Mumia Time or Sweeney Time?
In February 1995, Bay Area Typographical Union Local 21, what labor historians are used to calling a conservative craft union, resolved to advocate full freedom for the African American journalist and political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. Convicted in a speedy and irregular 1982 trial for the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia policeman, Abu-Jamal faced, and faces, the death penalty. In a letter to Pennsylvania's governor, Local 21 argued that Abu-Jamal was “an innocent victim of a racial and political frameup” and branded his possible execution a disgrace. 1
Still more remarkable was what transpired during the filming of a recent segment on Abu-Jamal's case by the ABC television newsmagazine 20/20. ABC let Abu-Jamal know of its plans to ask prison authorities to arrange an on-camera interview with him from Death Row. The feature promised to break the scandalous silence of the national media regarding the case and the still more comprehensive blackout of Abu-Jamal's side of the story. Offered this opportunity to make what would probably a last public appeal to save his own life, Abu-Jamal replied that he would of course be delighted to speak to ABC. He specified, however, that no interview could take place while the network's technicians, organized in the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians (NABET), remained on strike. He added with brave precision, “I'd rather die than cross that picket line. ” Those who produced the report, from star reporter Sam Donaldson on down, apparently had no qualms about scabbing on the strike. Nor did they choke on presenting a more or less pat recapitulation of