Almost 20 years after a police officer was killed on the streets of Philadelphia, the controversy surrounding the case looms as a high profile hot-button issue.
Varying interpretations of the facts are flare passionate beliefs and cause conflicts.
Nearly every detail of the case has been debated, but the undisputed facts are that Police Officer Daniel Faulkner was shot several times at 13th and Locust Streets. Beyond that, the circumstances of the murder and the procedures for convicting Mumia Abu-Jamal have met widespread controversy.
A jury convicted Abu-Jamal of first-degree murder and sentenced him to death for the murder of Faulkner on July 3, 1982.
The case has gained international attention from South Africa to France, where Abu-Jamal was recently made an honorary citizen.
“I don’t understand why people in other countries get involved in this,” said Temple student Joe Irizarry. “What do they know?”
One place where the case has played a major political role is on college campuses. On Saturday, April 29, Abu-Jamal delivered a recorded commencement address at the graduation ceremony of Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. The decision to invite Abu-Jamal as the speaker has sparked criticism and compliments.
“The FOP is behind the nationwide smear campaign against students at Antioch College in Ohio. The graduating class there has courageously invited Mumia Abu-Jamal to be a commencement speaker,” said Monica Moorehead, an organizer of an upcoming New York rally for Abu-Jamal.
In a recent letter to Antioch College President Robert H. Devine, Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham chided the college for inviting a convicted killer to be an honored speaker for its students.
“The issue, as you all too well know, is not whether Abu-Jamal has a constitutional right of free speech but rather the notion that convicted murderers do not and, indeed, should not enjoy the same rights as law abiding citizens,” Abraham wrote. “The unjustifiable decision to provide this convicted killer with a platform from which to speak to Antioch graduating seniors, faculty and friends is an insult to every crime victim.”
A pro-Abu-Jamal rally is scheduled for Sunday, May 7, at 2 p.m., in the Theater at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan. The issues to be presented include getting a new trial for Abu-Jamal, ending the death penalty, fighting racism and fighting against police brutality.
“I’m against capital punishment myself,” said Bill Bora, president of anti-Abu-Jamal group FairmountOnline.com. “I don’t think he should be killed as the Pennsylvania court has said. I think he should be incarcerated forever.”
FairmountOnline.com is a local community website for the Art Museum and Fairmount area that has been in existence for almost two years. The organization is planning to bus residents to New York to be part of a counter-demonstration in at the May 7 event.
“We’re looking to have this bus there to make sure Officer Faulkner’s position is honored and I expect to have a lot of support from people in the New York community, too,” Bora said. “We really want this to be peaceful and hopefully have people look into the issue more deeply.”
Bora expects 48 people to go on the trip, but more buses will be added if the demand arises.
“Police threats will only cause us to redouble our efforts to fill Madison Square Garden to overflowing,” according to a written statement from Moorehead, a coordinator of the May 7 Mobilization. The May 7 Mobilization for Mumia is the group planning the event to bring Abu-Jamal supporters to New York for the rally. “Whenever the cops go ballistic over a Mumia-friendly event, it always ends up helping Mumia’s cause.”
The Fairmount bus trip has been funded by local businesses. The Yellowbird Bus Company donated the bus and many local businesses have contributed between $30 and $150 to support the trip. This makes the trip free, with beverages provided, for anyone who wants to go. Any Temple University students who expresses interest in going are invited.
According to Bora, the popularity of the cause gives the Abu-Jamal supporters undeserved access to large venues.
“What is their management thinking? Would they allow the Ku Klux Klan to congregate in Madison Square Garden? Those questions have to be asked,” Bora said.
Bora blames the media for many of the fallacies proliferated about the case and the lack of attention focused on justice for Faulkner. “I don’t think the press focused on the facts: They focused on the emotion.”
For Bora, the decision to organize people to attend the rally spurred from community interest. “A lot of people have a very strong allegiance and relationship with our local Ninth District police force,” Bora said. “There is a lot of camaraderie with the police force throughout the city. So even though he wasn’t from the Ninth he is still a fallen brother to a lot of these police officers.”
While the website invites the response of the community, Bora says that no Abu-Jamal supporters have attempted to contact him.
Across the nation, celebrity Abu-Jamal supporters include actress Susan Sarandon, the Rev. Al Sharpton and rock group Rage Against the Machine.
“I think we still have a lot of problems with racism in this country,’ Bora said. “There has been a history of unfair problems. But if you look at the cold hard facts of it, they just point to this man’s guilt.”
Abu-Jamal remains on Pennsylvania’s death row pending the result of his federal appeals. His appeals are projected to take several years to complete. It is also anticipated that Gov. Tom Ridge will reinstate the Death Warrant, now required to be “stayed.”