This story originally appeared in Peoples Dispatch on Feb. 17, 2023. It is shared here under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 (CC BY-SA) license.
The decades-long struggle for the freedom of revolutionary leader, journalist, and US political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal received another boost of solidarity this week as a global campaign against his unjust incarceration was launched on Thursday, February 16. From the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 in the US, a host of organizations have joined the campaign.
A former member of the Black Panther Party, 68-year-old Abu-Jamal has spent over 40 years in prison, the majority of that time on death row, after he was convicted for the 1981 murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner in the city of Philadelphia.
The political nature of his persecution would become increasingly apparent, not only due to his work as a militant journalist, which he would continue in prison, but because of the fact that Abu-Jamal had been violently repressed and surveilled by state forces since the age of 14.
On February 16, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 in the US, which has a long history of radical organizing around issues of social and political justice, declared a stop work action and the shutdown of ports in the cities of San Francisco and Oakland in California.
A rally was also held from the union hall to the Harry Bridges Plaza in San Francisco, joined by local groups, including the Anti Police Terror Project. It was attended by Abu-Jamal’s grandson, Jamal, and Fred Hampton Junior, the son of slain revolutionary Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton and the chairman of the Black Panther Party Cubs.
The global solidarity campaign has been launched at a time when Abu-Jamal’s defenders and supporters are awaiting a crucial court decision. While his trial had already been marred by corruption, racism, and grave instances of official misconduct, a major discovery came in 2018 in the form of six boxes of evidence that were “found” in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office.
These included proof that the prosecution in Abu-Jamal’s original hearing had bribed a witness, Robert Chobert, to claim that he had seen Abu-Jamal shoot and kill Daniel Faulkner. Other evidence includes an offer of leniency to another witness who was undergoing separate criminal proceedings at the time, as well as efforts by the prosecutor to remove Black people from the potential jury pool for the trial.
On December 16, 2022, a hearing was held before Judge Lucretia Clemons of the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas on a Post Conviction Relief Application for a chance for a new trial filed by Abu-Jamal’s defense.
Judge Clemons did not issue a decision that day, while ordering the prosecution to turn over up to 200 boxes of documents and materials in Abu-Jamal’s case to his defense team. With a final ruling on the matter expected by March 16, organizations including the ILWU Local 10 are ramping up their efforts for Abu-Jamal’s release.
Addressing an ILWU Local 10 press conference ahead of Thursday’s rally, prominent political activist and academic Angela Davis said: “The campaign to free Mumia is not so much an effort to achieve the freedom of a single individual, as it is an effort to win Mumia’s release so that he will be able to more effectively do the work he has continued to do throughout his long incarceration… to free all political prisoners, to further the abolitionist movement with respect to prisons, police, child protective services, schools… and to give us all leadership in the movement to defend the rights of working people everywhere.”
Read Angela Davis’ letter to NUMSA General Secretary Irvin Jim: We have the best chance in a very long time to actually achieve Mumia’s freedom
This has been underscored by the way in which Abu-Jamal’s struggle has been championed by workers’ organizations and people’s movements in different parts of the world, including the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), which has been at the forefront of these international solidarity efforts.
“[Abu-Jamal’s] only ‘crime’ is exposing the racist, capitalist justice system in the US which for decades defended and supported the Apartheid government [in South Africa],” the union had said in 2021.
In a letter addressed to Judge Clemons, NUMSA General Secretary Irvin Jim wrote, “We understand the continued dehumanization of Mumia Abu-Jamal within the context of the long struggle for Black liberation in America… It is a damning indictment of US freedom and all people of the world who are fighting for justice that today members of the Black Panther Party are still in jail for life, for fighting for the rights of Black people.”
Emphasizing the importance of international solidarity in the struggle for liberation, Jim added, “[we] have resolved to continue to be strengthened by our belief that it is humanity that believes in justice that has always changed the course of history. That humanity that advances the struggle for justice changes the world not in conditions of its own choosing. But it is the forces of justice and humanity that make the world a better place against the forces that are fueled by greed.”
Read Irvin Jim’s letter to Judge Clemons: We firmly believe that the time has come that justice must prevail and Mumia Abu-Jamal must be set free.