The world’s most renowned death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal has been granted the right of appeal after 30 years. Eddie Conway, former Black Panther wrongfully convicted and Imprisoned for 44 years himself, now released, discusses Mumia’s case with Scholar Anthony Monteiro
EDDIE CONWAY: Welcome to this episode of Rattling the Bars. I’m Eddie Conway.
Former Black Panther, journalist, activist, and political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal may still have a chance to regain his freedom one day. Last week, a Philadelphia commons plea court judge ruled that Mumia Abu-Jamal can re-argue and appeal before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Judge Leon Tucker cited that then-Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille did not recuse himself due to his prior role as Philadelphia’s district attorney when Abu-Jamal initially appealed his case. Tucker wrote in his 36-page opinion that if a judge serves as prosecutor and then the judge, there’s no separate analysis or determination required by the court. There is a finding of automatic bias and due process violation.
Abu-Jamal was convicted and sentenced to death in 1982 for the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. For 37 years, activists have protested his conviction and imprisonment on grounds that insufficient evidence was provided at the time, and that the charges and eventual conviction was politically motivated.
Joining me to talk about Mumia Abu-Jamal’s case is Dr. Tony Monteiro, activist and scholar from Philadelphia. Tony, thanks for joining me.
ANTHONY MONTEIRO: It’s our pleasure to be with you.
EDDIE CONWAY: OK. A lot’s been going on up in Philadelphia lately around the Mumia Abu-Jamal case. What I’m curious about right now is what kind of impact this case had on the black community, and what’s happening in the community in reference to the case.
ANTHONY MONTEIRO: Well, I think this is a very important moment in the struggle for justice for Mumia, and ultimately for his freedom. And I think, from what I’ve heard and from what I’ve seen around the community, that this is considered a victory. And there’s a certain amount of celebration, although not unbridled, because we know that there’s still some way to go. But for the first time, Mumia’s case was heard before a judge who was not on the pay, was not politically obligated, to the Fraternal Order of Police or the corrupt elements in the criminal justice system. On the other side, the law was on his side because of the Williams v. Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision. And a judge, Leon Tucker, a fair judge, a black man from the black community, who grew up and, I am certain, went to law school and practiced law in the time of Mumia. And he had been aware of Mumia’s case probably for most of his life, for most of his professional life. So that was to our advantage and to Mumia’s advantage.
His lawyers made a brilliant presentation and argued on behalf of Mumia in a very competent way. And on the other side, the political geography has changed somewhat in the city of Philadelphia. In the last year we elected a DA for the first time who was not, again, obligated politically or financially to the Fraternal Order of Police. And so the situation is different in a positive way than it has been for Mumia for now going on for 39 years.
EDDIE CONWAY: One of the things that I’ve noticed, and I’ve kind of watched this case over the years, is that the black community have always remained involved in Mumia’s case, and they have always organized around it. Did that organizing have something to do with the election of–the support for the election of the new district attorney? Did that organizing have something to do with constantly bringing his case forward to challenge the injustice?
ANTHONY MONTEIRO: I’m certain it did. I’m certain it did. Along with, you know, the history of police murder and violence against black people, the corruption of the court system, and that history–you know, the almost 100-year history of the District Attorney’s Office as being a center of racism and of violence, and the covering up of violence against the black community. I think all of this played a huge role. And we cannot ever forget that it was the black community that elected Larry Krasner, that broke the–again, certainly the most, the 65-year history of the Democratic Party machine up literally deciding who would be the DA. And this corrupt political machine, along with the FOP, along with the corrupt and reactionary elements of the business establishment, and others, held on for dear life to the DA’s office, even as we elected black mayors and heads of city council, and other high elected offices.
The white establishment held onto the DA’s office. And it was with the election of Larry Krasner–and he was elected, we cannot say this enough, by the votes of the black community. Because they were at least two other candidates running who were backed by the FOP. And the black community put Larry Krasner in office. And for that reason, for the first time in maybe the history of the DA’s office, certainly for the last 65 years if not 100 years, the DA’s office was taken out of the hands of the of the police and of the corrupt judicial system itself.
EDDIE CONWAY: Well, do you think that the DA’s office–obviously Mumia has won the right to another appeal. It’s not the DA’s decision to deny him that right. But is it the DA’s decision not to contest his illegal sentence now?
ANTHONY MONTEIRO: Not to contest his right to appeal. That’s where we are now. And DA Krasner and his office will have to decide whether they will move to contest his right to appeal, or not to contest it. And I would suggest that Larry Krasner’s future, political future, will in large measure be decided by what he does at this time with the Mumia case. And again, I want to emphasize that it was the black community in particular–I like to make this point very, very clear–in particular, Eddie, the black working class who have suffered the most under police violence and the injustice of the criminal justice system. And it was they who elected Krasner. And it is upon their shoulders that not only Mumia’s future rests, in large measure, but Larry Krasner’s political future rests.
EDDIE CONWAY: OK. Because one of the things that I do know, I mean, with the MOVE bombing, with a number of attacks that has been taking place over the decades against MOVE, one of the things I notice is that MOVE continues to kind of organize in the community in a way that apparently then help empower the community. The only other situation I’ve kind of seen like this is with the Puerto Rican political prisoners in Chicago and in New York, in which they actually put forth their political power from down the grassroots level in the community. Is this a way forward for political prisoners in terms of getting out, organizing on that grassroots level?
ANTHONY MONTEIRO: Well, I think that’s what the future is. Organizing on the grassroots level means, in the end, the political education of the people. Because there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people across this country who are in prison because of their politics. Some would argue that most people who are locked up are in one another way political prisoners. I don’t know that I go that far. However, once we say, as in the case of Mumia, in the case of the MOVE 9, and many others, once we say they are political prisoners, the battle becomes a political battle. The legal struggle is only ancillary, or secondary, to the political struggle. And once we say it is a political struggle, then we’re talking about the role of the people, the role of the masses in deciding the outcomes of these things.
And you know, I want to underline once again, Eddie, because it’s not often recognized, certainly it’s not said enough, that ultimately, Mumia’s fate would be decided in Philadelphia by the progressive forces, and in particular black working people, who would have to change, as we have done, significant areas of the political landscape of Philadelphia. That has happened, to a large degree. And so it is the political struggle, the political education of the people of Philadelphia. And it is they who will decide this question on all sides. And that’s the message that I take from this. It elevates my confidence in the people, in ordinary people, to understand and to do the right thing. I think this message must be heard throughout this country and throughout the world, that it is the grassroots. That a political prisoner, for example, in the case of Mumia or the MOVE 9, who come from a certain community. It is that community which must be educated, which must be mobilized to ultimately free them. What happens nationwide and worldwide is only supportive of what the people in Philadelphia did and would do.
EDDIE CONWAY: OK. On that note, I’m going to keep an eye on this. And if things change and new developments come up I want to try to get back with you and talk about it and look at it a little more. So thanks for joining me.
ANTHONY MONTEIRO: I really appreciate it. I hope I was clear in my view of this situation.
EDDIE CONWAY: Very clear. Very clear. OK. Thank you, and thank you for joining me at The Real News.