One Life To Give
On December 9, 1981, a white Philadelphia police officer was fatally shot. On July 3, 1982, Mumia Abu-Jamal, a black man, was convicted of his murder and sentenced to death. On May 22, 1996, he received a second trial and was again convicted of the same charge. He is sentenced to die on December 2. The hours grow short until this man, who has promoted through his writings and speeches an image of himself as falsely accused, is ushered into the record books as one more name dealt justice by the American people. But who constitutes the American people? Is it a judge in a courtroom, or the thousands of people who have protested Abu-Jamal's death as the death of an innocent, an intellectual, and above all, a black man in a white man's system?
The validity of the conviction has been widely questioned in the press. Stuart Taylor Jr., who covered the case for Court TV, states that Abu-Jamal "received an unfair trial, tainted by . . . flagrantly biased judging and, in all probability, police fabrication of evidence and intimidation of witnesses." However, more interesting and more important than the legal aspects of the trials is the emotional aspect, the outpouring of support for Abu-Jamal. Bill Bickel, after having recently made an extensive survey of the opinions voiced about the case, found literally hundreds of websites protesting the death sentence and only one website supporting it-created by the police officer's family. It has been pure gravy for Mumia, a wealth of public indignation for, as the organization Refuse & Resist dubs him, "an unrepentant Black political prisoner who is the voice of the voiceless."
This near canonization of the man goes beyond anything which can be attributed to charisma or his articulate portrayals of prison life. He has been, partly through his own efforts, imbued with the sanctity of a symbol, a "voice" rather than a "prisoner." On November 15, Angela Y. Davis, June Jordan, and Alice Walker wrote a plea for Mumia Abu-Jamal's life inThe Nation. It is a clear announcement of the widely held belief that by saving the life of this one man we can begin to unravel the horrible racial tangle in which this country finds itself. Not even the UN, with its 1997 statement that in the US "race, ethnic origin, and economic status appear to be key determinants of who will, and who will not, receive a death sentence," managed to trigger such political opposition to the racist policies behind the death sentence as has the cult of one individual. Abu-Jamal, states the article in The Natio, "ennobles the rest of us to deepen, enlarge and improve our political opposition to a state gone mad with greed and the...