Demonstrating for Mumia Abu-Jamal

By Ben Davis

PHILADELPHIA--Some 800 people came out to flood downtown April 19 to protest the recent denial of a new trial for former Pennsylvania death row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.

In 1981, Abu-Jamal, a Philadelphia journalist and former Black Panther, was tried for the murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner. The evidence of a frame-up and the racism of the prosecutors and judge in his trial led to international outcry and made him an icon to millions of the racism of the criminal justice system.

Last year, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments over constitutional violations that plagued Mumia's original court case. In late March, the court ruled 2 to 1 against granting a new trial, though it ordered a new sentencing hearing. If prosecutors can't get his death sentence reinstated, Mumia still faces life in prison without the possibility of parole. Supporters vow to keep the pressure on until Mumia is freed.

At the protest, demonstrators from Philadelphia mingled with large numbers from New York City and elsewhere, converging at 6th and Market Streets, and then marching around the Liberty Bell and on to City Hall. A number of activists drew connections with other injustices, such as racist stop-and-frisk policies and solitary confinement. A large and enthusiastic youth group traveled with the NYC Free Mumia Coalition from San Romero Church in New York's Washington Heights neighborhood.

The demonstration, timed to coincide with the run-up to the Pennsylvania Democratic primaries, also drew in small numbers of activists who had come to volunteer for the Barack Obama campaign, but were also interested in standing up against the kind of injustice embodied in Mumia's case.

The turnout shows the potential of Mumia's case to galvanize a large and diverse audience.