A fighter’s life in danger

April 1, 2015

Supporters of Mumia Abu-Jamal are organizing to make sure the former death row prisoner receives proper care for a medical emergency, writes Nicole Colson.

SUPPORTERS OF political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal were upset to learn that the incarcerated journalist and former Pennsylvania death row prisoner was rushed to an intensive care unit at Schuylkill Medical Center in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, after a medical emergency on March 30.

Initially, officials wouldn't state why Mumia was moved to the hospital, and they reportedly barred his family and lawyers from speaking or visiting with him. Friend and supporter Johanna Fernández told Democracy Now that she was only made aware that Mumia was ill after arriving at SCI Mahanoy for a previously scheduled visit--a visit prompted by the fact that Mumia had sounded ill during a recent phone conversation.

On social media, Fernández explained the conditions under which Mumia was being held at the hospital:

We did a little reconnaissance and were able to get into the unit where he is being held, but were not let in to see him. We were within 10 feet, spoke to his nurses and delivered a note saying that we are here. Unclear that he will get it. Four uniformed guards are outside his room. Mumia has been sick for months. He landed in the hospital because he did not get the proper care. We were just asked to vacate the building. It's time to mobilize to defend Mumia's life.

Mumia Abu-Jamal
Mumia Abu-Jamal

Speaking to Democracy Now from the hospital on March 30, Prison Radio producer Noelle Hanrahan explained:

We are standing in the ICU waiting room...I am looking at a phalanx of police officers. The curtain is pulled across. He has tried to access the health care they have for him, and it has been woefully inadequate. We are deeply concerned about this. They don't take people to an outside hospital. It's not standard procedure. You have to be extraordinarily sick to be moved, period.

AS IT turns out, Mumia's supporters were right to be urgently concerned.

Mumia's wife Wadiya Jamal and his brother, Keith Cook, who had travelled from North Carolina, were finally allowed to visit him on March 31.

In a press conference, they told reporters that Mumia was "not doing well," and that he was suffering from dangerously high blood sugar levels and at risk of slipping into a diabetic coma. At the hospital, they said, his blood glucose level was 779--anything above 186 is considered dangerously high.

As a statement on the Prison Radio website noted:

We have absolutely no trust in prison officials to provide transparency on Mumia's current condition to his family. Just weeks ago prison officials said Phil Africa [a member of the MOVE organization that Mumia is also associated with] was fine, and three days later, he passed away.

Mumia, who is just 60 years old, was convicted of the 1981 killing of Officer Daniel Faulkner in Philadelphia. He and his supporters have long maintained his innocence and argued that his original conviction was based on faulty evidence and a politically motivated prosecution of the former Black Panther and crusading journalist, in a trial marred by police and prosecutorial misconduct and judicial bias.

Originally sentenced to death, a judge finally threw out Mumia's death sentence in 2001, stating that jurors had received improper instructions in the case. Despite this, officials made sure that Mumia remained housed on death row for another decade. It wasn't until 2011, that prosecutors finally gave up their quest to win a death sentence, allowing Mumia to be transferred to general population.

Throughout, Mumia's supporters have remained committed to fighting for his freedom. Mumia himself has continued to speak out as a voice for the voiceless, writing and speaking from prison through recordings.

The crisis in Mumia's health comes as his lawyers have been arguing against a Pennsylvania law passed last year that is specifically designed to curtail his right to free speech. After Mumia gave a recorded commencement address to Goddard College at the invitation of students, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a law allowing civil injunctions to be used to prevent prisoners from acting in ways that "perpetuate mental anguish" for crime victims.

This outrageous attack threatens to rob our movement of a key voice in the fight for justice. It will be up to Mumia's many supporters to ensure that he receives proper medical care--and can continue to remain a voice for the voiceless.

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