had a dollar for every time someone offered this condescending remark, we wouldn't need to raise money for Mumia's legal defense. Contrary to what his opponents say, a close analysis of the facts supports a "Free Mumia" position. From the clear police misconduct, to the biased judge, to the questionable ballistics, to the recanting witnesses, there is no doubt in my mind that Mumia didn't commit the crime.
Even if you think Mumia is guilty (but still respect that dusty old document known as the Constitution), there's no doubt that he didn't receive a fair trial. This is why Amnesty International released a report showing how his trial failed to meet international standards of fairness. Besides, if the facts against Mumia are so damning, why not give him a new trial and shut us all up?
Q: If you knew him, you would see that he's not a good person.
A: Actually, I do know him. For years, I have been in regular contact with Mumia and consider him a friend and colleague. Over the past two years, while collaborating on our new book, The Classroom and the Cell: Conversations on Black Life in America, I have come to see him as more than a leftist icon or cause celebre.
I've come to know him as an activist, journalist and critical thinker. I've also come to see him as a loving father, brother, son and friend. In other words, I've come to see him as a person. Without exaggeration, he is one of the most peaceful, gentle and loving human beings that I've ever encountered. While this doesn't prove innocence, it certainly allows me to speak to his character.
Q: So now that he's off death row, why are you still complaining?
A: Because he still faces life in prison with no chance of parole for a crime he didn't commit. The gravity of his sentence, combined with the spirit-killing nature of prison, means that Mumia is still facing a death sentence.
Q: What about Maureen Faulkner? Don't you care about her feelings?
A: Honestly, I do. I can only imagine the pain and trauma that she feels after losing her beloved husband to an act of unexpected violence. Without question, she and her loved ones deserve justice and closure. The problem, however, is that she cannot get either by relentlessly pursuing the wrong person. That isn't justice. It's bloodlust. And that will never produce closure.
Q: So what's next?
A: We continue to fight. The developments of the past few weeks are the fruit of three decades of international struggle. It hasn't been easy and victory has never seemed uncertain, but we achieved a significant victory anyway. Now comes the hard part!