Partisan Number 26
The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal
by J. Patrick O'Connor, Lawrence Hill Books, 2008, 259 pages.
Reviewed by Carole Seligman
J. Patrick O'Connor's new book, "The Framing of Mumia Abu-Jamal," is the best development this year in the struggle for freedom of this political prisoner. The author is editor and publisher of Crime Magazine, which carefully researches wrongful convictions. While O'Connor speaks passionately on Mumia's innocence, his book is a calm, methodical account of the killing of Police Officer Daniel Faulkner in Philadelphia December 9, 1981, and the subsequent frame-up of Mumia Abu-Jamal. A former Black Panther, Abu-Jamal was (at the time this frame-up began) a journalist who exposed police brutality, corruption, and racism.
Millions of words have been written about this case, and Abu-Jamal is probably the world's most well-known death row prisoner. He is a journalist and author who publishes regular commentaries on world events, from the viewpoint of the exploited and oppressed. He is also the author of several books. From death row, he continues as the "voice of the voiceless".
O'Connor's book is a detailed, serious account of the crime, and the frame up of Abu-Jamal. O'Connor reconstructs the crime scene, names the real killer, and exposes every step in the frame up. The book is highly readable - it's hard to put down. And that's because the author is a good writer and researcher who tells the truth, and has the character to defy the establishment.
O'Connor skewers all the powerful players in the frame-up - Judge Sabo (who maintained the atmosphere in his courtroom of a Jim Crow court), Prosecutor McGill (who had a "palpable, sneering loathing of the former Black Panther"), Mayor Frank Rizzo (who built his career as a "lightning rod for racial strife"), and others. He also gives a full explanation of the failure of Abu-Jamal's original attorney to conduct an adequate defense, and criticizes Abu-Jamal's role in sabotaging his own defense.
O'Connor's book reconstructs the crime scene, presenting some not widely known facts, including an interview by Philadelphia Police with Robert Harkins, who was an eyewitness to the killing of Daniel Faulkner. Harkins' description of the killer did not fit Abu-Jamal, but it did fit Kenneth Freeman, the passenger in the car Faulkner had stopped. O'Connor later mentions another witness, William Singletary, who saw this same passenger "get out of the car, shoot Faulkner, and run away before Abu-Jamal arrived on the scene." [p 214]
O'Connor writes that there were many eyewitnesses present during most of the chain of events, including the shooting of Faulkner. Most importantly, he fully documents that the key witnesses called by the prosecution were police-coerced liars!
In the chapter, "The Free Mumia Movement," O'Connor writes: "Two things account for the unprecedented national and international interest in this case. First and foremost is the man himself. Despite 25 years of the bleakest existence possible in isolation on death row, Mumia Abu-Jamal remains what he has always been: an articulate, compassionate righter of wrongs. When he eventually walks free, it will be in large part because he wrote his way out, one essay at a time. The second thing that makes his case so compelling to such a wide audience is that his trial represents such a monumental abuse of government power to frame one man that it really says no citizen is truly free until this wrong has been undone." [page 199]
This is exactly the approach the Free Mumia movement should have: An injury to one is an injury to all. No working people are free so long as Mumia is not!
Carole Seligman is a member of the Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, an editorial board member of Socialist Viewpoint, an antiwar activist, and an elementary school teacher.