Long Distance Revolutionary: A Journey with Mumia Abu Jamal

Long Distance Revolutionary: A Journey with Mumia Abu Jamal

Directed by Stephen Vittoria (2012)

Film Review

This is a moving and beautifully made film about the journalistic career of Mumia Abu-Jamal, both before and after his 1981 incarceration. The film is narrated by a score of famous Black intellectuals, historians, writers, teachers, journalists, and activists. Prior to his arrest for the murder of Philadelphia cop Daniel Faulkner in 1981,* Mumia was a radio journalist for the NPR station at Temple University in Philadelphia. His interviews and news features were syndicated throughout the Delaware Valley. At the time of his arrest he was president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists.

Thanks to a trial plagued with legal irregularities, he was found guilty and sentenced to death.

In 1992, after ten years on death row, a Pacifica** journalist organized for him to do regular Live from Death Row commentaries mainly focused on the immense sufferings of his fellow inmates (never on his own circumstances) under the barbaric US system of mass incarceration. He also used the broadcasts to draw public attention to the bomb the Philadelphia police (in collaboration with the FBI) dropped on the MOVE household in 1985 (see https://stuartbramhall.wordpress.com/2019/08/03/the-police-war-against-move/).

The series was carried by Pacifica radio stations across the US and by Democracy Now shortly after its 1996 start-up.

Mumia’s Live from Death Row commentaries ended when state authorities banned all journalists from interviewing inmates in the Pennsylvania correctional system. The collected broadcasts were published as a book, Live from Death Row, in 1995.

After his radio broadcasts ended, Mumia worked on three more books:

  • Faith of our Fathers (2003) – about the history of African and African American spirituality
  • We Want Freedom (2008) – about the history of the Black Panther Party
  • Jailhouse Lawyers (2009) – about prisoners-turned-advocates who have learned to use the legal system to assist fellow inmates.

He also published an article in the Yale Law Journal in 1991 about the inhumane treatment of death row prisoners.

All of his publications required major research, which Mumia carried out without benefit of Internet access, and were were written out longhand.

Despite the ban on journalist interviews, scores of political science and African studies teachers arrange for Mumia to present to their classes via conference calls.

In 2006, the Free Mumia Movement went international, with mass protests demanding his release occurring in all major cities. The same year a St Denis, a suburb of Paris named a street after him. In 2007 Paris proclaimed him an honorary citizen.

In April 2011 the Third Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the death penalty, and the Philadelphia District Attorney agreed to accept a sentence of life imprisonment without parole. Because of a surprise December 2019 ruling (based on new evidence), Mumia now has a real chance of winning a new trial (see Counterpunch).


*In 1999, Arnold Beverley confessed to the murder of Officer Daniel Faulkner. He maintains the Mob hired him and a friend to kill Faulkner due to the latter’s efforts to root out police corruption. See https://stuartbramhall.wordpress.com/2019/11/10/how-abcs-20-20-framed-mumia-abu-jamal-for-execution-in-2001/

**Pacifica Foundation is an American non-profit organization which owns five independently operated, non-commercial, listener-supported radio station.

 

A Nation Founded on the Institution of Slavery

Prejudential: Black America and the Presidents

by Margaret Kimberley

Truth to Power (2020)

Book Review

This book should be required reading in all US high schools and colleges, along with Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States and Roxane Dunbar Ortiz’s Indigenous People’s History of the United States. It will make absolutely clear to all history students that the main purpose of the US War of Independence and the US Constitution were to preserve the institution of slavery in North America.

It was to preserve slavery the nation’s capitol was moved in 1791 from Philadelphia to a coastal swamp between Virginia and Maryland. Traveling to a national capitol in a northern state was too embarrassing for slave holding presidents like Washington. It meant having to rotate slaves between Philadelphia and Virginia – any slave remaining in Pennsylvania longer than six months automatically won their freedom.

Kimberley also totally demolishes the mythology around America’s “shrewd and brilliant” slaveholding founding fathers. Even northern presidents who favored emancipation (including Lincoln who only did so for political expediency) held profoundly racist beliefs about the innate inferiority of Africans. In fact, they sought to forcibly expel them to offshore colonies.

As Kimberley ably demonstrates, no US president has ever supported social justice reforms benefiting African Americans except in response to massive grassroots pressure.

For me the most interesting part of the book concerns Fannie Lou Hammer and her battle to seat the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. The 1968 Democratic National Convention, would ultimately seat them – leading to the breakaway of Storm Thurmond’s Dixiecrats. This wholesale defection of Southern whites would ensure a Republican presidential victory (for Nixon) the same year.


* Lincoln, who fervently believed in keeping the US white, worked on a number of colonization strategies to forcibly deport freed slaves, first to Île À Vache near Haiti and later to Panama.

 

Mumia Abu Jamal: America’s Most Famous Political Prisoner

Mumia Abu Jamal

Eliot Grossman (2002)

Film Review

This excellent 2002 documentary provides a comprehensive summary of the frame-up of America’s most important political prisoner African American journalist and former Black Panther Mumia Abu Jamal. Mumia’s unlawful arrest and imprisonment continues to be protested by tens of thousands of activists around the world.

The presenter is Mumia’s new attorney Eliot Grossman, who headed the defense team that replaced his prior defense team in 2001.

Mumia, who was moonlighting as a cab driver, is accused of shooting patrol officer Daniel Faulkner on December 9, 1981. The latter had just pulled over Mumia’s brother Billy Cook and was allegedly in the process of beating him up. Gunshots ensured, with Faulkner ending up dead and Mumia receiving near fatal wounds.

Following hospitalization and lengthy recovery, Mumia was tried for first degree murder and sentenced to death.

Mumia’s legal team successfully overturned his death sentence in 2001 – based on the trial judge’s faulty jury instructions.

Overturning the conviction itself has been even more difficult, even though a professional hit man came forward in 1999 and issued both a written affidavit and videotaped confession that high level cops in the Philadelphia police hired him and a colleague to murder Faulkner. According to Arnold Beverly’s confession, higher ups in the department hated Faulkner for his efforts to expose a police extortion and protection racket. In the years following Faulkner’s murder, the FBI would convict 31 Philadelphia cops for their participation in this scheme.

In his summary, Grossman describes numerous instances of judicial misconduct and defense incompetence that formed the basis of Mumia’s many appeals. Examples of judicial and prosecutorial  misconduct include

  • Judge Sabo denial of Mumia’s five requests for eyewitnesses to identify him from a police line-up
  • Sabo’s denial of Mumia’s constitutional right to defend himself.
  • the prosecution’s use of peremptory challenges to dismiss black jurors from the jury (which the Supreme Court would rule unconstitutional in 2016 – see Scotus New Trial Finds Racial Bias Jury Selection)

According to Grossman, Mumia’s original defense team fell down mainly due to their failure to interview Mumia’s brother Billy Cook or Kenneth Freeman (a passenger in Cook’s care) as eyewitnesses; their failure to challenge the virtually nonexistent ballistic evidence and their failure to challenge key eyewitness prostitute Cynthia White. At Billy Cook’s trial (for “interfering” with a police officer), White testified that Freeman was a passenger in Cook’s car. Under police pressure, she perjured herself at Mumia’s trial by maintaining Cook had been alone.

The video can’t be embedded for copyright reasons but can be viewed free at Mumia Abu Jamal

Hidden History: Shays’ Rebellion – the First Civil War

Shays’ Rebellion 1797

Real American History (2013)

Film Review

This documentary is a very tasteful cartoon about Shay’s Rebellion – in my view one of the most important events of US history. Which for some strange reason I never studied in school.

It begins by describing the painful discovery by Revolutionary War veterans that the tyranny of the Eastern banking establishments was just as unjust and brutal as that of the king of England.

When the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, the farmers who served in the Continental Army returned home to find the discharge pay they were given (in British pounds) was worthless. All 13 states were on the verge of economic collapse, due to heavy war debts they owed to European banks. Eighty percent of the prison inmates in Western Massachusetts, where Daniel Shay had his farm, were charged with non-payment of debts.

Shay Organizes Veterans to Shut Down Debtors Courts

In 1786 Shays, who had been dragged into court twice over merchant debts, began organizing other Revolutionary War veterans – most of whom also faced debtor prison or seizure of their farms. He assembled a force of 9,000 supporters and, in bands of 1,000 – 2,000, shut down numerous debtors courts all over western Massachusetts.

In response, Samuel Adams,* president of the Massachusetts senate, pushed through a Riot Act,** which suspended the right of habeas corpus and called for any meeting of more than 12 dissidents to be tried for treason. In addition, the governor of Massachusetts bankers and merchants to finance a mercenary army to March against Shays’ rebels.

Shays’ Rebels March on Boston

Up to this point, Shays and his supporters had merely desired to reform the system. However both the Riot Act and the new mercenary army radicalized them. In January 1787, they embarked on a mission to seize the weapons from in the federal arsenal in Springfield and marched on Boston. Although they had much greater numbers (22,000 vs 900 militia), they were foiled when a member of the state militia intercepted one of their messengers.

Although Shays fled to flee to Vermont, his supporters continued to shut down debtors trials for the next several years.

Secret Constitutional Convention Overturns Articles of Confederation

The wealthy bankers and merchants who governed the newly independent states were so concerned Shays’ Rebellion and similar farmers revolts that they convened a convention in Philadelphia, where they met in secret to overturn the Articles of Confederation – the founding document of the United States of America. The latter was replaced with a federal Constitution which granted them powers to tax, raise a federal army, issue money and suppress dissent.

While the filmmakers acknowledge the enactment of the US Constitution was essentially a coup stripping states and local government of power and sovereignty, they maintain it was necessary to prevent poor people from rebelling against their oppressed state.

Obviously I don’t agree with this conclusion. Many other options were possible, such as abolishing debtors prisons, ending US reliance on the British pound and European banks, renouncing European debt, ending the exclusive privilege of private banks to create money out of thin air and allowing states to issue their own debt-free currency.***

The Iroquois Confederation, on which the Articles of Confederation were based, operated very effectively for 200 years before it was defeated militarily by the US government.


*This is ironic as Samuel Adams was one of the primary radicals who led the movement that became the American Revolutionary War.

**The right of habeas corpus was a basic right based on British common law and incorporated into many state constitutions.

***The issuing of state currency is specifically forbidden in Section 10 of the US Constitution: “No State shall  . . .coin Money; Emit Bills of Credit, make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payments of Debts.” Unlike states, private banks are permitted to issue as much money as they want. See How Banks Create Money Out of Thin Air

 

 

 

May 13, 1985: the Day Philadelphia Dropped a Bomb on 61 Families

Let the Fire Burn

Directed by Jason Osder (2013)

Film Review

Let the Fire Burn is a documentary about the decision by the Philadelphia police to drop a bomb on the home of a radical African American group called MOVE. The resulting fire (which the police chose not to extinguish) killed eleven people (including five children) and destroyed 61 homes.

The film is drawn entirely from archival footage. About half is TV footage of the day-long police effort to forcibly evict the group and half testimony from the Special Philadelphia Investigation Commission. The latter found city officials and Philadelphia police guilty of “negligence,” though no criminal charges were filed.

Formed in 1972 as a Christian “back to nature” commune by John Africa, MOVE members took the same surname in honor of their ancestral homeland, wore their hair in dreadlocks, shunned technology, and promoted a diet of raw food.

Living together in a home in West Philadelphia, MOVE’s unorthodox lifestyle lead to conflicts with neighbors and clashes with the police. After a 1978 police raid resulted in the death of a MOVE infant, group members armed themselves as protection against further police violence. Later that year, officer James Ramp was killed in a shootout between police and MOVE members. Nine MOVE members were later convicted for this murder, although group members maintain Ramp was actually killed by friendly police fire.

In 1984, MOVE members set up in a new home on Osage Street in West Philadelphia. The following year after many complaints about loudspeaker broadcasts, as well as worries over health hazards, the city took action to evict the group by force.

After a daylong battle in which the police used teargas, water cannons and ultimately 10,000 rounds of ammunition in their efforts to evict MOVE members, authorities ordered military-grade explosives to be dropped on the house from a helicopter.

The most compelling scenes consist of testimony given by 13-year-old Birdie Africa, one of only two people to escape from the fire.

In the two days since I watched it, Let It Burn has been taken down from YouTube, but it can be rented from Amazon (for $3.99) or Netflix. See Zeitgeist Films for details.