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Abu-Jamal gathering to mark 30 years since his arrest

In the decades since his conviction in the 1981 murder of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner, Mumia Abu-Jamal has become one of the most recognized inmates in the world.

In the decades since his conviction in the 1981 murder of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner, Mumia Abu-Jamal has become one of the most recognized inmates in the world.

On Friday, supporters of the former radio reporter will hold a gathering at the National Constitution Center marking the 30th anniversary of his arrest in the slaying of Faulkner.

They will also pay tribute to Troy Davis, who was executed in September for the 1989 killing of a police officer in Savannah, Ga.

The free program - titled "We the People: Honor Troy Davis! Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!" - will be held at 7 p.m.

The event will feature speeches, panel discussions on the two cases, and performances by a youth theater group and others. About 900 people are expected to attend, organizers said.

The message of the gathering is that "Mumia has been tortured on death row for 30 years now and that he is an innocent man," said Johanna Fernandez, a historian, who will be the mistress of ceremonies for the event.

Fernandez, a professor of history at Baruch College, City University of New York, wrote and produced the 2010 documentary Justice on Trial: The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Among the speakers at the gathering will be Cornel West, author and professor at the Center for African Studies at Princeton University; Michelle Alexander, author and law professor at Ohio State University; Philadelphia lawyer and activist Michael Coard; and others.

"We will commemorate a free black man on death row for 30 years who deserves a fair trial," West said of Abu-Jamal. "We shall accent his vision, imagination, and intelligence that embraces the humanity of all."

Abu-Jamal is being held at the state prison in Greene County in Western Pennsylvania.

In a telephone interview Monday with radio host Barbara Grant on WURD-AM (900), Abu-Jamal, 57, was asked about the gathering at the National Constitution Center.

"People should always speak out against injustice affecting anyone anywhere," Abu-Jamal said. "It is ironic that it's at the Constitution Center. . . . We're one people who have never been given constitutional rights. The Constitution is the beginning, but we have to fight for our own rights."

The event is sponsored by the National Lawyers Guild, Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal, International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, and others.

Faulkner was on patrol in Center City on the night of Dec. 9, 1981, when, according to testimony, he pulled over a car driven by Abu-Jamal's brother, William Cook, at 13th and Locust Streets.

Abu-Jamal, moonlighting as a cabdriver, recognized his brother's car, ran toward them, and shot Faulkner, witnesses testified. A gunfight ensued, and Abu-Jamal was struck by a bullet from Faulkner's gun. Abu-Jamal was found slumped on a curb.

Witnesses said Abu-Jamal stood over the wounded officer and shot him in the face.

Neither Abu-Jamal nor Cook has testified about what happened that night. Abu-Jamal has denied shooting Faulkner.

John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, said it was clear that Abu-Jamal killed Faulkner.

"Anybody who is following him or championing his cause is misinformed or uneducated in the case itself," McNesby said. "Anybody who takes the time to read exactly what he did - and that was to assassinate Daniel Faulkner - they would get a different take on the case."

McNesby said that Faulkner gave his life, dying for the citizens of Philadelphia, and that Abu-Jamal's supporters are trying to make Abu-Jamal a celebrity.

Referring to Faulkner's widow, Maureen, McNesby said: "We're going to stand side-by-side with Maureen Faulkner. She knows she has a family of 7,000 police officers in this city."

In October, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a petition by the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office seeking to reinstate the death penalty against Abu-Jamal. The ruling means that, unless the District Attorney's Office decides to conduct a new sentencing hearing, Abu-Jamal will continue to serve a life sentence with no chance of parole.