No Execution for Mumia: 30 Years after a Police Shooting, Abu-Jamal Backers Vow to Free Him from Life in Prison
The mood was both celebratory and angry among a 1000-plus overflow audience packed into the balcony space of the Constitution Center in Philadelphia on the evening of Dec. 9.
The crowd of supporters of Philadelphia journalist and black political activist Mumia Abu-Jamal had come to denounce the over 29 years that he has spent locked in solitary confinement on Pennsylvania’s grim death row since his controversial conviction for the shooting of a white police officer, Daniel Faulkner. But they were also there to celebrate the surprise decision, announced two days earlier by Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, not to seek to reinstate Abu-Jamal’s death sentence, which had been permanently vacated by a recent decision of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Technically, the Supreme Court, last Oct. 11, had decided not to review a decision by a Third Circuit Court panel that had upheld a 2001 Federal Judge’s ruling declaring his 1982 death sentence to have been unconstitutional. The Federal Court and Appeals Court decisions had been had been the subject of costly and futile appeals by the Philadelphia district attorney’s office for years, all the way to the Supreme Court.
The event at the Constitution Center had initially been planned to mark the 30th anniversary of the shooting incident that had led to Abu-Jamal’s arrest and to his trial and conviction. But only two days before, Williams, who had 180 days from the Supreme Court’s ruling to decide whether to request a new jury trial to attempt to win a new death sentence, had held a press conference to announce that he would not take that step, and would instead allow Abu-Jamal’s penalty to revert automatically to life in prison without parole.
The crowd, surely the largest to attend an event in support of Abu-Jamal in years, had thus come both to celebrate the end to the death threat facing the veteran journalist and world-renowned symbol of America’s obsession with state murder, and also to demand that he not instead be “left to rot” in a regular prison for the rest of his life.
That is Abu-Jamal’s fate as things stand under Pennsylvania’s death penalty law, which gives capital juries only two choices once they have convicted someone of murder in a death penalty case--death, or life in prison without possibility of parole--and which automatically imposes life without parole if a death penalty is subsequently overturned on appeal.
The clear sentiment in the crowded Constitution Center last night was that this alternative for Abu-Jamal, which Nobel Peace Laureate and famed anti-apartheid opponent, the former Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa termed "another kind of death penalty," would be absolutely unacceptable.