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Celebrities rush to embrace Abu-Jamal

Maureen Faulkner is the widow of Daniel Faulkner, a Philadelphia police officer who died in the line of duty in 1981.

The book prints the names of dozens of celebrities signing a New York Times ad demanding a new trial for Abu-Jamal.
The book prints the names of dozens of celebrities signing a New York Times ad demanding a new trial for Abu-Jamal.Read more

Maureen Faulkner

is the widow of Daniel Faulkner, a Philadelphia police officer who died in the line of duty in 1981.

Michael Smerconish

is a radio talk-show host and columnist for the Inquirer's Sunday Currents section.

The following are excerpts from a forthcoming book by Maureen Faulkner and Michael Smerconish titled "Murdered by Mumia: A Life Sentence of Pain, Loss and Injustice." In it, Maureen Faulkner retells the death of her husband, Daniel; the trial of Mumia Abu-Jamal, accused and later convicted of his murder; and the long succession of trials and hearings in the years since. She also recounts her horrified reaction to the rise of the international "Free Mumia" movement.

Chapter 18 Hollywood and the New York Times

Abu-Jamal's celebrity supporters were not content to allow the legal process to run its course unfettered by their onerous influence. Their ranks were growing and they demanded attention. On August 9, 1995, just as the Post-Conviction Relief Act hearing was in full stride in Philadelphia's City Hall, a full-page advertisement appeared on Abu-Jamal's behalf - not in the Philadelphia Inquirer, mind you, but in the New York Times. It prominently featured the A-list of Abu-Jamal Hollywood supporters: Alec Baldwin, Mike Farrell, Spike Lee, Susan Sarandon, Oliver Stone. It was a veritable Who's Who of left-wingers and all were willing to lend their names to a man whom a jury concluded had murdered a law enforcement officer.

One month prior to the New York Times ad, on July 14, 1995, E.L. Doctorow, a longtime Abu-Jamal supporter, had penned a column of support that also ran in the New York Times. Doctorow's Op-Ed read like the Team Mumia Mission Statement. He put forth the usual hackneyed arguments discrediting Abu-Jamal's conviction and disparaging the eyewitnesses. To the well-informed, the piece was easily dismissed, but to the uninitiated I suppose it presented a rather compelling portrayal of an innocent man on death row. Doctorow ended the piece by questioning: "Will the pain of Officer Faulkner's widow, who supports Mr. Jamal's execution, be resolved if it turns out that the wrong man has been executed and her husband's killer still walks the streets?"

Doctorow's article was clearly a clever ruse to try to sway the court and manipulate public opinion. Adding salt to my wounds, at this time I had to sit and listen to the Abu-Jamal witnesses tell endless lies in the PCRA hearings and hear so-called character witnesses say what a wonderful man Abu-Jamal was - without any regard for Danny.

The Internet was taking hold about that time and also fueling my fury (at this point we still called it the "World Wide Web"). I remember a reporter once telling me Abu-Jamal was a hero in "cyberspace." I had never even heard the word, and needless to say, I had not yet taken advantage of the Internet as a resource for Danny's cause; however, the Abu-Jamal defenders wasted no time in establishing sites in several languages. As if international celebrity was not enough for the convicted cop killer, he was now also quickly becoming the downtrodden darling of cyberspace, too. . . .

And, just when I thought it could not get any worse, there came a full-page ad in the New York Times, with these words gracing the top of page A-13 on August 9, 1995: "MUMIA ABU-JAMAL MUST HAVE A NEW TRIAL."

The copy continued with an opening sentence that many such writings on Abu-Jamal have replicated. Take a look at the text of the ad:

Award winning journalist, talk show host, former Black Panther and MOVE supporter Mumia Abu-Jamal was convicted in 1982 of killing a Philadelphia police officer and sentenced to death. As E.L. Doctorow details below, Abu-Jamal's trial was full of gross procedural errors and judicial misconduct. There is strong reason to believe that, as an outspoken critic of the Philadelphia police and the judicial and prison systems, Mumia Abu-Jamal has been sentenced to death because of his political beliefs. Human Rights Watch gave him one of its 1995 awards for authors under political persecution, and Amnesty International stated that the government: "appears to have overtly used Mumia Abu-Jamal's past political beliefs and affiliations . . . to impose the death penalty." Seven days after his death warrant was signed and two months before his scheduled execution, Abu-Jamal's access to family, legal counsel, and reading and writing materials was restricted in punishment for publication of his book,

Live From Death Row

. As Abu-Jamal, known as the "voice of the voiceless," put it, "They don't just want my death, they want my silence."

There you have it. Not one iota of factual information. The ad is awash with speculation and cites a fraudulent tome written by one of their own (Doctorow) as the factual support for its case. I concede that it might sound somewhat compelling to some, especially with the ad's reference to the Human Rights Watch Award and Amnesty International's opinion of his case. Nevertheless, I'm equally sure that none of those who then affixed their names to the above message have ever spent the time to read the five thousand pages of transcript from Abu-Jamal's 1982 trial. I think it is important that I name names. I want there to be a book record of every single person who allowed their name to be set in newsprint on behalf of the man who murdered my husband. Thus, I hereby present you with the official wall of shame:

Adjoa A. Aiyetoro, Shana Alexander, Laurie Anderson, Maya Angelou, Paul Auster, Alec Baldwin, Russell Banks, John Perry Barlow, Richard J. Barnet, Derrick Bell, Dennis Brutus, David Byrne, Naomi Campbell, Robbie Conal, Denise Caruso, Noam Chomsky, Richard A. Cloward, Ben Cohen , Kerry Kennedy Cuomo, Ron Daniels, U.S. Rep. Ronald V. Dellums, Dominique de Menil, Jacques Derrida, David Dinkins, E. L. Doctorow , Roger Ebert, Jason Epstein, Susan Faludi, Mike Farrell, Timothy Ferris, Eileen Fisher, Henry Louis Gates, Terry Gilliam, Danny Glover, Leon Golub, Nadine Gordimer, Stephen Jay Gould, Günter Grass, Herbert Chao Gunther, Jack Healey, Edward S. Herman, Jim Hightower, James Hillman, bell hooks, Molly Ivins, Bill T. Jones, June Jordan, Mitchell Kapor, Casey Kasem, C. Clark Kissinger, Herbert Kohl, Jonathan Kozol, Tony Kushner, John Landis, Spike Lee, Edward Lewis, Maya Lin, Norman Mailer, Frederick Marx, Nion McEvoy, Bobby McFerrin, Susan Meiselas, Nancy Meyer, Pedro Meyer, Jessica Mitford, Michael Moore, Frank Moretti, James Parks Morton, Paul Newman, Peter Norton, Joyce Carol Oates, Dean Ornish, MD, Grace Paley, Alan Patricof, Martin D. Payson, Frances Fox Piven, Katha Pollit, Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ, Charles B. Rangel, Adrienne Rich, Tim Robbins, David A. Ross, Salman Rushdie, Susan Sarandon, Charles C. Savitt, André Schiffrin, Peter Sellers, Nancy Spero, Art Spiegelman, Bob Stein, Gloria Steinem, Sting, Michael Stipe, Oliver Stone, Brian Stonehill, Nadine Strossen, Trudie Styler, William Styron, Edith Tiger, Edward R. Tufte, Eric Utne, Bill Viola, Alice Walker, Cornel West, Marc Weiss, John Edgar Wideman, Garry Wills, Joanne Woodward, and Peter Yarrow.

I bitterly remember and resent each and every celebrity who has proclaimed support for Abu-Jamal. When, in 1996, Bill Clinton invited Whoopi to host his fiftieth birthday party, I was appalled. I fired off a telegram to the White House saying so. I wrote: "My husband, Officer Daniel Faulkner, was killed in the line of duty. His convicted murderer is Mumia Abu-Jamal. Whoopi Goldberg is on the Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal. Do you want someone who supports a convicted cop killer to host your 50th birthday? I know the law enforcement across this country will be appalled." I signed it: "Widow of Officer." Leon Panetta, the President's Chief of Staff, responded this way: "Let me assure you that Ms. Goldberg's participation in the President's birthday does not imply that he endorses her view on this particular matter. . . ." I am just glad that there were no memoirs read at the gala.

When a public figure chooses to support a murderer . . . it is a serious political position that threatens undue meddling in the affairs of other people's lives. Given the importance of this stance, it is therefore shocking to realize how willing people have been to overlook celebrities' support for my husband's murderer and celebrate their stardom without any consideration for their publicly proclaimed principles.

With notable exceptions, this has been the case even in Philadelphia. The most glaring manifestation of this tendency was in 2005 when Philadelphia's elite gathered at the newly minted Kimmel Center to fete Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee with the Marian Anderson Award. It was during this ceremony that Mayor John Street, the very face of Philadelphia, exalted Ossie and Ruby, proclaiming that "they exemplify the power of the artist to change the world. They were among the most vocal Americans in support of the early days of the Civil Rights Movement. They used the power of their roles as critically acclaimed artists to effect change in society in areas where change was most needed."

Shame on you, Mr. Street. Ossie and Ruby were indeed vocal Americans, I do concede. However, short of changing the world for effecting positive change, I only remember Ossie's loud bark as he protested alongside Jesse Jackson in support of Abu-Jamal. I remember his booming assertions as he spoke on Abu-Jamal's behalf at Madison Square Garden. I will never forget Ossie Davis' public pilgrimage to visit Abu-Jamal behind bars. And I will also never forget that it was Ossie who, in 1995, after Governor Ridge signed the death warrant, issued a statement under the letterhead of "Committee to Save Mumia Abu-Jamal" in which he called the fulfillment of the jury sentence "an outrage." I have not forgotten this, Mr. Street. I never will. Why have you?