[Marxism] Anti-death group says others abandon fight for Mumia Abu-Jamal;

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Tue Jul 13 17:16:22 MDT 2010

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The Campaign to End the Death Penalty (CEDP) is appalled by the news that
several individuals of leading anti-death penalty organizations have signed
a confidential memorandum stating that the "involvement of Mumia Abu-Jamal
endangers the U.S. coalition for abolition of the death penalty." The memo
further argues that the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty should not
highlight Mumia's case because doing so "unnecessarily attracts our
strongest opponents and alienates coalition partners at a time when we need
to build alliances, not foster hatred and enmity."
This memo was drafted on December 21, 2009, yet it only recently came to
light following the 4th World Congress Against the Death Penalty, held on
March 4 in Geneva, Switzerland. At this meeting, a telephone call came in
from Mumia Abu-Jamal, and he addressed the audience. At this point, several
members of U.S. abolitionist groups got up and walked out in protest.
The Campaign to End the Death Penalty strongly condemns this action and
completely disagrees with the approach to the anti-death penalty struggle
that this memo puts forth.
First of all, we unequivocally support and endorse Mumia Abu-Jamal in his
struggle for justice. We believe in his innocence and see Mumia's case as
fraught with many of the same injustices as other death penalty
cases--racial bias, police misconduct and brutality, and prosecutorial and
judicial prejudice.
Mumia Abu-Jamal has been on Pennsylvania's death row for the past 28 years
and remains there because the courts, under pressure from the Fraternal
Order of Police, have thwarted his efforts to win his freedom. From his
prison cell, Mumia has galvanized an international movement of support
towards his efforts to win justice. He has written numerous books and
articles shedding light on our prison-industrial complex as well as other
historical and current political issues. He is widely read, known and
respected. His commentaries on prison radio are nothing short of brilliant.
He has helped to educate millions of people about the true workings of the
criminal justice system. But most importantly, he has been an inspiration to
all those fighting to win abolition, lending his voice of hope, his
encouragement and his unfaltering determination to our movement.
So why would a delegation of U.S. abolitionists would get up and walk out of
a meeting when Mumia addresses the audience? Shouldn't they have stood and
The explanation for this reprehensible action is explained in the secret
memo, which basically puts forth the argument that to have anything to do
with Mumia's case ruins the chances of winning abolition of the death
Why? Here is what the memo states, in part: "The support of law enforcement
officials is essential to achieving abolition in the United States. It is
essential to the national abolition strategy of U.S. abolition activists and
attorneys that we cultivate the voices of police, prosecutors and law
enforcement experts to support our call for an end to the death penalty."
This statement points to a very disturbing direction that we have observed
in recent years among some organizations in the abolition movement--of
compromising our message in order to win the support of conservatives. This
has lead leading death penalty organizations to downplay the impact of race
in the criminal justice system and to advocate reaching out to law
enforcement as a means of winning abolition of the death penalty.
Those who espouse this strategy ignore or downplay the role that police play
in railroading many poor people and African Americans onto death row. They
ignore the role that police, prosecutors and judges play as guardians of an
unjust legal system that disproportionately targets the poor and people of
color. The outcome of this strategy has led to the marginalization of
prisoners like Mumia, whose voices from behind prison walls are so important
in this fight.
The individuals who drafted the memo go on to identify the voices that they
seek to include: "The voices of the Innocent, the voices of Victims and the
voices of Law Enforcement are the most persuasive factors in changing public
opinion and the views of decision-makers (politicians) and opinion leaders
(the media). Continuing to shine a spotlight on Abu-Jamal, who has had so
much public exposure for so many years, threatens to alienate these three
most important partnership groups."
We in the CEDP couldn't disagree more with this strategy. We believe the
most "persuasive factor" in changing public opinion is to build a vocal,
visible movement that forthrightly puts forward its demands-- instead of
working to make our message palatable to the opposition.
Consider the analogies to past struggles. What if Martin Luther King
compromised the goals of integration in order to reach out and try to win
over segregationists? No, he reached out to organize and uplift progressive
forces into fighting for change. That is the kind of strategy we need.
The men and women on death row across the country--including the guilty--are
not our enemy. The enemy is the system of punitive thought that portrays
them as monsters so that the public can feel okay about killing them. It is
part of the punitive philosophy upon which the legal system is based--the
same system that breeds crime in the first place, that gives so little
support to victims of abuse, that says it believes in rehabilitation but
then won't fund it, that says it believes in education but then takes money
away to build prisons instead.
We reject the logic of having the Fraternal Order of Police as a partner or
ally. The FOP has organized against our efforts to win justice for Mumia,
for Troy Davis, for the Burge Torture victims in Chicago and countless
Our approach is based on an anti-racist perspective. We know that the
history of aggressive policing, sentencing and the death penalty has its
roots in slavery--that the tough on crime rhetoric of
lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key is racially coded language.
The Campaign stands completely and unequivocally with Mumia Abu-Jamal. We
also stand by a different strategy to win abolition.
Instead of marginalizing voices like Mumia, we should be developing more
innovative and creative ways to put them forward--and not just Mumia's, but
others, including Troy Davis, Rodney Reed and Kevin Cooper, to name a few.
We need to put the human face on this issue. We need to build a movement
that challenges the racism and class bias nature of the death penalty--and
to point out that these injustices exist in the broader criminal justice
system as well.
In order to build a fight that can win real justice, we cannot marginalize
"divisive" issues like racism. Instead, we have to take them on frontally.
And instead of reaching out to the conservative elements in society, we
should be reaching out to progressive elements and building bridges there.
Let's not forget that the lowest level of support for the death penalty (42
percent) was in 1966, at the height of the civil rights movement. Let's work
to place the fight for abolition squarely in the progressive camp, where it
most surely belongs.


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